It was a difficult conversation as we both struggled with our language barriers — my limited Spanish and her halting English — but the ambience around us helped.
We met for the interview last Friday evening at a hotel tucked away in the hills of Claxton Bay, overlooking the Gulf of Paria. The evening was cool, and as the interview progressed, business continued as usual around us — men sat casually together, sharing drinks at the lounge while workers huddled together whispering at the back of the main restaurant. There was not a ripple in the pool, and all the lounge chairs were empty, but the still water, reflecting the lights from above, seemed to glow. Some guests of the hotel stood looking at the view of the neighbouring community that appeared to be lit by millions of fireflies in the gathering dusk.
She sat in the midst of all this beauty and she still stood out. With thick, flowing black hair and a soft smile, she walked with confidence, sat regally for the interview, and even when she struggled with her English, she showed no signs of insecurity. She was royalty.
Twenty-year-old Nicaraguan Aneilka Espino was selected to serve as Miss Nicaragua for the Miss Oneness Beauty Pageant held in her country earlier this year. She is in Trinidad for the local leg of the pageant, to be held here for the first time this year.
As she chatted about her career and future goals with Express Woman, the young queen who hails from Ocotal, Nicaragua, demonstrated a strong and clear sense of purpose and an appreciation for her role as an individual and as a citizen of Nicaragua.
She revealed that she had been modelling casually since childhood, but started professionally three years ago. With a shrug, she admitted that she had overcome many hurdles over the years in pursuit of her career as a model. This, she said, included her struggles with the general misconception that modelling is little more than a hobby.
"I work really hard to be the best I can be and I believe that society has to respect the (modelling) industry," she said earnestly. "In my eyes this is a job and one has to be focused and dedicated, no matter what others think. In the meantime, I can only hope that this negative way of thought will dwindle."
Espino said she was generally impervious to criticisms about the industry, including opinions that beauty pageants were sexist and provided an unhealthy image of beauty.
"I think it (a beauty pageant) is a celebration of women," she said. "Women are works of art, women are naturally beautiful... not just for beauty of face, but also through our intelligence. There is nothing wrong with celebrating that."
She went further to explain that she also held no issue with surgical enhancements, though she said this decision should rest solely with the individual.
Even as she fumbled to find the words, Espino's love for her country shone through.
"I love my country and where I will take her with me makes me proud," she said simply.
She said her liberal views influenced her decision to enter the pageant as she believed it presented her with an opportunity to serve as a representative of her country.
And as a representative of her country, there was no sidestepping the political issues in her country as they prepare for presidential elections come November. She was careful during the entire conversation to focus only on hope.
"My country stands slowly," she said. "Citizens struggle to get by, but because of their children, they are prepared to make a better country."
She adroitly turned the conversation away from politics and back to her personal endeavours, choosing, with a mischievous smile, to give a slightly political slant to her reasons for participating in beauty pageants like Miss Oneness.
"I would like to improve the access to education," she said candidly. "I think, more educated children mean less street teens in the future. Teens studying to be professionals in the future means more doctors and lawyers and ultimately means more work and therefore Nicaragua progresses."
Though she made no mention of Nicaragua, she also spoke about the role of women in political life.
"I'm excited to know that a country can be handled by women and that each time we perform, we can be respected even further in life," she said. "The role of women in society today has evolved. We are no longer just the keepers of the home. We have worked hard and been able to utilise our intellect by becoming more professional and we have shown that we can do anything we believe."
For those women who aspire to a career in modelling, she said, "Many doors may be closed at the beginning, but if you persist, many more will open. You should never give up. If you can think it, you can achieve it though you have to have security, intelligence and most of all seriousness and respect for oneself."
As for her future, the young Miss Nicaragua is preparing for another career, this time on the other end of the camera. Next year she will be moving to the United States to further her studies in Art Design. She also spoke of plans to pursue further training in photography and in advertising as a director.
"I have many ideas and I want to exploit them all to the fullest," she smiled.
The Miss Oneness Trinidad and Tobago Pageant was held by ONENESS Entertainment Trinidad and Tobago at Cara Suites Hotel & Conference Centre yesterday under the theme, The Empowerment of Women Through Beauty and Splendour. The Company, run by Mrs Vanessa Sahatoo-Manoo, is the National Franchise holder of The Miss Earth Beauty Pageant.