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24-‘Carrot’ Gold Contestants Shine in Fest Tradition

HOLTVILLE — Maya Castellanos, the youngest Carrot Royalty Speech Contest participant, was the first to brave the audience as a speaker on Thursday evening, Jan. 18, inside Holtville Civic Center. 

Wearing a shy smile, the sweet 5-year-old from Brawley spoke briefly, but managed to introduce herself in front of judges, parents and fellow contestants. Maya is in the running to be crowned junior princess for the upcoming 77th annual Carrot Festival.

“I have to give her a round of applause for just getting up there and introducing herself in front of everyone. This is the start of public speaking,” Rosie Allegranza, executive director of the Holtville Chamber of Commerce, said proudly.

Allegranza facilitated the evening with the support of chamber Festival Coordinator Yvette Rios with support from other chamber directors. With nine of the 11 candidates in attendance to speak, including two would-be queens, three princesses and four junior princesses, the room was buzzing with the energy of the nervous and excited young ladies.

“This year’s theme is ‘24 Carrot — We Struck Gold!’ to honor the year 2024 and the history of gold mining in California and the symbolism of carrots as gold to Holtville,” Allegranza read to the audience.

The public speech was one of many requirements the royalty contestants were obligated to participate in as part of their overall scoring. Royalty contestants are only two weeks away from the Feb. 2 coronation banquet, which will be at Holtville’s Imperial Valley Swiss Club.

“Bryan Vega, the speech coach, worked diligently with them on their topics and helped get them ready for tonight’s competition,” Allegranza told the audience.

A panel of five Imperial Valley residents made up this year’s judges, with experience in public speaking and education. Among the judges were Dr. Todd Finnell, Linda Anderson, Amy Wells Lansmen, Vivianna Nevárez-Sánchez and Mia Hernandez.


The judges were scoring the speech in seven separate categories, including general appearance, projection to audience, voice control, articulation, language effectiveness, organization and overall quality. With an opportunity to earn up to 100 points, the judges listened intently and took notes between speakers. Each level of royalty had a different prompt to speak on as well as different time limits, with increasing difficulty for the older candidates.

The junior princess contestants had a one- to two-minute time limit for their speech. This category included Heaven Zinn (7) from Holtville, Maya Castellanos (5) from Brawley, Emma Miranda (10) from Holtville, and Dania Estrada (8) from El Centro. The junior princess contestants had the following prompt: “24-karat gold is the most valuable type of gold. What do you value most in your life and why?”

Emma Miranda said in her speech: “We live a 24-karat life in Holtville. Living in Holtville is golden because I am able to participate in many different clubs and sports.”

She went on to say, “I chose my 24-karat mom, because she’s the most valuable person to me.”

Jennifer Miranda, Emma’s mom, said after the contest, “It’s been nerve wracking but super fun.”

She added, “I loved the speeches, this is so good for them to get out of their shell.”

“She was born a princess,” Miranda chuckled when asked if she’s ready to have a princess in the house.

Emma said she’s wanted to run for princess for years, and sports have gotten in the way of her royalty dreams, but this year she was finally able to have the opportunity. She’s been active with community service and will be part of a school clean-up soon, keeping her charity close to home in Holtville.

In competitor Dania Estrada’s speech, she said, “For me, the most valuable thing is my family. They are my foundation, the reason I am who I am today.

“To have such a supportive family makes me feel like the richest person in the world. They are my 24-karat gold and I wouldn’t trade them for anything else in this world,” she concluded proudly.

The princess contestants had a three- to four-minute time limit. Princess contestants present included Tanya Barajas (12), Victoria Barraza (11), and Diana Perez (14), with all three girls hailing from Holtville. The princess speech prompt was as follows:

The judges of the 2024 Carrot Royalty Speech Contest took notes between speeches on Thursday, Jan. 18, for each contestant, filling out the seven different categories worth 100 overall points. The judges were (from left to right) Viviana Nevarez-Sanchez, Mia Hernandez, Linda Anderson, Amy Wells Lansmen and Dr. Todd Finnell. | KIMBER DIAL PHOTO

“Swiss-German settlers came to Holtville in the 1880s and founded Holtville in 1908. Tell the story of where your family comes from and highlight the triumphs of their lives.”

Tanya Barajas spoke of her grandparents, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico and provided the foundation for the Barajas family to be happy and successful for generations. Barajas noted her family’s accomplishments through the sacrifices her grandparents went through, and is proud to tell their story.

Barajas concluded her speech by boldly announcing her plans to be a lawyer one day. “Being a lawyer has so many benefits … The two law schools I would love to attend are Harvard College or the University of Vermont. I want to be very successful to not only make myself proud, but make my parents proud,” she concluded.

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The queen contestants, as the eldest in the group, went last and had a longer time limit of five to six minutes. Queen contestants included Mia Hernandez and Genevie Torres, both 15 years old and from Holtville. Their speech topic was:

“Our ‘24 Carrot’ theme slogan, ‘We Struck Gold!’ refers to carrots being symbolic of gold to Holtville. Explain why carrots have made an impact on Holtville and what in your life is symbolic of gold.”

Mia chatted with the Tribune at the end of the evening. When asked why she decided to run for queen, she said, “I’m always really involved, and I love trying new things … And I told myself I have nothing to lose.

“My public speaking skills have gotten way better. I’m not as shy, I was really shy. I got out of my comfort zone and it’s really shaped me into a better person,” she added with an accomplished grin.

Genevie spoke eloquently during her speech of a time in her life when her mother was going through a health scare and the community of Holtville rallied to assist the family. She said in her speech, “The Holtville way is for every single person to do their part by bringing a different home cooked meal in a time of need.

“My family and I will never forget the support we received at that time,” she said with a smile.

After the speeches, Genevie stopped to briefly give her motivations for participating in the competition. “I’ve always thought it seemed cool and I never really considered it seriously until one day they had sign-ups at school and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Torres said besides her royalty competition, she’s working on a painting for the art exhibit that will be a part of the festival.

Laura Torres, Genevie’s mom, gave her own comment on how the night went, saying proudly, “It’s really exciting. It’s nice to see all the effort these kids are putting into it.”

“Myself, the festival coordinator Yvette Rios, and the other directors in attendance, were all very impressed with all of the candidates,” Allegranza said as the night wrapped up.The Carrot Festival will be from Thursday, Feb. 8 though Sunday, Feb. 11. For the full list of activities, see the Holtville chamber’s website. (Carrot Festival – Holtville Chamber of Commerce, CA)

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