Formerly, a shy child, Maaliyah Papillion has blossomed into a caring, considerate pageant Queen, who’s truly proud of her Creole roots. Kreol spoke to her to explore her heritage and her plans for the future.
The first Creole lady to win the title of Miss Louisiana USA, 21-year old Maaliyah Papillion, hasn’t always been so confident in front of a crowd. When she was just two to three years old, her mother would enter her in pageants but she wasn’t a fan and took a break to play sports until seventh grade.
“I was a shy child”, says Papillion, “These pageants allowed me to break out of my shell and meet new people in a spontaneous environment. They helped me to be who I am today.”
But who is Maaliyah Papillion? “Creole”, she says, “I definitely see myself as Creole. It annoys me, though, when you fill in a form and it asks for your race, and there’s no option for Creole. I think a lot of people tick African American, but they’re put in that category by force, not by choice.”
Miss Louisiana USA’s ancestry is certainly rich. Her four times great grandfather came to Louisiana from Nova Scotia back in the 1700s with his Spanish wife, but she also has native American heritage on her mother’s side of the family, who are descended from the native Atakapa tribe. The first tribe to settle in Lake Charles, there’s still plenty of signs of her ancestry today. “There are all sorts of landmarks named after what they used to do”, she says. “It’s interesting to still have that link to family from many centuries ago.”
Not all of her family history is positive. “It was very interesting with my grandfather”, she says. “Chretien Point was his business – he was a slave owner, and that was his plantation. It was the beginning of our family’s framework, but we still all share great pride in being Creole.”
The word “Creole” encompasses many aspects of Maaliyah’s life. “It’s not just the language”, she says, “It’s listening to my elders telling stories and passing on traditions. It’s my grandmothers passing on recipes from their own grandmothers and great grandmothers to preserve our heritage. It’s listening to stories about my ancestors – it all gives me an understanding of who I am and what’s special to me.”
From her father, she learned to cook from a young age: traditional dishes such as gumbo and shrimp creole that she’s looking forward to passing on to her own children in the future to carry traditions onward. From her Creole mother, she’s learned a lot: stories of her childhood experiences and seeing her mother’s old photos have brought her closer to her roots, and she says that both sides of her family are very similar.
More than a Pageant Queen
When it comes to the pageants, Maaliyah tells us how nerve-wracking it is to walk onto the stage for the first time, but the experience has given her plenty of opportunities. She’s a member of the board of the South West Louisiana Immigration Club, which helps immigrants who are looking for work, find schools for their children and more information about the state. Maaliyah has participated in over 40 events since being crowned, including speaking at schools and reading to children, instilling the idea that they can be who they want to be. “I only come from a small town”, she says, “To be crowned Miss Louisiana USA was a big achievement for me – I’m the only one from my city to have been crowned. I love talking to the children and visit high schools to talk about the importance of safe driving too. Both my uncle and my best friend were killed by drunk drivers, so it’s something that’s close to my heart.”
Currently, Maaliyah is studying psychology and history, with one year of her degree remaining. “I plan to go to grad school for a PhD afterwards”, she says, “But I’d also like to be a TV personality – I hope to move to LA to pursue that and use the exposure from Miss USA to progress in my career.”
The choice of a psychology major is down to Maaliyah’s desire to help people. “I’d like to open my own clinic for drug addicts and their families”, she explains, “I often feel that people have internal emotional problems and nobody to talk to to help sort through their issues and thoughts. I want to help.”
From speaking to our Miss Louisiana USA, who passes on her title this October, she’s a calm, kind and caring person. She lists meditation and yoga among her leisure activities, and describes, “As A Man Thinketh,” as one of her favourite books – a book, she says, “That lays out the process and steps to create the life you want – it’s all about having the right outlook.” While many believe that pageants are full of mean girls, she denies this. “I’ve never come into contact with a mean girl”, she reveals, “I’ve never had my dress cut or spraypainted! I’m still in touch with the Miss USA girls – we recently had a reunion in Vegas, and we’re off to Miami in October.”
With a rich cultural heritage, a positive outlook on life and a desire to help others, it’s easy to see why Maaliyah Papillion was crowned Miss Louisiana USA. Kreol wishes her every success for the future.