Former Princess Annas vying for queen
Only twice in Texas Citrus Fiesta history has a Princess Anna gone on to covet the title of Queen Citrianna. This year, two former princesses are vying for the crown.
Iyslah Flores and Mia Ayala were crowned the 62nd and 65th Princess Annas, respectively. Both come from families intertwined in TCF history. Ayala’s aunt was a Duchess of Ruby Red, and Flores has two cousins (Jennifer and Jessica Ruiz) that were Queen Citrianna in 2002 and 2005. Both Ayala and Flores cite the women in their families as inspiration for continuing the royal legacy.
“It’s basically a family tradition,” Flores said about her cousins. “I was always with them growing up and they’re actually the ones who influenced me to start with Princess Anna.”
Ayala said she remembers attending the Parade of Oranges around age 4 and wanting to join the dancers in the parade. It was then she learned from her mother that her aunt Angela De La Cruz (née Lopez) was a former duchess. A year later, Ayala became Princess Anna of the 78th Texas Citrus Fiesta.
The now 14-year-old laughed as she recalled a memory from when she earned the title in 2014.
“When I had become Princess Anna, I actually got really sad because I originally thought I had gotten nothing,” she said with a chuckle. “The way it worked is they announced the runner ups and then they announced the actual court, and I didn’t know that. So I had thought I had gotten nothing. I started getting really sad, so when I heard my name I was super confused.”
Flores said she doesn’t have many memories from her reign as the fiesta princess when she was 7 years old, but she remembers how it made her feel.
“I remember going on the floats and having my big dress and being excited,” the 17-year-old said. “I know I gave back to my community through community service. I don’t remember much, but just being on the floats and representing my city was an honor.”
DUCHESS OF WHITE MARSH
The 86th Royal Court includes Duchess of White Marsh Mia Ayala. She is a freshman at Veterans Memorial High School, and her passion is music. The 14-year-old has been studying music since age 3, which led her to the all-regional choir, the VMHS color guard and the Harlequin Drama Club. She is also a member of the Crescendo Music Institute and has performed in events for the city and the Mission Historical Museum.
Ayala said she spent the last three months preparing for the Fiesta, and her family has helped her throughout the process. Her grandmother Aurora Lopez helped sew the outfit for Ayala’s interview. Her aunt Cindy Stojanovic — the director of the Mission Historical Museum — has helped with learning about the history of the Citrus Fiesta, including facts not found in the Citrus history books.
The duchess of white marsh said TCF is special to her family. For her, it’s more than a competition.
“When I’m competing for Queen Citrianna, I don’t think I’m only competing for myself. I like to think that I’m competing for the opportunities that my family didn’t get to have growing up,” Ayala said. “The first thing on my mind isn’t, ‘Oh, I have to win.’ The first thing on my mind is, ‘I’m so happy and grateful that my family has been pushing me to get to this point. And I’m so happy to be given this opportunity in the first place.’”
Ayala also stressed the importance of keeping the TCF tradition alive because she feels the excitement has faded in younger generations.
“I think it’s really important to reminisce on things and respect them,” she said. “I understand some things have changed and we have to change them for the better, but I think it’s just amazing that we’ve had something going on like this for so long. And so many people have been granted this opportunity to show and represent the Valley.”
DUCHESS OF LIME
The 2023 Royal Court also includes Duchess of Lime Iyslah Flores. The 17-year-old is a junior at McAllen High School with a love for cheerleading. She has been a member of All-Star Cheer for about 12 years and spends her free time tumbling, swimming, modeling and volunteering in the community.
The TCF duchess actively donates to the blessing boxes around Mission, refilling them about three times a week. She volunteers at the Mission Animal Shelter and helps the local nursing home.
Flores is also a mental health advocate. She hosts meetings with friends and acquaintances where they commiserate over ongoing issues and find ways to support each other. She said it’s a good way for people to vent in a safe space.
The Missionite said that becoming Queen Citrianna is an opportunity to promote her platform of building confidence in young women. She said competing in the Texas Citrus Fiesta has helped boost her self-esteem, and she wants to be a role model for other girls and young women who struggle with self-assurance.
“Having to put yourself out there, representing your city, is a big thing,” Flores said. “And I know a lot of girls may not have the self-confidence or even think about doing these things. But by being in this spot and having the opportunity, I’ve really realized how much it has opened me to giving back to my community instead of just being kind of in my own little bubble. It’s opened me up to talking to people and building a relationship with the community and the other girls too.”
Although Flores and Ayala are former Princess Annas, 22 other duchesses are competing for the crown. Texas Citrus Fiesta announces the new court and the next Queen Citrianna Feb. 4 at the Ruby Red Reception.