In this Jan. 26, 2013 photo, Magdabelyn Parra Gamez, who goes by Belyn, holds still as her lipstick is applied backstage as she competes in the "Guamuchil Carnival Queen 2013" beauty pageant in Guamuchil, Sinaloa state, Mexico. Belyn, 18, took up the mantle on the pageant circuit after the death of her cousin beauty queen Maria Susana Flores Gamez, who in November 2012 died like a mobster's moll, carrying an AK-47 assault rifle into a spray of gunfire from Mexican soldiers. “This is in memory of Susy,” Belyn whispered, shortly before winning the crown, “In honor of her.” (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
Saturday, February 23, 2013 1:18 pm
AP PHOTOS: Beauty queen race in Mexican narco land
By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICONAssociated Press
What looked like a standard political rally was something much more important: This dusty farm town of 60,000 people was picking its annual carnival queen.
Back stage, four professional stylists worked on top contender Belyn Parra, 18, in humidity that left all the contestants' newly ironed curls sticking to their necks.
The beauty business is serious in Mexico's western state of Sinaloa, where tall, olive-skinned local queens have often gone on to win national and international titles.
For Parra, it was a way to honor her idol and older cousin, Maria Susana Flores, Sinaloa Woman 2012, who died two months earlier in a shootout with Mexican soldiers. Authorities and a relative said Susy, as she was known, was dating a dangerous lieutenant for the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Outside soldiers surrounded the auditorium. Inside, eight contestants donned their sequins in an unlit bathroom with broken tiles.
Parra walked coolly across the stage, dressed for the evening gown competition in a bright pink mermaid gown with silver details bordering the neckline, her biggest worry was whether her black hair would look long enough in a curly ponytail.
Before the winner was revealed, the girls formed a circle backstage and drew their hands to the center like football players before a game.
"Good luck to everyone," a pageant organizer told them. "Remember this experience forever."
Parra won't soon forget. She won the carnival crown, smiling widely as a machine spewed confetti on stage.