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Miss Arizona Pageant Gives Maria Hernandez an Opportunity to Connect with Community and Culture

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For many people, going for a walk after work might be the kind of mental and physical restoration they’ve been looking forward to all day. That’s not necessarily the case for Chandler employee Maria Hernandez Fisher, who spends many of her evening hours trying to perfect her walking technique.

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“I've been putting most of my time into practicing walking, which sounds really funny,” Maria, a DCAI internal communications manager, says, “and specifically walking in heels. My ladies know it's a challenge, so I need all the practice I can get.”

But learning to walk with style isn’t some exotic pastime for Maria, a.k.a Miss Tempe USA. She hopes to elegantly strut her way to a win in this weekend’s Miss Arizona USA pageant where, if she takes the crown, she will earn the right to compete for the title of Miss USA later this year.

Discovering Her Roots
While many of the women competing might be veterans of the pageant scene, Maria is a rookie. Her selection to represent her new hometown of Tempe was based on an application, interviews with local judges, and photo submissions.

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A recent transplant from California, Maria wanted to find ways to connect to her Latin roots, build confidence, boost her profile, and find ways to contribute to her new community.

She says her father, a first generation American with roots from Mexico, grew up in a rough, poor neighborhood but moved away to build a better life for his family. He, Maria’s white mother, and their bi-racial children ended up in an area with few ties to her father’s background.

“I've recently been discovering more about myself and my culture,” Maria says. “So, coming here (to Arizona), I was very quickly immersed into the Latin culture, which I hadn't been before. I felt very at home and quickly found a connection within the community. This feeling inspired me to want to give back to this community.”

A Path to Giving Back
With humanitarianism being a large part of the pageant, Maria, with the help of fellow Intel employee Jennifer Sanchez, who Maria met while working as a Public Affairs intern a few years ago, became acquainted with many of the non-profit service organizations and their leaders.4.png

Maria discovered within these organizations, and the community itself, a need for more emerging female leaders. Having grown up in a supportive, middle-class suburban family with access to many resources and encouragement to pursue higher education and success, she is passionate about helping younger Latinas achieve the same opportunities.

"Getting involved in these organizations and understanding the existing programs to identify where I can make the biggest impact has been my main priority," she says. "Most of my time has been spent introducing myself, attending networking events, and having one-on-one coffee chats with influential Latina leaders."

She says she's been inspired by the powerful women she's met and has been amazed by how much she's learned. "One valuable tip I received was: 'Too really stand out and get to know new people at events, arrive early and stay late.'"

A Shot of Confidence
A graceful walk, sense of belonging, and desire to help the underprivileged aren’t the only benefits Maria has realized by going through the pageant process. Having to network, prepare for judges’ interviews, and stay both mentally and physically fit have developed her confidence—especially as she looks to grow her career.

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“When I first got to Intel—because I looked fairly young and was new to the industry—it was hard for me to feel confident in sharing my ideas with these leaders that I've been working with,” she says. “You always should feel like what you have to say is important, but sometimes it's hard when there's an executive leader with years of experience and authority.”

Now, she’s not only comfortable voicing her views, she’s assured in the way she carries herself and how others view her, something she thinks will help her as she takes on the other 30 other women with their eyes on the crown.

“When you're on stage, as long as you feel confident in yourself, the judges will see that, the crowd will see that, and you’ll make an impression,” she says.