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My little cousin, Anika, and I sat on my driveway, watching our hometown’s annual parade. Upon seeing the Festival Queen, she looked up at me. “Is she a princess?” 

I nodded. 

“Could you be a princess?” 

I looked at her and paused: beauty pageants were forums where beautiful blonde women gathered to ramble about world hunger. But Anika’s hopeful eyes made me abandon the rules society set. 

I mailed my application the day it came out and begged my dad to hire me so I could afford a dress and singing lessons. For months I practiced answering questions about racial unity and education, walking confidently and talking eloquently. On pageant day, each girl was primped and perfect. 

 During the pageant, I smiled until my cheeks hurt and belted my song with pride. The thought, “I could be queen,” fueled me. I could tell Anika that people like us could wear a crown; people like us could be anything.

But I wasn’t queen. A beautiful blonde was, and soon, we rode in the parade, the Queen at the top, and me on the bottom, smiling, feet dangling off the float. Afterwards, Anika ran towards me. 

I’m sorry I couldn’t prove them wrong. I’m sorry I couldn’t -

Anika threw her arms around me, “Can I be a princess, like you?” 

She stared into my brown eyes, looking at my brown skin and black hair, and I said the first thing that popped into my head: “You already are.”

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