Mexican-American Beauty Crowned Miss USA

Crowned Miss USA 2014, Nia Sanchez’s Mexican-American heritage is just one aspect that made the 24-year-old beauty queen a winner in the eyes of pageant judges. Now preparing to compete in the Miss Universe contest, Sanchez’s international flair could prove to be a real advantage as she goes head to head with some of the most beautiful women in the world.

Making it a point to travel to Mexico during mission trips as she was growing up, Sanchez has always emphasized her heritage. Although not the first Latina to hold the Miss USA title, Sanchez acknowledges her Mexican background as a crucial element in establishing a connection with those she comes across through community outreach efforts.

In particular, Sanchez outreach goes toward those living in women’s shelters. In part, this is because Sanchez herself lived in a shelter for a time after her parents’ divorce when she was a young child. Now as a regular volunteer at shelters, Sanchez says women she talks to identify with her and that her title gives these women hope.

“It’s brought tears to my eyes before, many a time,” she says. “They say you know, ‘you’re Mexican-American and so am I. Like if you can do it, I know I can do it’.”

Although not the first Latina to win the Miss USA title, Sanchez could be the first pageant winner to hold a fourth-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Practicing the martial art since age 8, Sanchez says the beginning the practice was crucial to building her confidence.

“I have learned, or come to learn over the years, that Tae Kwon Do is more than just a physical sport, more than just the discipline,” Sanchez says. “It’s really a way of life.”

Adopting that way of life is likely what gave Sanchez the strength to get out of an “aggressive relationship” that put a hand-print bruise on her arm. It’s this kind of strength she hope will inspire other young women.

“I know that it’s hard because you feel like you’re in love with somebody,” she says.

The whirlwind of holding the Miss USA title is one Sanchez continues to embrace as she prepares to compete in the Miss Universe pageant later this year. Beyond pageants, Sanchez will also stay busy as reports say the model is newly engaged.