Travel down to South Texas and peel back a history more rich than the juicy citrus the region mass produces. The Rio Grande Valley is home to cities that are close in proximity yet differ in their beginnings, with culturally diverse populations waiting for someone to tell their authentic, homegrown, and antique origin stories. An abundance of crops, kings of acres of farmland, local queens dressed in elaborately designed gowns, and celebratory parades throughout a city honoring the true king of the land: citrus. The pageantry of one city in particular plants it roots almost a century back and presents fruitful bearings to this day.
Founded in 1908, Mission, Texas is known for its profitable citrus industry, with records dating back to 1882 approximately 36 miles away at the Laguna Seca Ranch. The fruit: seedling orange trees planted in the fertile South Texas soil. In an effort to commemorate the prosperous strides in the beginning citrus industry, John H. Shary spearheaded the Texas Citrus Fiesta in the late 1920s. A businessman and son of immigrants, Shary used the two-week event to attract visitors to Mission.
Forever known as the “Coronation and Pageant of Citrus,” the first annual fiesta, organized by Paul Ord and the Young Men’s Business League, embodied hometown regality and established the importance of honor at the one day celebration in 1932. Young women, selected from the region’s most prominent families, competed in a pageant celebrating the diversity of citrus. Each of the twenty-two young women represented a product or crop the area produced as a duchess. In true royal fashion, the winner was crowned Queen Citrianna, a title fit for the valley and the industry.
Queen Citrianna, whose dress was originally designed and stitched using real citrus by-products, ruled over her royal court…with a king, of course. King Citrus, the Princess of Orange Blossom, the Princess of Grapefruit Blossom, and the lady-in-waiting made up the royal court; for the younger citrus lovers, Princess Anna and her court of Lime Blossom and the Princess of Lemon Blossom ruled.
Almost ninety years later, the tradition of honoring the citrus industry continues to remain an honor for all involved. The reigning Queen Citrianna the 82nd, Alexandria Canchola, won the title in January 2018 and assumed her duties on the royal court as queen in 2019. The McAllen native attends the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and studies exercise science.
From Ruby Red Grapefruit to Marsh White, the agriculturally creative list of natural elements, animals, plants, and crops to represent is admirable. Young women from both sides of the valley, chosen to participate, represent their cities while wearing large ball gowns to embody their titles as duchesses. The large, colorful, and intricate citrus couture resembles something out of a fairytale; the gowns are often handmade, covered in sparkly fruit, and designed along guidelines measuring size, length, color, and style.
What began as a one-day event with contests, exhibits, and parades grew to encompass a year’s worth of festivities educating and celebrating citrus. This year’s royal celebrations commence with the Royal Reception on January 11, 2020. Following the regality is the King Citrus and Queen Citrianna the 83rd Coronation on January 23, 2020. The new King Citrus and Queen Citrianna will be crowned while the incoming court will be selected to assume royal duties in the following year. With every new year, deems a new theme as well as a new crown for both the king and queen. This year’s theme: space odyssey adventure! The out-of-this-world theme can be viewed at large at the annual Parade of Oranges on January 25, 2020 in Mission.
In an agricultural area abundant in fruit, the deep historical accounts of a noble celebration tell an origin story almost as juicy as the oranges and grapefruits for which the Rio Grande Valley is known. May the legacy of the Queen Citrianna reign for generations to come.