Today we’d like to introduce you to Allyshia Gupta.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was originally born in London, England and immigrated to this country with my single mother when I was only a few years old. Of all places, my mother chose to move to Florida. However, this wasn’t the Florida you think of with white sand beaches, pina coladas and palm trees. We grew up about an hour outside of central Tampa, in a small town called San Antonio – population 1,130.
Some fond memories I always recall are walking to my mother’s restaurant, The San Ann Market, after school. This was one of the few eateries our town had, so everyone we knew would stop by for her famous Cuban sandwiches and priceless comradery. My sister, brother and I would work behind the counter scooping ice cream and pressing paninis before we could even see over it! After a few hours of working, we would close down the market with our mom and return home to continue helping on the farm. We had every animal you could imagine and then some. At one point, we even had a chameleon and peacock roaming around our property. This took a lot of work to upkeep the barn and feed all the animals every day. After the barn chores were done, we would wind down with our homework and get ready to start the day all over again tomorrow. To this day, I largely accredit my work ethic to this ethos of small town living. I also realize now how lucky I was to have a single mom, who was both a mom and dad, business owner, philanthropist and everything in between to look up to. From a young age, I was witness to what a woman was capable of – and that was everything and anything. At a pivotal time for childhood development of gender norms and stereotypes mine were only being shattered.
To an outsider this may have seemed like the perfect life but it wasn’t so simple. The local school in San Antonio was a small private Catholic school where both me and my siblings attended. The average class size was only around 15-20 children which remained the same group of peers you would sit next to all the way from Pre-K to 8th grade. My grade specifically had more boys than girls so really there was about 8 of us (including myself) representing the female demographic in our class. I know what you’re thinking, we must have been pretty close, huh? Wrong. I didn’t have a single friend in school. In fact, I was the ONLY girl in our class who wasn’t allowed to join the Girl Scouts. I was 7. I always thought something was wrong with me until I overheard some moms talking one day after school while waiting for mine (who was notorious for being late and forgetting to pack my lunch) to pick me up. They said my mother and I were a bad influence for their children to be around because I come from a “broken home” and was being raised by a single mom. For those of you who are new to religion, being divorced is a sin and being a child of divorce was apparently an even bigger one. The bullying and out casting continued into my later years, being banned from cheerleading tryouts to having our entire house egged and fish guts thrown throughout our yard and swimming pool; but things were just about to change.
It was another day like every other (but better because it was my mother’s 50th birthday so I knew there would be cake involved). I was pulling out of my driveway and on the way to school when nearly immediately after I saw cars in the distance. Our house was placed on a one lane dirt road with no signs of civilization so the sight of any other cars along it was peculiar. As I approached the cluster of vehicles, I noticed they weren’t like the other Ford 150 trucks everyone drove. They were police cars and an accompanying ambulance. My heart sank and throat closed up because I immediately knew something very bad had happened. We had a neighbor my brother’s age who lived about a mile away from us buried behind orange groves. Jake was known for being reckless so when I linked the cop car to his property line, I immediately started to pray. For the record, I wasn’t religious and didn’t quite know what I was supposed to do, but I knew if there was a time to talk to God it was now. Our conversation went something like this, “God. Hi. Hey, it’s me here. Shoot. You probably already knew that you know everything. Anyways. I’m sorry I don’t pray enough and I’m sorry I took $10 from mom’s purse the other day without asking but I promise if you help me now I will never ask for anything else again (a lie). Please send all your guardian angels to Jake and his family to look over and keep them safe today, God. Please, please, please. Oh! And Amen?”
When I lifted my head and opened my eyes, there was already a policeman at my car window. He signaled for me to roll it down and calmly asked if I lived nearby. I did as I was told and informed the cop I lived just over the hill about a mile up the road. He said there had been an accident and asked if I could help identify a young males body who was found earlier that morning without any form of ID. Of course, I could do this because perk of a small town – you know everyone. I also knew for certain the boy they found was Jake, but all I could think about was how his poor parents and sweet siblings were going to take the news. The cop escorted me out of the car and ushered us past the yellow tape that outlined the scene of the accident. I didn’t care about my mom’s cake anymore I just wanted to go home. Before me was a body bag, with just a thin sheet separating Jake and I. I know I had to, but I wasn’t ready to see him like this. I glanced over at the cop and silently signaled I was ready. The medic slowly peeled back the garment and I immediately saw the mutilated body which had been nearly severed in half. With my breakfast coming back up, I snapped myself out of the trance and turned away, falling into the police man’s arms. “I’m sorry,” the officer consoled, “but we really need to identify the victim”. “Get it together, Allyshia! You just have to look for a split second,” I told myself. After all, I could recognize Jakes mischievous face with a single glance, everyone in our town could. The medic nodded and attempted for the second time to reveal the identity. I didn’t look away. I couldn’t. Laying before me was the most familiar face I knew. A lifeless shell of my own brother was staring back at me. Lucky Jake.
The coming weeks were a blur. I couldn’t go to school, I couldn’t leave the house, I was empty. My life had shattered in seconds. The one thing I had was my family and now that was broken to even smaller bits. For the first time in my life, girls had started to be nice to me, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t want them to. Losing someone in a small town makes it all the harder to escape your reality. Allyshia slowly started to fade away and her replacement was, “the girl whose brother died”. That’s all people cared about. They also cared about feeling better about themselves and cashing in on the golden ticket to heaven, so attempted to befriend me. “I know how you feel, my dog died last Summer,” they would reason. Even after the coming weeks, I wasn’t able to leave my house without passing the accident scene. Flashes of that morning, rushing through my head like a horror movie. Graphic images of his body were the only memories I could conjure up of my brother. My mother always told us the meaning of life was to be happy but how could I ever achieve that? The point of living was over for me; I didn’t want to continue in a world without my brother in it. The ironic part about it all is that at a time where I thought my life was ending… it had really just begun.
For the record, I had just turned sixteen when this all happened. Allyshia really did die that year but a rebirth emerged from all the loss. I was stronger than ever. Sad, depressed, lost but strong. I knew that I had gone through the worst thing that would ever happen to me and survived. This was a strange and foreign feeling of empowerment that lit a flame I never knew existed in me. I could risk it all because there was nothing left to lose. I had to have a serious talk with myself and realized that I could not grow in the same environment I had died. I was at a crossroads and had two choices; I could either continue existing in this paper town as the girl whose brother died or remove myself from it and at least have a shot at reinventing myself in a place where no one knew me or my narrative. Unfortunately, this also meant leaving the only two people I had in my life – my mom and little sister. The only people I wanted to be around were collateral damage of a choice that would holistically be the right one to make. It was the hardest choice but also the best I ever made. In two weeks, I would be living in another country halfway across the world, in another time zone, by myself, with only a blank slate ahead of me. It was time for me to become the author of my own story.
I would go on to live in Europe- traveling, studying, figuring out how to heal and what the purpose of all of this was. I eventually moved back to America with advanced-level qualifications in Business, Psychology, and Philosophy of Religion and Science. I took a year off before starting university and started my own successful business. I later sold my business for a profit and decided to continue my formal education at Auburn University where I graduated with a degree in Business Administration.
Fast forward, I now live in Los Angeles, CA with my best friend who I am lucky enough to also call my little sister and our English Bulldog, Bentley. In my free time, I still ride horses, run my own non-profit organization, manage a start-up business on the side and find ways to bring my roots of small town San Antonio to tinsel town. I initially moved out to California to work for ABC Network and Horizon Media but now take on the full-time job of Miss California USA. People always ask how I got into pageants and just like everything else in my life, it’s a funny story. I remember from a young age imitating the gorgeous women in our living room wearing my mom’s much too large high heel shoes. Every year, like clockwork, the annual pageant would come on TV and I would place myself in front of the screen ready to watch as my brother also took his seat to witness the spectacle of me tripping over myself in heels that didn’t fit. In retrospect, I think he enjoyed it as much as I did. So, when I turned eighteen, which was the minimum age requirement you had to meet, I entered a local preliminary pageant. If I won, I would gain entry to the state level, then after that Miss USA. My dream was within reach! I took it very seriously and worked so hard leading up to the preliminary competition and managed to win! I was so excited to be moving on to the next level. I saved up enough money to buy the gown of my dreams and shortly after the non-refundable purchase I received a phone call from the pageant director. He explained I had to forfeit and was no eligible to compete because I was not a US Citizen.
At the time, I was a permanent resident and didn’t understand the implications of naturalizing. My sparkly dream had ended before it even begun. At first, I thought it would be a simple fix; just become a citizen and try again next year. However, it wasn’t and still isn’t that simple of a process. It took years of research, lawyers, and money to even begin the process. I had started college and as each year passed, Miss USA became a distant dream. Eight years later, I was moving across the country to California and serendipitously saw a posting for the Miss California USA pageant. I frantically googled the age requirements and I was just in time to give it one last shot as a newly coined American Citizen. For me, competing in Miss California wasn’t about winning anymore, my vendetta was far bigger than that. I owed it to myself to live out a dream that I had patiently waited so long for. Just being allowed to compete was enough for me because if there is one thing life has taught me, is that it’s far too short not to live out your wildest dreams. Now, I am so lucky to say I’m living mine as Miss California USA and going on to walk across the Miss USA stage later this year with my brother still smiling and watching with front row seats.
Looking back on my life, I could never understand why these hardships and losses happened to me. But perhaps they had to so that I could become the woman I am today, who is ready for whatever is thrown my way and eager to help others overcome the struggles of life through my own learning.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Growing up with a single mother, losing my brother, living in another country alone at 16 years old, mother facing deportation.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The female empowerment and strength that I was taught from a young age. Going through adversities and losses which teaches you that there is no other option besides persistence and determination. Genuine intentions and being thankful and positive throughout all avenues of life.
- Address: Miss Universe Organization
1370 Avenue of the Americas, 16th Floor
New York, NY
- Website: misscaliforniausa.com
- Phone: (212) 373-4999
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @misscausa
- Facebook: @misscausa
Georgina Vaughn Photography