INDIO, Calif. - For 66 years, young women from the Coachella Valley have been competing for the title of Queen Scheherazade, a nod to the Persian fairytale One Thousand and One Nights.
"It goes along with the theme our fairgrounds hold, as you know the valley is rich in Middle Eastern culture," said Veronica Casper, Assistant Fair Manager and one of the organizers of the pageant.
The contestants must be well-versed not just in the tale, but in the strong Arabic ties to Riverside County.
"I studied it a ton last year, I think it's amazing it's here and so prevalent and I love the story of how the queen empowered the women of her time," said Madison Givens, last year's Queen Scheherazade, who came from Santa Clara University to crown this year's winner.
"This is a rich culture for the Coachella Valley, this is something generations and generations have grown up on and understand that's the culture here," Casper said.
But the recent controversy involving the Coachella Valley High School mascot, the Arab, leaves some wondering if Queen Scheherazade also teeters on the edge of being offensive. In one portion of the pageant, the girls sashay across the stage in Arabian-themed garbs.
"It's based on an Arabian queen or genie, I love it I don't find it offensive," Givens said.
The pageant so far has received no negative publicity or requests to change. But in light of CVHS, organizers are prepared to defend it if that happens.
"On the one hand I do understand how it could be seen as a negative for the high school, as far as translating it to the pageant we hope it continues to be something positive because we help the girls pay for school," Casper said.
And the contestants, who year after year represent a diverse set of ethnicities, express pride in both the pageant's name and its historical context.
"It's brought joy to so many girls, it's so cool," said Courtney Barnes, a contestant from Riverside.
"The pageant is empowering the culture and getting it out there and showing people the other side of the culture," Casper said.