CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — It’s the day she’s waited her whole life for.
Bridgeport’s Miranda Lang was officially crowned the 40th Queen Regina Maria on the steps of the Harrison County Courthouse Friday as the coronation kicked off a weekend full of Italian traditions and celebrations.
Lang, the daughter of Bridgeport Mayor Andy and Lisa (Queen) Lang, was announced as the lady lucky enough to hold the coveted title this year during the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival Gala on April 28.
And while it’s an honor many young girls in West Virginia aspire to, for Lang, it’s not only the Italian heritage that runs in the family but also the history of the festival itself.
Lang’s grandmother, Rosalyn Queen Alonso, was one of the first directors of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival and served in that position for nearly two decades. Her aunt, Leslie Queen Pruitt, was the 6th Queen Regina Maria in 1986.
“Her portrait has been a focal point of our whole lives, just stories and funny things about it,” Lang said. “I never thought it would be me having a portrait downtown, but it’s in the front of the festival office which is just crazy.”
With such a heavy family involvement in the festival, it didn’t take long for Lang to take an active role as well.
“I was on the minor court when I was young, in the green dresses,” she said. “In 2001, I was in the Florence Chico Cann Children’s Choir when Michelle Audio Plummer was directing that. I don’t know how I got to be a part of that considering I cannot sing at all. Ever since then I’ve attended every festival, just spending time with my family, hanging out, volunteering when they used to do the 5K and just helping out whenever they needed.”
And she made sure to attend every event.
“My Aunt Leslie always participated in the pasta cook-off, so I always ‘helping’ AKA eating everything,” she said with a laugh.
But when it comes to Lang’s favorite part of the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival, it’s not the food, the music or the pageantry. She’s witnessed first-hand that for many, the festival serves as a reunion or a homecoming, even for those who aren’t from the area.
In fact, Lang said many of their family friends come in from out-of-town to witness the annual event for themselves.
“It has become an important part of their year,” she said. “It’s so crazy that so many people have attended with us and it’s become a staple in their lives so they come in for it. That’s definitely my favorite part is getting to share that with people that are not from here but still appreciate it. I have friends coming in that are so excited, and I look forward to sharing that with them too.”
With each new generation, the tie back to the homeland of Italy is diminishing, which is part of why Lang feels it’s so important to keep events like the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival going.
“I was very lucky that in 2015, my mom planned this two-week long trip to Italy with some family members, and that really solidified to me how important this is,” she said. “Obviously that was the trip of a lifetime, and I was so lucky to be able to go.”
But, of course, not everyone gets that opportunity, Lang said.
“Having more local things like this really brings these cultural experiences home,” she said. “I think it’s definitely a challenge, but I think all of the hard work of volunteers and the board to make this happen, really makes it more impactful for people my age.”
As for what Lang looks forward to attending as the new Regina Maria, visitors shouldn’t be surprised to see her where there’s Italian food.
“I missed the hot pepper eating contest at the cook-off, so I’m excited to redeem myself at the meatball eating contest. I’m looking forward to that,” she said.
And of course, she will take some time Saturday to cheer on the Mountaineers.
“There is a tailgate in Jackson’s Square, I believe, at 3 p.m. on Saturday,” she said. “I will be there in my Blue and Gold. Red is not acceptable.”
But holding the title of Queen Regina Maria isn’t just about fun and food. It’s a title that comes with a great deal of responsibility.
In fact, it’s a near two-year commitment, attending all WVIHF events from the announcement at the gala until she passes on her crown at the outgoing coronation.
“There are some events throughout the year, but primarily it’s returning to all of these events next year, participating with the 41st Queen and supporting her,” Lang said. “I’ve been super lucky to get to know Alyssa Oliverio, who was Regina Maria the 39th, and she’s been super great, so I’m looking forward to doing that with the next Queen.”
Lang also has a busy year ahead professionally. Having just graduated from American University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, she currently works as social media and project coordinator for “I Support the Girls,” a non-profit organization based in the Washington, D.C. area that supplies bras and menstrual hygiene products to underprivileged women in communities around the world.
“That’s always been a very big interest of mine and passion of mine, and so I am looking forward to continuing to pursue that direction and that field after Labor Day weekend, getting back into the swing of things at home,” she said.
But for now, Lang solo focus is enjoying her time at home, celebrating her Italian heritage and meeting new people.
“Everyone come introduce yourselves to me,” she said. “I’d love to meet you.”