Thriving Community Leader, Miss Arizona 1985, Shares Her Surprising Past

You’d be surprised to learn that Christianne Acosta grew up with a stepmother from a fairytale. 

Her stepmother laughed in her face whenever she tried to connect and open up a conversation. Her stepmother verbally and physically abused her. Her tradition-minded father never stood up for her. In spite of all that, Christianne radiates positivity. She thrives as the leader of a charitable networking organization, a trusted banker and a happily married mother of two. In fact, she says her rough past only made her stronger.

When Christianne was 4 years old, her father divorced her mother and remarried. As Christianne tells it, her stepmother was jealous and didn’t want Christianne, her father, or her older brother and sister to see Christianne’s mother. She and her siblings, her mother’s other children, didn’t see their mother for two decades after that.

Christianne’s father and stepmother would yell at her and shame her unreasonably, like for going outside. There were times in Christianne’s childhood when her stepmother and father would hit her. Christianne always wondered why her father didn’t stand up for her, or why he didn’t ask her stepmother to be less harsh with her. 

As she got older, she played with her three younger step-siblings, the products of her father’s new marriage. They were very close. They didn’t learn until they were much older that they were “step”-siblings—that they were different from most. 

Some days, Christianne heard about her friends in school having conversations with their mothers. She would come home and ask the same questions of her stepmother, trying to open up a dialogue. Her stepmother would laugh in response, sarcastically, which made Christianne feel shame for wanting that connection. 

Yet, Christianne found ways to believe in the goodness in people despite her own pain. 

She says with a smile in her voice, “Life has many obstacles, it’s how you embrace them, how you live with them, that’s the main factor in your life.”

When Christianne finally reached the age of maturity in 1985, she heard about the Miss Arizona contest from her family-friend Irene Mayo. She jumped at the chance to compete in the contest. The grand prize was a full ride scholarship to Arizona State University, and a car that she didn’t know how to drive. She was a shoe-in with her rich black hair, sparkling eyes and picture-perfect face. For the talent portion, she sang a Spanish song called El Tiempo by Flor Sylvestre. She won the sash, was handed her bouquet and smiled on the happiest day of her life. She had her ticket out of her childhood home, where she had found more pain than love. 

For a while, she toured Arizona and Mexico as Miss Arizona: meeting people, speaking to large crowds and representing a bank. She had a lot of fun and the experience fostered her ability to speak publicly. That time in her life was the beginning of her exposure to the banking world. 

When Christianne first went to college she wanted to study fashion. But her father said she needed to do something more practical. So she focused on business. One day she was passing by the tremendous Citi Bank building and she felt inspired. She wanted to work there one day. 

When Christianne  left school she got a job in banking in her home town of Tucson, a city with a population of 900,000. Eventually she did work at Citi Bank. 

What she loves most about her job is connecting with clients. She enjoys fulfilling their needs. She appreciates being able to help them, and her greatest pride is in being a trusted advisor. She savors good conversations with them. She delights in helping businesses, big and small. 

A more challenging part of her job was when her bosses wanted her to sell an investment product that she wasn’t comfortable pushing on customers. The clients would eventually close those accounts or lose their money. She felt so dirty because of this that she wanted to shower when she got home from work.

Being the confident and empowered woman she is, she decided to write to the CEO of the bank about the issue.  He wrote back in an attempt to put her at ease. That didn’t stop Christianne from wanting to leave that bank and those worries behind her. Besides, she felt the men in banking were always condescending.

Christianne has always been upfront with her bosses. She doesn’t like being micro-managed and she lets that be known. She believes in an open-door policy that goes both ways. 

She says, “Full communication is better than no communication at all.”

Christianne has a way of winning everyone over. She says that she eventually gets to a point with everyone where they understand each other. Any rivals she’s faced in business have become her friends. 

Here friend Alise Chan says, “She’s always positive…I’ve never seen her get angry. She sees the best in life and the best in people, all the time.”

During her career in banking Christianne has met many women who were trying to prove themselves, who forgot that other women are dealing with the same challenges. Christianne had to prove to them that she could do her job, which she had been doing for years. Eventually though, they reached a point where they were going out for drinks together.

On the second happiest day in her life Christianne met her future husband, Martin. 

Martin says of her, “At the end of the day she didn’t use [her rough childhood] as a way to be bitter, ingrate or the same as them. She used that frame and mindset to make the world a better place. That’s why she’s lived such a good life, and she’s such a good person. She used that truly negative experience to turn it around and say ‘I’m gonna make life better, not only for myself, for my children, but for my friends, and people I don’t even know’.”

When they were getting married Christianne decided to reach out to her birth mother, who she hadn’t seen since she was 4 years old. She wanted her mother to be present at her wedding but her mother didn’t want to upset people, so it was another year until they finally met in person. Up until that point Christianne wouldn’t have been able to identify her if she was standing right next to her. 

Her father didn’t speak to her after she made contact with her mother. 

About 25 years ago, Christianne wanted something more creative in her life. So she started a flower business. At first she was designing floral displays in her house for restaurants. Word of mouth spread about how good she was and soon other retail businesses wanted her designs. After a while she was able to afford two storefronts and handle dozens of clients. 

Then, 15 years ago, she felt a need to give back to her community. She had been contributing to children’s organizations in Arizona for a long time, guided by her own challenging past, but she felt there was something more she could do. 

She thought to herself, “there must be other women out there who want to help children just like I do.” 

With that in mind, she started Influential Women In Arizona, one of her many charitable organizations. It’s a networking group that supports charities and promotes each other’s businesses. At first they were knocking on doors asking orphanages and other organizations how they could help. They were a small group of women sewing blankets and putting together packages. 

Without Christianne they wouldn’t have known each other. She makes their lives better, not only through the charities they serve together but through her frequent one-on-one support and inspiring social media updates.

“She’s very kind, she has a big heart. She has a heart of gold,” says Olivia Delsynder, a member of Influential Women In Arizona.

Her husband adds, “If she’s your friend she’ll do anything for you. One of those rare people. She makes the world a better place.”

At a certain point, it had been years since she had spoken to her father. Christianne wanted him to be involved her children’s lives. She had two by then: Tristan and Martinique. One day, she decided to call her father. He asked who she was. After she explained, he said he didn’t want her to contact him again. Christianne hung up the phone, crying her eyes out. 

A few years later Christianne tried contacting her father again. He said the same thing, not to call him and that he didn’t want to know her. She was so devastated this time that she fainted in front of her two children, with no one else there to care for them. Her small son Tristan had to run across the street to get help from a neighbor, who then called an ambulance. 

To this day, Christianne’s father doesn’t give her any recognition. But Christianne is ever positive in the face of it. 

She says, “I can’t make someone love me. I can only give them the benefit of the doubt for so long.”

At least she has her mother now, who she’s in frequent contact with and visits often. She also has her siblings to chat with and see at holidays. She has family around who support her and she supports them in return. One of those people was her aunt, who died earlier in 2021. 

Christianne’s friend, Alise Chan, says, “When her aunt and uncle were in an horrible accident she lost her uncle. She did everything she could to take care of her aunt…She was determined to make sure her aunt would be okay.”

Her husband adds, “She pays it back and forward….The thing people don’t know about her is that she’s so giving. She took care of her aunt, she did everything [for her]. For a time we had her living with us. She took care of her for many, many years.”

She also prides herself on being open with her own children, so they never have to go through what she did.

Her husband notes, “Christianne’s a great mom. She’s dedicated to her kids… She spent their first five years home with them, as partners in crime. You can see how it helped them grow as people today.”

These days, Influential Women In Arizona has 2,500 members, who collectively donate to charity. Each year they choose an organization to devote their time and funds to. They like to stay with the theme of helping  children and single mothers.

Delsynder says, “She’s very compassionate, and passionate about everything….She’s always making sure everyone’s happy and taken care of.”

 Christianne also keeps her floral business thriving. Since she moved from Tucson to Phoenix, she had to move her design work into a warehouse. But she doesn’t need a storefront—her clients tell others how excellent her work is and that gets her new business. She started designing Christmas trees, sometimes one for every room of a client’s house. Her clients appreciate that she respects their privacy and doesn’t require photos of her own work. This image to the right is rare.

Christianne remains a banker by day. She still finds the work rewarding. She spends her 9-5 day at the bank, and somehow makes time for her floral business at night and on weekends.

She’s also very involved in her children’s lives. She talks to them about their schools, their friends, their hopes and dreams. She opens up conversations about touchy subjects, like death, early in their lives. She never wants them to feel an ounce of what she felt growing up.