Pageant Experience: Quan Huynh- MVNCI Queen

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Growing up in a family that works to put food on the table, I sometimes did not allow myself to understand things that my family considered to be extravagant. Beauty pageants were among those. I always had the impression that pageants were a way for people to show off beauty and their superficial appearance. However, recently, I was encouraged to participate in an academic-focused pageant, the Miss Vietnam of Northern California Intercollegiate Pageant. Through MVNCI, I have learned many valuable lessons about myself, my community, and my perspectives.

When I was first asked to participate in the 2016 MVNCI Pageant by my friend, I was hesitant given my lack of understanding and confidence in myself, and I honestly just expected spending hours doing makeup. Little did I know that I would be selected as the 2016 Miss Vietnam of Northern California Intercollegiate. Through participating in MVNCI, I was able to gain immense self-confidence, communication and leadership skills, and a strong support system consisting of the girls who were supposed to be my competitors. Over a span of three months, I made many unforgettable bonds with my pageant sisters, from providing constructive criticism during our weekly practices to sharing the last piece of spring roll. I eventually forgot about my old perception of pageants and focused on developing myself and connecting with my community.

My MVNCI Pageant experience certainly changed the way I have always perceived pageants, and in a way, it taught me many more things about my own perspectives. Ironically, I broke the status quo that I had set for myself. I am thankful for the endless opportunities to give back to my loving and supporting community, and for the opportunity to better my own personal development as well. To me, pageants are no longer something extravagant or superficial, but are a way for me to share my culture to others and build a strong connection with my community. More importantly, I learned to keep an open mind about life and be ready to challenge myself more frequently in the future.

As the new MVNCI Queen, I hope to inspire and encourage other young Asian American women to reconnect with their roots and preserve their cultural heritage.

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Pageant Experience: Savannah Pham- First Princess

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On pageant day, my alarm went off at 6 a.m. I awoke slightly disoriented, having tossed and turned throughout the night. I went to my hair and makeup appointment and my artist did an incredible job. However, she had not taken into account the length of my hair, so she didn’t end up finishing until 9:40. I was so worried about arriving late and losing points. By the time my sister dropped me off at the theater, I ran over to where the other girls were standing. “You made it just in time!” they shouted. I looked at my phone. 10 a.m. I had gotten so lucky and finally let myself breathe.

Now it was time to get everything organized. We were quickly instructed to get into our white ao dai and before I knew it, we had completed a run through of the entire show. We were then given time to relax in our dressing rooms before the show started. I was so happy to be in the dressing room with half the girls because they were so energetic. We were dancing and singing around the room, calming all of our nerves.

When the time came to announce Top 8, everything flew by. Before I knew it, it was time to announce Top 5 and I was nervous once again, trying my hardest to not let it show in my smile. My heart sank a little when there was only one card left and I hadn’t been called, but I was excited for the other girls and couldn’t wait to hear what they had to say. “Contestant #11!” I stepped forward with surprise, smiling hard and thanking my lucky stars that I had somehow made it to Top 5. I couldn’t believe it, but I was thrilled. Once again, I was the first to answer the question. I was still nervous, but this time I discussed my passion for addressing mental health issues within the Asian Pacific Islander community and was pleased with my answer. Once I finished, it was so nice to relax and listen to what the other girls had to say.

Once it was time for crowning; all I could do was smile. I had no expectations whatsoever because I was happy to have experienced and grown so much along this journey and couldn’t believe the pageant was coming to an end. As they began announcing Court, I was so overjoyed for each girl who won a title as they had practiced so hard the past two months and truly shone that day; I was so proud of their accomplishments.

“1st princess is…Savannah Pham!” I heard my family, who had traveled all the way up from Southern California, cheering for me and I stepped forward in awe with a huge smile on my face. I couldn’t believe it! I had started this journey thinking, “I’m not pageant material,” and had never done anything like this, so being able to earn a title meant so much to me.

One of the main reasons I joined MVNCI was because I appreciated the emphasis on community service. The philanthropy platform is more than just something to make a contestant look impressive. Each and every one of us truly had a platform we were passionate about. As a Court, we have decided to center our service projects on the topics we are passionate about. I am looking forward to spreading awareness of mental illnesses and treatments within the community in order to decrease stigma.

I am so thankful for all of the support I have received from my family and friends as well as the MVNCI Staff. It’s an absolute honor to have been crowned 1st Princess and I can’t wait to serve the Vietnamese community and see what we accomplish as Court!

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Pageant Experience: Y Nguyet Phun- Miss Talent and Second Princess

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From the first day of practice to pageant day, I felt like I was on a very long and never-ending roller coaster. I faced many ups and downs during this journey but I learned to grow everyday with my pageant sisters. One month of practices passed by so fast, but I remembered every single detail of my experiences on pageant day. The night before pageant, I was sleeping over at a pageant sister’s house and both of us were extremely nervous and feeling anxious about pageant day. We practiced our introduction repeatedly and answered questions from previous pageants to help prepare for the big day. We also steamed our ao dai and made sure that our outfits would be nice and straight for the pageant. The whole night, I was too nervous to go to sleep so I had very minimum sleep.

The next day, I woke up with unsymmetrical eyelids, one eye was normal while the other eye was a monolid. My makeup artist tried her best to make my eye shadow look even but it was unsuccessful. With uneven eye shadow, I drove to the theater and arrived very early because I didn’t want to be late. That morning, I didn’t have time to get breakfast or snacks, but either way, my stomach was filled with butterflies to eat anything. An hour before the show started, I began to receive messages from friends and families encouraging me and cheering me on. Suddenly, my nervousness was gone and I started to become more relaxed. I remember all of us were singing and dancing in the dressing room. We were having the time of our lives in the dressing room before the show. Then, it suddenly hit me that pageant will be over soon and I might not see some of these girls again. They are like my sisters now and I started to feel sad and anxious again.

The show started and we performed our introduction dance. It was a successful dance because we’ve been practicing the dance since day one.  We changed into our ao dai and then evening gown. Time just flew by so quickly because by the time we were done changing to our white ao dai, it was time for the Top 8. I was anxious when they called out my name because I thought I didn’t do as well as I hoped when answering questions on the spot. My speech was lacking compared to the other girls and I was stumbling trying to answer the questions fluently. Soon enough, it was Top 5 and my number was called. They took me to the back to listen to music while the other contestants answered the question on stage one by one. I was the last one to answer the question and I was very nervous. I thought I did really badly because I kept on repeating my thoughts over and over again.

In a blink of the eye, pageant was coming to an end. It was suddenly time for crowning. It was the most nerve-wrecking moment of my life. I didn’t anticipate that I was going to win something. They called my name for Miss Talent and I was very surprised. Then, standing there smiling and pictures were taken. They called my name again, for 2nd Princess. That moment, I thought I heard something wrong or maybe it was not my name. My heart stopped beating for like a second and then I walk to the middle of the stage again for the 2nd Princess crown. I couldn’t believe that I won two titles that night.

Now, as your 2nd Princess and Miss Talent, I hope to carry through my responsibilities to serve the community and the people in other areas as well. I look forward to all the events and new experiences acquire while using this opportunity to inspire others to do things they are passionate for. I hope to connect the youth of our community with the older generation.

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Pageant Experience: Rei Bao Chau Pham- Miss Photogenic and Miss Ao Dai

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I’ve always associated pageantry with beauty, intelligence, grace, and everything I’m not. Sports was my main priority growing up, making me a tomboy who loves throwing on a worn out pair of sneakers, baby hairs that never cooperate, and constantly getting yelled at by my mother for slouching or for not walking in one straight line like a girl should.

Walking into the first practice, I had no idea what to expect. While looking through pictures of past contestants and court members with their perfected hair, makeup, outfits, and pageant stance, I began to think about how much I don’t belong here. As I got placed next to Quan, contestant number 10, I thought, “Great. I really don’t want to stand next to Miss Vietnam of Kansas”. She actually became my closest friend throughout the process and was one of my biggest inspirations.

There have definitely been several moments during the pageant process where I was close to giving up. I couldn’t help comparing myself to other contestants that were more graceful and intelligent than me. As humans, we naturally are our own worst critics and tend to see what others have that we lack. While writing a letter to myself for an extra-credit assignment, I realized that this is not a competition against others, but a competition against myself. I am not striving to be better than others but to be the best version of myself possible. With this new mindset a week before pageant day, my focus shifted to me and what I can do to improve myself as a contestant representing Miss Vietnam of Northern California-Intercollegiate.

The number 9 became the most important number to me for the final days leading up to Pageant Day. Never have I grown so attached to a number, yet feel so judged by it as well. The image of the number keeps popping into my head. I kept hearing Anh Jet’s and Chi Trami’s voices repeating it over and over. Contestant number 9! Contestant number 9! This number still haunts me to this day.

Pageant day, March 06, was a blur. The adrenaline rush was making my heart want to pop out of my chest. A million thoughts ran through my head on stage, my eyes heavy from the pair of lashes I was not used to wearing, my legs shake and wobbled as if I’ve never practice in these pair of heels before. I got distracted while doing my introduction, which killed half of my confidence, but I had so much fun singing Vietnamese and Disney songs with the girls in my dressing room that I didn’t sweat it too much because I knew I gave it my all. Personally, the evening gown portion was my favorite. The song was Sugar by Maroon 5, which was a song that makes me happy, so strutting in my handmade evening gown became very easy and natural.

The most nerve-wracking moment was Top 8 and Top 5. When my number was called first for Top 8, I had to look down at my number to make sure it was my number they called. I couldn’t believe it. At that moment, I thought that if I do come out empty-handed, I would still be happy because making it to Top 8 was an accomplishment in itself since all twelve contestants are beautiful inside and out and are all very well qualified for the Queen title.

Winning two titles were something I never thought I could do. When I heard “Your 2016 Miss Photogenic is…” My mind went straight to Quan. But when my number was called, I paused. I was so confused. “Me? How? I had like… 300 likes on Facebook!” Worse, when Miss Ao Dai was announced, “WHAT?! Me? Duyen Dang? Graceful?” I shed a tear squatting down to receive my second sash and crown of the evening. As I stood there with the rest of the court smiling for what felt like an eternity for pictures, I realized that the girl walking into the first day of pageant practice is not the same woman standing on stage at the moment. I have grown, physically and mentally, as a Vietnamese American woman. I have learned and understood the values we hold and the standards we must live up to.

During my reign, I would like to inspire at least one person. Serving my community is something I have always been passionate about. However, if I could inspire at least another person to do the same, I believe that they could also inspire someone else as well. This way, the tradition will continue and this world could be a better place with more people giving back to the community they come from. I would like to continue working on being the best version of myself possible. Lastly, I would like to make my parents and the Vietnamese community proud of the young and intelligent women they were able to raise who understand the morals and values of a Vietnamese individual.

I am so honored to be your 2016 Miss Photogenic and Miss Ao Dai of MVNCI. I promise to uphold the standards of a Vietnamese American woman and hope to do you all proud.

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Pageant Experience: Viviane Nguyen- Miss Congeniality

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I recall being abroad in Thailand and making the decision to be a contestant in the Miss Vietnam of Northern California Intercollegiate Pageant. As I reflect on my experience as a contestant leading up to pageant day and winning Miss Congeniality, the quote that best summarizes my four month experience is, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” While I was studying abroad, I went out of my comfort zone by doing two solo trips to Singapore and Myanmar. I was challenged to be independent in an unfamiliar country. Similarly, my first pageant experience challenged me to not only be independent but also resourceful. There are three things I learned that helped me grow outside of my comfort zone:

  • The power of the ask. I’m currently working in sales, and it’s ironic how I still found it challenging to ask my networks to support me on the social campaign or sponsor though ticket sales. The hardest thing I had to overcome was the feeling of being indebted to someone who supported me. However, I learned how to embrace and include my friends from high school, college, and strangers through my journey participating in a pageant rooted in honoring exemplary Vietnamese college students. From this experience, I have expanded and leveraged my networks, which I realized spans from Washington D.C. to Florida, from Thailand to Vietnam.
  • Overcoming the fear of public speaking and putting myself out there. I have sat through a number of scholarship and job interviews, facilitated conferences, and emceed events at my alma mater UC Berkeley. Participating in the pageant has challenged me to handle the pressure when the spotlight is literally on me for hours at a time. In the future, I aspire to run for a local public office. This opportunity to be in the pageant has given me a taste of how to properly conduct myself under pressure and attention, as well as how to receive and incorporate constructive feedback.
  • Competition and friendship does not have to be exclusive. Although I have not participated in other pageants, I am grateful that my first experience was in MVNCI. I gained great mentors like Jessica and Cindy, but also a new group of friends that I can ask for support and in turn, I can also support them. I recall a specific instance where I struggled with understanding the counts of the dance and all the girls counted through the choreography several times. The contestants are undoubtedly a group of talented and hardworking young ladies, and I am proud of all the work they put in their academic and professional endeavors. In my future endeavors, I know that I will be working with others in a competitive workspace. My pageant experience helped me balance how to compete but also work harmoniously with my peers.

This May, I am excited to be participating in an all expense paid National Leadership Academy in Washington D.C. which targets and trains Asian American and Pacific Islanders who are currently elected officials and aspiring ones. I have no doubt that with my MVNCI experience under my belt, I will be able to leverage my experience of public speaking and putting myself out there to maximize the training opportunity. I figured, if I could walk on stage and perform in front of a hundred people, I can do anything. With that said, during my reign, I will focus my energy on providing mentorship and informal coaching for Bay Area high school or college students with interviewing, public speaking, and professional development. As I received a lot of support from mentors, I will serve as that mentor in my capacity with MVNCI.

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