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.