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Miss Vietnam Southern Arizona blends traditional Vietnamese and modern American cultures

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Jessica Suriano | The Daily Wildcat

All nine contestants of the Miss Vietnam Southern Arizona pageant perform a traditional Vietnamese hat dance at the pageant April 8. The contestants have been practicing this performance for months.

Tiffany Pham, mathematics and chemistry freshman walked away this year’s winner of the Vietnamese Student Association’s Miss Vietnam Southern Arizona pageant with not only a crown, but also a $1,000 scholarship.

The pageant, formerly known as Miss Áo Dài celebrated the culture’s food, music and dancing on Saturday.

In the final question and answer round for the top three contestants, Pham said she wanted to continue to educate communities on Vietnamese culture, particularly by expanding the pageant to include other southwest states such as Utah and Colorado.

Julia Nguyen, a care, health and society senior and this year’s pageant coordinator, said the club sold over 100 tickets. Trinh Nguyen, neuroscience and cognitive science junior and VSA treasurer, said the pageant was a $7,000 production, made possible by several sponsors and the club’s fundraising efforts.

Jessica Suriano | The Daily Wildcat

Tiffany Pham, mathematics and chemistry freshman at the UA, wins Miss Vietnam Southern Arizona 2017, April 8. Contestants had to model traditional áo dài dress, modern dresses sponsored by Windsor, answer two rounds of questions and perform a traditional group dance.

The first upbeat performance of the night was the Brother’s Lion Dance Team recreating two colorful and intricate dragons as a sign of wealth and prosperity. The makeshift dragons with the dancers underneath the elaborate costume performed a traditional dance where the dragons roam around the tables of the audience and “eat” donations from audience members. In between audience members “feeding the dragons,” the creatures also recreated an epic battle on stage.

Other performances throughout the night included the Golden Lotus dance team performing a traditional fan dance and the contestants performing a traditional hat dance.

The entire program was also translated into both English and Vietnamese on stage, thanks to two bilingual hosts. Also representing both cultures, the event kicked off with performances of both the Vietnamese national anthem, “Tiếng Gọi Công Dân,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The VSA club from Arizona State University attended, as well as former Miss Áo Dài winner, Michelle Huynh, a retail and consumer sciences sophomore. She said she used to be a pre-nursing student, but the pageant inspired her to follow her passion when she was a contestant. Huynh is also a Mexican and Vietnamese American student.

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“If it had not been for this pageant, I wouldn’t have faced my fear of doing something that I truly love,” Huynh said in her farewell speech before crowning the next queen. “While there’s always more to do, nonetheless I’m very thankful.”

A panel of six judges decided the contestants’ standing; Huynh was one of the judges, along with others such as Sinh Le, a UA professor of the Vietnamese language.

Another judge, Crysta Le, grew up in Vietnam and attended an international university in 2004. She has been living in Tucson for about 10 years. Le competed in Miss Vietnam Arizona in 2010. Before the pageant started, she said she will be judging the contestants this year on confidence and how well the contestants can balance Vietnamese tradition with the modern, American portion of the event as well.

Jessica Suriano | The Daily Wildcat

Sandy Trieu, one of the contestants of Miss Vietnam Southern Arizona, models the traditional áo dài dress, April 8. Audience members could purchase and hand-deliver flowers to their favorite contestants on stage.

The contestants modeled the traditional áo dài dress in one round and contemporary Windsor evening gowns in another. Each contestant also answered two rounds of questions, with questions ranging from whether or not the U.S. is ready for a woman president, to the biggest challenge facing higher education to ideas on how to make campus more environmentally friendly.

The program only had to survive one Steve Harvey-type mix-up later in the night, when Brittany Nguyen was stripped of her previously awarded sash and crown for “Audience Favorite” after there was a miscount of votes. The title was redistributed to Brittney Le, but Nguyen and Le laughed it off and held hands as the crown moved from one to the other.

Don Nguyen, VSA president, and the rest of the club have high hopes for the future of the Miss Vietnam Southern Arizona Pageant as well as for community outreach with the people of Tucson and possibly beyond.

“We hope to be able to grow for future generations to come,” Don Nguyen said.


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