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Spotlight: Miss Vietnam of Florida pageant boasts high heels and heritage

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In a narrow storefront in Little Vietnam, the young women stand in two lines holding ornate purple fans. For the past few weeks, they’ve been rehearsing pageant must-dos—like walking with grace and standing in high heels for hours.

“I’m just going to be happy if I don’t fall while walking. Look at how tall these are!” one of the pageants exclaims during a walk-through of an opening routine.

Lina Dang came all the way from Gainesville to rehearse for the pageant. The 20-year- old pre-dental student at the University of Florida is the first in her generation to participate in something like this.

“I’m doing it for my grandparents and my mother to show them even though I’m born here and everything they went through to bring me here, I still pay my respects to my culture and I’d love to make them proud,” she says with a smile.

Miss Vietnam of Florida is a springboard for bigger pageants like Miss Vietnam USA, Miss Ao Dai, and Miss Vietnam Universe. But Nhi Nguyen, the pageant director and past participant, says it’s more of a way for girls to build their confidence and make friends. For most of the girls, it’s their first time competing in a pageant.

“They’re very scared and timid, and it’s not a serious—like Miss America or Miss Universe. It’s a small thing. It’s community and we’re just here just basically to give them an enjoyable experience,” she says.

During the rehearsal, the girls prance from side to side holding their fans to rehearse for the opening act. The competition includes a traditional and evening wear competition, as well as a talent portion where the girls can do anything from sing and cook to perform poetry or Taekwondo.

Lizzii Le, the pageant coordinator, says the question-and-answer portion is the most rewarding part of the competition. It reconnects contestants to their history by asking them questions about how they feel about Vietnam and who their favorite heroines are.

“If you don’t know much about the Vietnamese culture, you’re going to have to Google it. You’re going to have to do some research,” Le says.

The girls will try to answer the questions in Vietnamese to show what Nhi Nguyen calls “taking back their roots” in a place where traces of their history are faint.

“Trying to speak Vietnamese at home and English at school, you really try not to forget your language, but it’s really difficult because everywhere here you’re speaking English,” she admits.

For Lina Lang, the pageant is about fusing new parts of who she is with her family traditions. Since preparing for the pageant, she has made new friends like her–Vietnamese but raised in the United States. She has spoken to her grandparents a lot more about family traditions. Plus, she is practicing a special performance for the talent portion.

“I will do salsa with my boyfriend so it’s a little different from a lot of girls are doing, but I wanted to incorporate a lot of what I do into the Vietnamese culture, as well,” she says.

Ownership and creativity are the whole purpose of the pageant, according to coordinator, Nhi Nguyen.

“You’re in America. You learn English. But we don’t want them to forget who they are and preserve that culture and tradition that makes us all very different and unique.”

The Miss Vietnam of Florida pageant will begin at noon on Sunday. It’s part of a larger Vietnamese New Year festival that will include live music, dragon dancing, and performances from local and national Vietnamese artists.

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About Renata Sago

Renata Sago