“I got to speak the Vietnamese language a lot and my Vietnamese has improved significantly during this time,” said Dr. Mai Vuong, Mrs. Vietnam California 2012, of her pageant experience. “By speaking with other Vietnamese-American women before and after the pageant, going on radio shows and TV shows and emceeing portions of future pageants, I got to practice my Vietnamese.”
At the March 11 Miss & Mrs. Vietnam USA 2018 Pageant, held at the Santa Clara Convention Center, volunteer dancers performed traditional dances, popular Vietnamese singers Huynh Phi Tien and Huong Thuy entertained the audience and the new Miss and Mrs. titleholders reflected on how their family history and Vietnamese culture motivated them during the pageant.
Savannah Pham, crowned Miss Vietnam USA 2018, is a senior studying Psychology at Stanford University. She aspires to be a doctor. Neither of Pham’s refugee parents attended college.
“One of the reasons I decided to do the pageant was that I saw that there is a Scholarship & Mentorship Program for children in the Vietnamese community,” said Pham, referring to a program within the Miss & Mrs. Vietnam USA organization that supports selected youth through high school and college.
Linda Huynh, crowned Mrs. Vietnam USA 2018, shared what it meant for her to wear the ao dai (Vietnamese long dress) during the pageant. During the ao dai competition, the contestants lit up the stage with these feminine and form fitting dresses.
“Wearing the ao dai makes me think of the roots of Vietnamese history and the culture it portrays,” Linda Huynh said. “Many Vietnamese-Americans are immigrants and many of them had lost everything when they came to America to start a new life as refugees during the Vietnam war. My red and gold ao dai is embroidered with a phoenix. The phoenix is a strong bird.”
Founded in 2012 by Juliane Thu Suong Vuong, the Miss & Mrs. Vietnam USA organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that, according to its website, aims to “empower Vietnamese-American women, preserve the Vietnamese culture, strengthen the Vietnamese-American Community, and celebrate the beauty and strengths of all women.”
“We are the only Miss Vietnam pageant that is awarded the 501(c)(3) status in the United States; some pageant organizations might be non-profit but it doesn’t mean they qualify for the 501(c)(3) status,” Juliane Thu Suong Vuong said. “We have 52 weekends out of a year. On average, we go out from 25 to 35 weekends out of the year to do community service.”
For example, heeding a cultural value to take care of seniors, the Miss & Mrs. Vietnam USA organization oversees free photo shoots for seniors who are 65 years and above on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
“We help run receptions for people who have passed away in the Vietnamese-American community,” Juliane Thu Suong Vuong said. “In doing this, we realized that some of the elderly don’t have good portraits of themselves. Many seniors can’t afford professional photo shoots. At our photo shoots, the seniors get their portraits taken and they can also take a picture with our royal court. We want the elderly to have a new portrait of themselves every year so when they pass away, their family have updated pictures of them.”
During the pageant, Ash Kalra, State Assemblymember for District 27, offered a few words about how women’s empowerment is on everyone’s minds. Laurie Smith, Sheriff for the County of Santa Clara, awarded a plaque to the Miss & Mrs. Vietnam USA organization to extend her gratitude for the work its members have done.
Lieutenant Amy Le, President of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers Association, assisted during the crowning ceremony.
“I came to the U.S. in 1979 when I was 11 and I didn’t speak a word of English,” Le said. “I was the first Vietnamese-American female hired as a correctional officer in Santa Clara County. I’m also the first Vietnamese-American female elected as a union president and I’m also the first female elected to this position.”