The winner will not only win $10,000, but will ride on a float Feb. 11 during San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade, the biggest celebration outside of Asia. They will also become a goodwill ambassador for the Chinese community throughout the Year of the Dragon.
Promoting Chinese culture and heritage, the annual event developed into a national contest in San Francisco in 1958. The pageant has not, however, become a tradition for many Chinese American students from SF State.
Last year saw only two contestants from the University, including Anita Wong, a business major, who secured the Fourth Princess title in the 2011 pageant after a last-minute decision to enter.
“I wanted to get a better taste of what it was like to be a part of such a historical event for San Francisco,” said Wong, 22. “I’ve always wondered since I was a little girl what it would be like to be a part of a pageant.”
Each year, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce invites organizations and colleges to send in their Miss Chinatown USA nominees. The search extends all the way to Hawaii, the hometown of 13 former winners, according to Hawaii’s Chinese Chamber content writer, Audra Lynn Chen.
“The Miss Chinatown pageant has always been a big thing here,” said Nicole Leong, winner of this year’s Miss Chinatown Hawaii. “Here in Hawaii, the Miss Chinatown Hawaii produces two queens: Miss Chinatown Hawaii and Miss Hawaii Chinese.”
Only 12 winners from the San Francisco area have been awarded the title crown in the past 53 years, with the last SF State student being Melissa Ng Mei Hang in 1992. This year there is one SF State graduate participating in the contest, Jenny Chin. A native of San Francisco, Chin graduated with with a degree in child and adolescent development, and will be participating in the pageant for the second time.
The decrease of participation from young Chinese American women from SF State reflects a much larger decline in Asian American students in their communities, according to Liberty Chui, an English and Chinese double major at SF State.
“I am not in a place to say because I am not involved in pageants personally, but I do notice that Asian Americans are not as involved in their community,” said Chui, 22. “Maybe it is the stereotypical Asian American outlook about being in a hybrid of two different worlds of traditions. There is the American one and the other Asian, and not having the ability to conjoin the two due to separate ideals or beliefs. Events within the community may be a wake-up call for us Asian Americans to start taking part in it.”
Those who do take part in learning about their culture with events like MCU are able to feel more connected to their Asian American heritage. As fourth runner-up, Wong was invited as a guest, along with the 2011 court, to attend the Harrah’s coronation ball. She was also invited to the Hoi Ping Association and Wong Association dinners.
With only one contestant hailing from SF State this year, Wong notes that the opportunity is one to be relished.
“My grandparents are active members in the Chinatown community, (so) they were very excited that I was so interested in being a part of Chinatown’s culture” said Wong. “I’ve really learned to embrace the Chinese culture. It feels good to know that I was a part of my very own Chinatown history.”
To purchase tickets for the pageant, contact the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce at (415) 982-3000.