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“Is there gonna be Phở,” I asked? With today’s emphasis on organic beauty, a beauty pageant was something that I, like many others, dismissed. Yet, at the Miss Vietnam Florida 2017 (Hoa Hậu Việtnam Florida) pageant, I observed a community congregate in celebration of their culture and the aesthetics of their women, which are generally marginalized by Western beauty standards.

Miss Vietnam FL
All the contestants in their final pose of the Opening Dance choreographed by Miss Vietnam Florida 2016 4th Princess & former Predators Dance Team member, Tam Pham. Photo credit: HD Photography

Organized by the Vietnamese Community of Central Florida, the lively occasion featured family businesses promoting their goods and services as well as vibrant performances of the traditional Cải Lương and Vietnamese Pop music. The focus on Vietnamese American youth was also compelling. A local dance group showcased their art, table tennis champions were awarded, and Asiamerica Bank donated to a local soccer club. As a Lebanese American myself, I recognize such community building as essential to the prosperity of minority groups.

Miss Vietnam FL
The highly anticipated show welcomed more people than there were seats! The Vietnamese Community of Central Florida was overwhelmed by the love and support shown to all the contestants and the community that day. Photo credit: Thien Productions

Most praiseworthy was the philanthropic element. Amid the 13 contestants, a generous amount of nearly $12,000 was collected for the Project Vietnam Foundation nonprofit. The contestants included young Vietnamese women from across Florida, who not only dedicated countless months to preparing for the event but also organized fundraising projects in their respective communities. Their enriching efforts clearly reflected their commitment to making a difference by empowering their community.

Miss Vietnam FL
Top 5 Miss Vietnam Florida 2017 from left to right: 4th Princess, Alyce Thuy Hang Vo; 2nd Princess, Kelsey Phan; Miss Vietnam Florida 2017, Lauren Tram Nguyen; 1st Princess, Gina Thanh Nhu Nguyen; 3rd Princess, Mary My Hanh Tran. Photo credit: Thien Productions

One could hear a chopstick drop during those few anxious seconds before the crowning. Finally, the winner was revealed, as the sudden excitement, echoed by Christina Aguilera’s “Feel This Moment,” filled the air, mixing with the lingering scents of Bún Bò Huế. The masses rushed the stage, as supporters shared in the euphoria, while older ladies captured the moment with their massive iPads, perhaps reminiscing their youth. When two children approached the stage for a photo with the winner, Lauren Tram Nguyen, it became evident that she was already engaging in her responsibilities as a role model. That day, I witnessed the authenticity of a resilient and progressing community.

Article by Ahmad Krecht

Miss Vietnam FL
Lauren Tram Nguyen, the new Miss Vietnam Florida 2017 being crowned by Angel Van, Miss Vietnam Florida 2016. Photo credit: Thien Productions
Miss Vietnam FL
Genuine smiles of happiness and appreciation shown on Lauren Tram Nguyen’s face as children ran up to the stage to show her love after being crowned. Photo credit: HD Photography