Passing the crown: Former Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas talks culture, tradition, and confidence

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On January 21, Charlotte crowned a new queen in the city. Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas Catherine Thibaut was selected to carry on an over 20-year tradition rooted in our community in celebration of Vietnamese culture.

We sat down with Jessica Ho, winner of last year’s Miss Vietnam competition, about what it’s like to participate in the pageant, passing down her crown, and the duties of a queen to represent Charlotte’s robust Vietnamese community.

Sherrell Dorsey: How long has the Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas been in existence?

Jessica Ho: The Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas pageant was established in 1996. It is under our umbrella organization, the Vietnamese Association of Charlotte. Our platform is to elevate and empower Vietnamese-American women in the Carolinas community and beyond through our three pillars: culture, confidence, and beauty.

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SD: How are contestants judged?

JH: The contestants are judged on an evening gown walk, ao dai walk, self-introduction in Vietnamese, an interview with the judges, and an on-stage question. The ao dai is the traditional Vietnamese dress. It is a long, usually silk tunic made to be fitted to the body, along with pants. The overall judging is centralized on how each girl displays her confidence, rather than just physical appearances. You could say we are a cultural pageant because we focus more on preserving our culture while building your confidence.

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SD: Why did you decide to compete in the competition?

JH: I was trying to be more confident about participating in things outside of my comfort zone because my best friend, who is one of the pageant coordinators, encouraged me in doing those activities. I gained more than I expected. I’ve made life-long friendships and developed stronger personal and professional skills.

Personally, I experienced a great deal of growth throughout the pageant. On pageant day, I was proud of myself for just taking the risk. Winning the actual pageant came at complete surprise to me

I cried when I got crowned. I didn’t think I was capable of winning queen because I was already happy with being able to represent myself on stage. It was one of the most emotional moments that I ever had that I just let myself freely express my emotions.

Plus, I was not that confident in my abilities and downplayed my skills. So naturally, stepping into the pageant should have been something I avoided purely because of my own intimidation but I’m thankful I joined it.

The Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas organization (MVC) taught me how to be humble, accept myself, how to be confident, and enjoy my life as much as I can. It has changed my life for the better and I could not be more thankful for it.

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SD: Describe your experience since winning the pageant last year. What were your responsibilities after winning and what will be your responsibilities when you have to pass your crown?

JH: Entering the role as the Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas 2016 required me to make public appearances. Along with the Royal Court, which contains Queen, 1st Runner-Up, 2nd Runner-Up, Miss Congeniality, and Miss People’s Choice, we had public appearances throughout the year, which encompasses attending everything from Vietnamese festivals to college cultural shows.

“Our duty is to show support among other Vietnamese communities in the Carolinas and through that, it gave me a better appreciation of my heritage.”

Throughout 2016, I gave TV interviews, speeches, and participated in parades. Being the face of the organization and the community also means being a role model, especially to the younger generations.

This past year, I’ve concentrated on individuality as each person is their own unique being. I chose that because I think sometimes people can forget about their uniqueness and try to fit into a mold, especially when you compete in a pageant. I’ve lived my life more along the lines of doing things I love and being content with being myself.

After passing the crown, I will remain in my current position in the executive board as Social Media Chair and Assisting Director until we select the new board in July. My responsibilities will be updating the Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on updates of the Royal Court 2017, sharing the achievements of our pageant sisters, and other news among the Vietnamese community. As Assisting Director, I provide advice for the directors in preparation for the next pageant.

I aim to advocate for the organization and show people how the Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas is not what it seems because people can give a close-minded opinion of us without trying to see how our organization works.

SD: Why is this celebration important to all of Charlotte?

JH: The pageant is a part of the Vietnamese New Year/Lunar New Year (Tết in Vietnamese). It can be described as Christmas and New Years combined into one holiday. It is the celebration of the arrival of spring. Generally, this will encourage people to settle their troubles with the past year and prepare for a fresh, clean start in the new year.

“It is important to the Charlotte Vietnamese community because it’s an opportunity to reunite families, the core of the Vietnamese values, and have a new beginning.”

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SD: Share with us something that isn’t widely known about this event within the Vietnamese community.

JH: This past year, we inaugurated the Mister Vietnam of the Carolinas pageant and it turned out to be a success. I got to witness 10 guys come together for a short period of time and create something beautiful for Tet.

They all walked away with the same effect that we created under the Miss Vietnam of the Carolinas pageant: culture, confidence, and beauty.

All images courtesy of Nick Nguyen 

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Sherrell Dorsey
| @Sherrell_Dorsey
Sherrell lives in NoDa with her impressive shoe collection. She is a social-impact storyteller who speaks and writes frequently on the intersections of sustainability, technology and digital inclusion.