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Miss VSA pageant celebrates Vietnamese culture, Asian diversity at Rutgers

 This year's Miss VSA included six contestants from a range of universities in the Northeast region. Each contestant was required to give a video introduction, perform in a talent show, participate in an ao dai walk and answer questions.  – Photo by Photo by Catherine Nguyen | The Daily Targum

Last Saturday, Rutgers' Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) hosted the second annual Miss VSA, a cultural pageant that aimed to highlight Vietnamese culture as well as the diversity of Asian culture. 

At the event, which sold out the day before, six contestants from various universities in the Northeast competed for the title of Miss VSA and the opportunity to win money for a charity of their choice. This year’s contestants from Rutgers were Almanda Le, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, Maya Nayak, a School of Engineering senior and Yu-Ting Shen, a Rutgers Business School junior. Other contestants were Vivian Luu from Baruch College, MyPhuong Nguyen from Stony Brook University and Christina Tran from Binghamton University. 

The two emcees, Trinh Vu, a School of Engineering first-year, and Jason Phu, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, started off the night by describing the background behind this year’s theme: A Night in Saigon. 

“Saigon, more formally known as Ho Chi Minh City, is a city rich with history and culture. It is where many people with different cultures joined together to display unity,” Vu said. 

Next was the opening ceremony, a dance choreographed and performed by members of the VSA. The dance incorporated both traditional Vietnamese elements, such as the ao dai (a Vietnamese garment), and modern elements such as pop music and shoot dancing. 

The first part of the pageant introduced the contestants, requiring them to make a video answering the prompt of what made them beautiful. Each contestant had a unique answer, with some filming moments when they were performing at Vietnamese shows, some displaying personal moments with friends and family and others singing or cooking in their video. 

Contestants then displayed their skills in the talent portion of the pageant. Most talents were musical: Le danced with her sorority, Kappa Delta Phi, to a piece she choreographed, Luu sang a mash-up of various songs by Ariana Grande, Shen rapped in Chinese and Tran played “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri on the piano. On the other hand, Nguyen did a Draw-My-Life style video showing her drawings while narrating a traditional Vietnamese folktale, and Nayak used slam poetry to describe her experience being trans. 

In the third round of the pageant, contestants then dressed in colorful ao dai and walked across the main stage. Each put their own spin on the walk, with some incorporating props such as umbrellas and others dancing as they walked. 

In between the portions were guest performances from Haru, a K-Pop cover dance club, and Raps Dance Troupe.

The final part of the pageant was the Q&A, in which contestants were each asked questions on topics such as what differentiated them from the other contestants, their culture and what they thought were the most pressing issues in today’s generation. 

At the end of the night, the audience drum rolled as the emcees announced the winners of this year’s Miss VSA pageant. Le was the winner for the social media category, which was determined by the contestant who received the most Facebook likes. Luu was crowned both the fan favorite award, determined by votes from the audience during the event, and the title of Miss VSA 2019. 

Her organization of choice was To Write Love on Her Arms, which is a non-profit organization that aims to help those who are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. 

“I find it extremely important to address mental health in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community,” Luu said in a pamphlet. “By doing so, together we can educate and provide resources for those who lack awareness and reduce the mental illness stigma.” 

Jennifer Luu, a School of Arts and Sciences senior and president of Rutgers VSA, said the other charities that would benefit from the event were Children of Vietnam and the Catalyst Foundation. 

“Miss VSA is a night to celebrate friends, family, culture and charity … It brought my e-board and I so much happiness to see friends, family and the community come together to support and celebrate our contestants, our philanthropy and our organization,” she said.

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