By PA CHANG HER
Cling! Cling! The visitors hear the sound of coin embellishments from traditional costumes as they brush against the body. They hear the laughter from the crowds. They watch people ball toss and smell cooked chicken and egg rolls.
These are the sights and sounds of the New Year celebration hosted every year by the Hmong Consortium in Milwaukee. More than 8,000 people attend the celebration from all over the U.S.. This year the event will be held on Dec. 14-15, at the Wisconsin Expo Center located on the Wisconsin State Fair grounds in West Allis.
The celebration holds different activities and showcases numerous vendors. Their main event is the beauty pageant which started in 2008. The winning contestant becomes Miss Hmong Wisconsin.
The duties of Miss Hmong Wisconsin include but are not limited to attending community events, soccer tournaments and New Year celebrations. She also hosts events and volunteers her time to help others.
The prizes include a $3,000 check and a crown. After winning the pageant, competitors can enter into the national competition, Miss Hmong American. They can also go on to enter Miss Hmong International.
The pageant is not solely based on physical beauty. What counts is the beauty from within. The contestants are judged on speeches, performances, gowns and traditional costumes and talents. The girls practice and prepare for two months before the competition. Within that time, the girls work on their speeches, their walk, their talents and routines.
“I still tried my best to learn from the Hmong elders,” said Mai Ker Thao, 19, a former contestant. “I practiced three times every other day.”
Since the introduction speech is one part of the competition that is critically judged, Thao will mention in her speech the Hmong president, her parents and friends.
Paj Ntsa Vang, 19, Miss Hmong Wisconsin 2012-2013, mentioned why she wants to help the Hmong community, what she has done so far, and what she wants to accomplish in the future.
“After a year winning Miss Hmong Wisconsin, I’ve done a lot of community service with the Hmong church, to help kids in their Bible studies, participated in games and spent time with them,” Vang said.
In the Hmong community, representation is the number one priority in most families. The girls who compete are often considered to be role models.
“A lot of girls came to me and said I’m their inspiration,” Vang said.
The pageant is a good experience that leads to great networking, future opportunities and more volunteer commitments in the Hmong community.
Vang has involved herself in the Hmong community by hosting events, public speaking and coordinating a fashion show.
She dances in a dance group called Nkauj Hmoob Hnub Qub, has won many awards and was recognized by the Hmong Service Center for her work.
There are usually 8-12 girls who compete in the competition. It is very competitive due to the speeches they have to make, the talents they have to perform, and how they present themselves through their traditional culture costumes.
Some requirements for girls who desire to participate in the pageant are: being between the ages of 16-24, must be a Wisconsin native, be unmarried, not be pregnant, not have won first place previously and has to speak Hmong.
Depending on what level of Hmong contestants speak, there is always room for them to learn more.
Many people take this time to take advantage of the opportunity to learn and read Hmong. The pageant helps contestants correct themselves and speak Hmong more efficiently.
“The difficulty was trying to speak everything clearly,” said Mai Kor Lor, 21, a former contestant.
The contestants are judged by the board of directors of the Milwaukee Hmong Consortium.
Many girls are afraid and insecure about themselves, so getting involved in the pageant helps with confidence.
“My confidence actually led me to join the pageant last year,” Thao said.
The pageant also teaches many of the contestants the value of life and their commitment to the community and competition.
“It taught me more Hmong traditions … being independent … having girl power … feel stronger … and brave,” Lor said.
To learn how you can compete in the Miss Hmong Wisconsin Beauty Pageant, contact Maikao Thao at www.hmoobmilwaukee.com.
Mai Kor Lor
Mai Ker Thao
Paj Ntsa Vang
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