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Miss Asia Carolinas Pageant brings talent event to UCity

Modern Chinese ballet, Tae Kwon Do demonstrations and the Binasuan – a Filipino folk dance in which the performer dances while balancing cups full of liquid on her head and hands – are just a few of the many performances audience members may encounter at Talent Night, the first event of the Miss Asia Carolinas 2011 Pageant. Held on April 30 at the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center at UNC Charlotte, the event will also include a National Dress Competition. The evening promises to be full of suspense, as a panel of judges names a Miss Talent, audience members help determine through voting who will win Miss Photogenic and pageant participants themselves cast secret ballots for the Miss Congeniality contest.

Suspense will continue to grow as contestants compete at their second and final event held one week later at the Asian Festival/Dragon Boat Festival at Ramsey Creek Park in Cornelius. Interviews will be conducted, and the same panel of judges will finally name Miss Asia Carolinas 2011 and the first and second runners-up. Winners will be crowned and cash scholarships and prizes totaling up to $3,000 will be awarded.

Formerly referred to as the Miss Asian Festival Pageant, the Miss Asia Carolinas Pageant has been held at various venues including Marshall Park, the Wachovia Atrium, and – since 2007 – Ramsey Creek Park. This year, the pageant has been divided into two premier events, with Talent Night to be held indoors at UNCC to protect against the summer heat and sudden thunderstorms, and the final judging and coronation to be held at Ramsey Creek Park.

The pageant was founded in 2003 by festival chair Dr. Nini RB Bautista, now Chairman Emeritus of the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce. The CAACC, a non-profit, all volunteer-based organization, connects the more than 40,000 Asian American residents of the greater Charlotte area. Now an annual event presented by the CAACC, the Miss Asia Carolinas Pageant has grown from just 10 participants from six countries in 2003 to 20 participants from 12 countries last year. This year, approximately 25 young Asians will represent their home country and culture, including Bangladesh, Burma (now Myanmar),Cambodia, China, Hmong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Montagnard, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

More than a mere beauty pageant, the Miss Asia Carolinas Pageant is a multicultural showcase of the unique and diverse cultural heritage of Asians.

“Aside from beauty, character and personality, we require that candidates exhibit high academic achievement, as well as significant extracurricular activities and community involvement,” says Bautista. “They must also have the ability to demonstrate their culture through any of the performing arts. Winners must have brains, beauty, talent and a heart.” “By giving young Asian-Americans an opportunity to visit their cultural roots, and offer them a venue to showcase their talents while sharing their diverse cultures with the community, they gain a renewed interest and better understanding of who they are, where they come from and what makes them unique.”

The pageant assists contestants in their self-discovery and enrichment by also providing various training sessions. “To help them better appreciate their Asian heritage, we offer participants, who are already accomplished achievers in their own right, opportunities to learn about their own cultures, customs and traditional values,” Bautista says. “During the preparatory meetings and rehearsals, we also teach them leadership, self confidence, effective self-expression, personality development, social poise and networking.”

2010 Miss Asian Festival winner Leslie Esparagoza, currently a freshman majoring in biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, credits the pageant with instilling greater pride in her Filipino heritage.

“Even though we all live in America now, we should not forget where we came from,” she says. “I believe this pageant is an important event for the Asian American community because it allows all of us to unite and celebrate our cultures and, ultimately, become stronger.”

Esparagoza, who hopes to practice medicine in the emergency or pediatric field, also believes that the pageant helped to increase her self-confidence.

“Honestly, I never really thought I would have the courage to stand in front of hundreds of people and perform well. I was a fairly shy kid throughout my whole life and have gradually come out of my shell, but this was the defining moment for me,” she says. “This experience has given me the confidence to dream and take-on any challenge and give it my all. My biggest dream now is to participate in medical mission trips to help the less fortunate all over the world.”

Miss Asian Festival 2008 winner Joanna Miranda, a native of Manila, Philippines, believes that the pageant provides enrichment to not only the Asian American community, but also the general public.

“The pageant benefits young Asian-American women by giving them an experience to promote their cultural backgrounds, but it also enables the entire community to learn about new or unfamiliar cultures,” she says. “Pageant contestants may also serve as role models for the younger generation of girls, who may be looking for local inspirational figures.”

Currently a psychology major and chemistry and Spanish minor at UNC-Chapel Hill, Miranda hopes to continue her studies in medical school or graduate school and, ultimately, use her education to help better children’s lives.

“Through participation in the Asian Festival pageant, I learned that, if I set my heart on something, I can achieve it,” she says. “I spent hours just researching my dance for the talent portion of the pageant, hoping to make it unique and enjoyable to watch. I spent even more hours practicing balancing the cups on my head and hands and trying to avoid angering my mom by soaking the carpet at home. That was the first time I’d ever choreographed my own dance. It was an experience well worth it. It helped me gain more confidence in myself, and I am so grateful to have been offered the chance to participate.”

For a gallery of more photos from previous pageants, click here.

Miss Asia Carolinas 2011 Pageant EventsTalent Night: April 30, 5 p.m.- 8 p.m., third floor of the James H. Barnhardt Student Activity Center at UNCC, 9201 University City Blvd. Competitions include a talent show and national dress competition. Miss Talent, Miss Congeniality and Miss Photogenic will be named. Tickets range from $5-$12.Final judging: May 7, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., at the Asian Festival and Dragon Boat Festival at Ramsey Creek Park, 18441 Nantz Road, Cornelius. Admission is free. Events include interviews in a question and answer format, final judging, coronations and scholarship cash awards presented to the winner and the 1st and 2nd runner-ups.For more information:Visit Miss Asia Carolinas on Facebook. Read more about the Carolinas Asian-American Chamber of Commerce here.