Culture spreads its wings

26-year-old who represented Korea wins the 20th annual Miss Asia pageant at the Alex. By Angela Hokanson

Published: Last Updated Sunday, June 22, 2008 10:45 PM PDT

Thirty-one young women from countries as diverse as Israel and Indonesia took the stage Saturday night at the Alex Theatre for the 20th annual Miss Asia USA Cultural Pageant, an event that organizers say aims to bring together the nations of Asia. 

“It’s unity among the 58 different countries in the Asian continent,” said Virgelia Villegas, president of Virgelia Productions, which produces the event.

Jessica Mogi, a 17-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga who was representing Indonesia in the contest, said the pageant gives contestants a chance to develop their poise and public speaking skills, as well as interact with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

“You actually learn about different cultures,” she said.

The contestants — who had to be between the ages of 17 and 28 and have at least 25% Asian ancestry — were judged in four categories: personality; appearance in a national costume; appearance in a swimsuit; and appearance in an evening gown. 

The national costume parade was a sea of ensembles of every imaginable color, shape and style.

Diane Yoo, who was named the winner of the 2008 Miss Asia USA contest at the end of the night, started the evening off strong by winning the Best in National Costume award.

The 26-year-old Yoo, who hails from Texas and represented Korea in the show, took the stage wearing a traditional dress with an enormously full layered skirt, a wide-brimmed hat perched at a dramatic angle on her head and waving two bright pink fans at her sides.

On Friday, each contestant had exhibited her national costume for judges and also had one minute to provide a verbal description of what she was wearing.

On Saturday night, each contestant modeled in a bikini and evening gown before the judges narrowed the pool to 10 finalists.

For her evening gown, Yoo wore a shimmering blue dress that had a peacock-like train with bright blue feathers.

Seventeen-year-old Brittany Chen, who was representing Taiwan and would later be named first runner-up, wore a glimmering light blue and silver gown.

The 10 finalists were then narrowed down to five based on their answers to a variety of questions. Some of those questions got at different aspects of how the women wove their Asian cultural values into their daily lives.

The five finalists were narrowed to one winner based on their answers to the following question: If your culture did not allow you to participate in beauty pageants, would you participate anyway, and why?

Liane Valenzuela, 21, representing the Philippines, said that she would, because cultures had to adapt and change.

“I believe culture is growth,” she said.

Linda Tram Nguyen, 24, who represented Vietnam, said she would definitely participate.

“It makes us independent and strong, which young Asian women are today,” she said.

Yoo was crowned queen of the pageant after answering simply that she would be disheartened if she wasn’t able to participate and represent her culture.

All the contestants received $8,000 scholarships to the James Albert School of Cosmetology, as well as several outfits.