Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | beauty pageant
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Erika Tanaka won the crown as Miss Asian American Colorado 2009.Congratulations to Erika Tanaka, the young Japanese and Vietnamese American woman who won the second annual Miss Asian American Colorado Leadership Program's Finale Show last night. The tiara was there, along with the glitz and glamor. But there was no swimsuit competition, and no one mentioned "world peace." This is no ordinary beauty pageant. The program is all about leadership and community service -- the inner beauty that the 17 contestants all displayed on the stage (yes, it's a cliche, but these woman all have inner beauty, in spades). Erin and I were impressed with all of the contestants when they shared their community service projects, and also impressed with many of their talent segments. Our favorites included what might be expected performances for this kind of event: Abhinetri Ramaswani's singing on a lovely, hypnotic Indian classical song, accompanied by a musician on tablas; Lana Nguyen's performance of a melancholy Vietnamese folksong. But we also enjoyed the performances that showed the "American" side of these Asian American women: Giane Morris' self-penned rock song (complete with a full electric band backing her) about the death of her brother; several spoken word performances including Nguyen Nguyen's passionate poem about her identity, "Beautiful Things"; and several hip-hop dance routines, including a very cool, intricately choreographed duet by Laila Nguyen. There were several non-traditional talents displayed in an entertaining way, including cooking pad Thai, making lotus flowers out of colored napkins, and most notably, a demonstration of the sport of curling (really).

It's been a couple of weeks, but congratulations are in order for Amanda Igaki, the winner of the "Miss Asian American Colorado" pageant held in Denver May 31. Now, before you recoil at the thought of a beauty pageant, rest assured that this pageant, organized by a crew of young people led by the energetic and entrepreneurial Annie Guo, whose family publishes Asian Avenue Magazine, was not a traditional beauty pageant. The most obvious proof that this wasn't a typical pageant was the lack of a swimsuit competition. In fact, although Igaki was crowned "Miss Asian American Colorado" at the end of the four-hour event (which felt much shorter because it was so interesting), it didn't feel like a competition between the 26 contestants at all. These women had become close friends, like a small, tight sorority.