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'Miss Chinatown USA' San Francisco pageant explores heritage, spreads cultural awareness

'Miss Chinatown' San Francisco tradition explores heritage, spreads cultural awareness
'Miss Chinatown' San Francisco tradition explores heritage, spreads cultural awareness 03:11

SAN FRANCISCO -- Every year, women from all over the country come to San Francisco to compete in the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant. It's been a tradition since 1958, and happens annually during the Chinese New Year Celebrations. Seeing the winner and the contestants ride down Market Street has been a staple of the Lunar New Year Parade.

But, these contestants know that the pageant is more than just about poise, talent and beauty. It's also an opportunity to showcase their heritage - one they are very proud of. 

"There's not a lot of Asian pageants or Chinese ladies represented in pageants, and this is why the Miss Chinatown USA pageant was started to give them a stage and a platform," said Chelsea Hung, the pageant's co-chair of the pageant. Hung knows all too well what it's like to be a part of Miss Chinatown USA since it's something she has been a part of since she was a little girl.

"My mom was part of the chamber of commerce and would go to rehearsals with the ladies and take them out and kind of be like a mentor," said Hung. "I was able to tag along sometimes."  

She would eventually go on to win Miss Chinatown San Francisco in 2016 and would later become part of the pageant committee. Now, she helps prep the contestants for the competition by making sure they are prepared, comfortable, and empowered to compete. 

The pageant also gives the contestants a chance to support their community, one that has been recently targeted by hate crimes, with the winner serving as an ambassador of goodwill.

"I think in preserving Chinatowns, we're preserving symbols of what we endured in the past, and sometimes what we continue to endure today." said Rachel He, a contestant from Seattle. 

Miss Chinatown USA will be crowned on Friday with the winner walking away with a $10,000 cash prize among other prizes. She'll then have the chance to compete in Miss Chinatown International. Other titles being awarded that night, Miss Chinatown Chamber of Commerce (1st runner-up) and Miss Chinatown San Francisco for local contestants. 

Chelsea says participating in the pageant was "such a memorable experience, an experience of a lifetime, to embrace our culture."

Even though it's a competition, these ladies are proud to support their community and make lifelong friendships along the way. 

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