By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
On the night of Saturday, April 18, the organizers of Hoa Khoi Lien Truong, a Vietnamese cultural pageant, breathed a sigh of relief, thinking they could start putting a successful event behind them. However, an officer of the Vietnamese Student Association at the University of Washington (VSA), the organizer of the event, recounted the judges’ scores and discovered an error in the calculation of the scores.
It turned out that the true winner of the pageant was Kathie Pham, not Linda Nguyen, who was actually first runner-up. Second runner-up was Tina Phan.
The VSA officers had to decide whether to sweep the matter under the rug or publicly admit the error and recrown the rightful winner. They opted to recrown.
VSA called a press conference held at UW’s Meany Hall on April 24. The officers delivered a letter to the community explaining how the error happened and what they will do to prevent the same situation from occurring again.
“On behalf of the Vietnamese Student Association at the University of Washington, we express our humble apologies to the larger Vietnamese community for any emotional damages for the events that occurred following the Miss Hoa Khoi pageant,” said VSA president Huy Hoang, reading the letter to the community.
The three contestants were recrowned after Hoang spoke. They each gave a speech about their feelings on the matter. In Vietnamese, Pham said that she didn’t want the pageant to be remembered negatively, and she graciously stated that she understood it was a human error. In English, Nguyen echoed her sentiments by reminding everyone of the initial goal of the event. “This is about raising money for a charity,” she said.
Thi-Le Vo, a volunteer coordinator for VSA, led the question and answer session that followed. “It became very heated,” Vo said.
During the question and answer session, there were many parents and Vietnamese community members who were upset that the error occurred. Many wondered who was responsible and why there couldn’t be two crowns. Others inquired about the judging requirements.
Vo admits that the VSA lost control of the question and answer session. “We didn’t know what to do, but we wanted everyone to have their say.” The officers also offered to disclose the judges’ scores.
On Nguyen giving up the crown, Vo said, “She is a good person. I feel she was supportive of us. She understood it was a mistake, and she forgave us.”
As for why they didn’t opt for two winners, Vo said, “It would’ve diminished the crown. It wouldn’t be fair to give out an extra crown just to soften our mistake.”
The VSA decided to make the admission of error public “to let people air their grievances,” said Vo. “The questions people had about the pageant — we wanted to clear it up and put the focus back on the charity. We also wanted to give the crown to the rightful owner. We wanted to responsible for our actions.”
There are two lessons the VSA officers have learned from this unfortunate occurrence. “We learned to see ourselves not as individuals, but as an organization,” said Vo. “You can’t let one person take the fall.”
Additionally, Vo emphasized the importance of tradition in Vietnamese culture. “[Vietnamese Americans] are very connected to the older generation. Sometimes Vietnamese Americans — college students — forget that.
“We tend to place more emphasis on the individual rather than the family. So we appreciate [the first generation] keeping us in line.” ♦
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.