By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Malama Pono Cady doesn’t mind it when people refer to her as Chop Suey, a well-known Chinese American mixed vegetable and meat dish. Cady’s mother, Kalinapuanani, gave her this nickname many years ago when she was a girl. The nickname has stuck ever since they heard a song by the same name in the musical “Flower Drum Song.” The song talks about “everything mixed in American culture.”
Crowned Miss Federal Way USA 2011 two months ago, Cady, 22, feels the nickname fits her multiracial ancestry — Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, Spanish, Irish, Scottish, Portuguese, and American Indian.
With long straight brown hair, almond-shaped dark brown eyes, and an engaging personality, she has the features of an all-American beauty. Wearing a black off-the-shoulder dress, she smiles as she speaks.
“Actually, I’m very proud of it because not a lot of people have that much of a mix and actually know where their background comes from. So, I’m very, very proud of my cultures and my mix,” she said.
“Malama Pono in Hawaiian actually means caretaker or caregiver,” she added. “It’s quite commonly known around the islands as a way to take care of anything.” Her first name happens to apply when it comes to her charitable interests.
Diagnosed with throat cancer in 2006, her father, Martin, was told that he only had six months to live. Because he is now “alive and kicking,” she wants to help others get through their experience with cancer, as well as work with Seattle Beagle Rescue.
Born in New York, Cady says being Hawaiian, Filipino, and Chinese comes from her mother, who is a hula teacher. Her father was also born in New York. She explained, “The Filipino side of my family is from Cebu. We’re Visayan. On the Chinese side, I know we’re Hakka from Southern China.”
Starting at age 10, she learned the hula and is now a professional dancer in her mother’s dance group.
Cady attends Highline Community College. Between 2008 and 2009, she was a leader of its Pacific Islander Club.
She will receive her associate’s degree in general studies this winter. She will then attend the University of Hawaii to earn a bachelor’s degree — possibly a master’s as well — in Hawaiian cultural studies, a choice inspired by her mother. She enthusiastically said about Hawaiian traditions and stories, “With everything she’s taught me, I’ve fallen in love with the Hawaiian culture.” At the university, she also plans to minor in chemistry.
At age 15, Cady began modeling. She said, “I dropped it for a couple of years. And, picking it up again recently has made me excel and confident.”
Coach, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton are just some of the companies she hopes to someday have as clients. She added, “I would like to do a couple things for Victoria’s Secret. I love their fashion shows, and I know that they have shorter models than runway height.”
Vertically challenged, Cady is not. She is 5 feet 7 inches tall.
Because of her profile at the Model Mayhem website, Cady received an invitation to represent Federal Way at the state pageant. Unsure at first, she decided to participate because “it’s a new opportunity.”
“I’m really glad that I am [doing it]. I’ve found so much new confidence, and it’s really helping me mature as a woman.” Confidence, apparent when she speaks, is a sought-after quality among pageant judges.
Participation in a beauty pageant is not free. As Miss Federal Way 2011, Cady will compete in the Miss Washington USA 2012 pageant. For that, she will seek sponsorships from small businesses in her town, but added, “I really do still need help, especially with the fee, especially with purchasing the [evening] gown.”
“I’m a college student. I’m a little broke. I’m not going to lie,” she laughingly admitted. “For sponsors, it’s a good opportunity for them to advertise.”
Jay Arendain, 24, is a Filipino American and Cady’s boyfriend.
Because she doesn’t fit the stereotypical image of a pageant delegate, he pointed out, “I think she has a really great chance. I think the people are looking for something new. I feel like the Hawaiian community, especially, is behind her.”
For Cady, participating in the Miss Washington USA 2012 pageant is much more than just seeking the coveted title.
“My mission would be to help younger girls understand that courage and confidence help you grow,” she said. ♦
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.