University of Washington – Seattle

Most Outstanding Cultural Program Nomination: Vietnamese Student Association at University of Washington – Seattle

This year, VSA UW held our 11th biennial intercollegiate, cultural pageant, Hoa Khôi Liên Trường on April 8th. Hoa Khôi Liên Trường has long been a prominent feature of our VSA, and is the search for the woman that best embodies the traits of a well-rounded Vietnamese woman presented through her leadership, eloquence, and cultural awareness.

This year we were looking to reinvent the program, while also maintaining its core values. Our first step in doing so was selecting the theme: ‘Beyond the Beauty’. This theme guided us to move away from traditional beauty pageant values and help our contestants embrace their heritage on a deeper level than what we had encouraged in previous years.

We selected 16 contestants who began their preparation for the show in early January. During this time, we held weekly practices where the contestants would practice a choreographed dance, work on their skits, practice their public speaking, and essentially prepare for all the portions of the show. While our choreographer and Hoa Khôi Liên Trường chair led the practices for contestants, our entire officer board worked tirelessly on the show logistics. We had multiple committees including, Registration (in charge of ticket sales), Volunteer (in charge of coordinating member volunteers), Entertainment (in charge of securing performance acts), Decoration (in charge of venue appearance), and lastly, Marketing & Media (in charge of promotional material). Our Media committee was especially extensive this year, with an entire team of officers producing a promotional, introduction, and behind-the-scenes video. In addition, photoshoots for the contestants were used for promotional poste rs and flyers.

Each committee was given a budget, based on grants awarded to us and fundraising done throughout the year, however, we were able to creatively use resources at our school for our needs. For example, we utilized our school’s free Resource Center in crafting lotuses used for decorating the stage and we also used our own dorms for photoshoot sessions. Through our creativity and the hard work we put into securing funds, we were able to produce a show of high caliber.

How did this cultural program serve the campus and/or community?

At the conclusion of this show, the woman who best embodies the traits of grace, leadership, eloquence, cultural, awareness is crowned as Miss Hoa Khôi Liên Trường. This title is not simply just a crown and sash worn for superficial appearances. Miss Hoa Khôi Liên Trường serves as a delegate for the youth to bridge the gap between the elderly Vietnamese community in Seattle and the Vietnamese youth. Often times in our own VSA, we foster an environment of belonging among the Vietnamese college students on campus. We are able to relate our similar experiences of being the children of immigrants, understanding of the harsh pressures we have faced to live up to our parent’s expectations. While that can be so beneficial to have, we can also lose sight of the other perspective that our parents and grandparents share. Miss Hoa Khôi Liên Trường’s role is to ensure that the youth never lose sight of the struggles that our parents went through, and to encourage cultural embr acement. On the flipside, Miss Hoa Khôi Liên Trường role is to also advocate to the elder Vietnamese community on behalf of the youth and to make sure that our perspective is never lost as well.

Hoa Khôi Liên Trường is an event that itself bridges the gap between our two generations. Parents and grandparents come to support their loved ones and are able to see the hard work that our team has put into organizing this show. We got feedback from many community members commending us for our efforts in keeping close with our culture. This event allows us to show our own parents that we have not forgotten our roots and that we are proud to be Vietnamese in a society that often pushes us to assimilate and blend in.

How did the cultural program meet goals set by the organization?

Our goal for this program has always been to provide collegiate women the opportunity to embrace their heritage and rediscover their cultural identity. The officer team felt that this year, we could go further to accomplish that goal. We removed our ‘Evening Gown’ portion and implemented a skit portion where contestants were sorted into groups of 4 and told to create a skit around the theme, “Overcoming Adversity”. Many of the girls utilized themes of embracing their culture and recognizing the struggle of their immigrant parents in these skits. The skits gave the girls an opportunity to showcase their Vietnamese speaking skills but also show the audience their understanding of the sacrifices their parents made and what it means to embrace the identity of being Vietnamese.

In addition, the executive team this year did a complete overhaul of the scoring rubric. In the past, the rubric used vague terms that scored on things such as ‘appearance, charm, walk, and dress’ that we felt did not properly represent what we thought Miss Hoa Khôi Liên Trường should be about.In our revised rubric we placed heavy emphasis on cultural incorporation, individuality, and speaking ability. Doing so, we were able to crown a Miss Hoa Khôi Liên Trường that embodied all the values embedded in our Vietnamese culture.

How did the organization overcome any challenges that arose while planning and implementing the cultural program?

Planning this event was immensely challenging due to the scope of the event, however our officer team was prepared to face all obstacles head-on. First and foremost, due to Hoa Khôi Liên Trường being a biennial program, only 3 officers on the current team had been on the officer team for the previous Hoa Khôi Liên Trường. This meant that a majority of our team was relatively new to the logistics side of this program. Managing 16 contestants, various entertainment acts, and a 20+ officer team, while preparing a show for 500+ audience members was a daunting task. However, by sorting our officer team into committees based on their individual strengths and giving each committee clear-cut tasks allowed us to stay organized and efficient.

Moreover, this was the first year that we decided to have a major media production for Hoa Khôi Liên Trường. In the past we mainly stuck to promotional posters and flyers, however, we decided that we could do more and decided to film an introductory video and a behind-the-scenes video. We budgeted most of our money towards the venue, pamphlets, and VIP favors leaving virtually nothing for the production of the two videos. Despite that, our media team was extraordinarily resourceful and creative and triumphed, making two high-quality videos that our audience raved about.

Lastly, problems (big and small) arose in each committee, yet our amazing officer team persevered. From issues to coordinating entertainment acts, to finding the perfect stage decor, to finalizing funding, our officer team did it all. It is especially noteworthy when one realizes that our officer team did this all voluntarily, with other extra-curriculars and classes going on all the while. Our officer team pushed against the problems that came up, determined to put together a program that showcased our love for our Vietnamese culture so that there would be no doubt in anybody’s mind that we are proud to be Vietnamese.