Friday, September 22, 2006

Not In The News Friday (NITNF)

NITNF will usually be a bit of trivia that I found interesting and thought you would like. It may be IR-related and it might not -- but should always be fun...or at least fascinating.

This week we feature Angela Chao Roberson, third princess in the 2006 Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Pageant. Roberson is biracial, Chinese and African-American.

Angela Chao Roberson, 22, knew she did not exactly look Chinese, with her cocoa-colored skin, her bushels of curly hair and her curvy figure. But she had no doubt she belonged in the same room with 17 other young women vying for the title Miss Los Angeles Chinatown.

Sure, she ate soul food when her father's African American relatives came to visit her family in Victorville, but her family was much more likely to eat rice and stir-fried tilapia with garlic and soy sauce. And she loved Chinese New Year.

Angela scanned the young women sitting around the circle at the orientation session. There was one other girl whose complexion was close to her own. But the other girls resembled more closely the Miss Chinatowns of the past — slender, fine-featured young ladies with pale skin and silky straight hair.

"I'm kind of brave if you think about it," she said, flashing an unassuming smile. "But I've always accepted odd challenges."

The Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Pageant, organized by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, aims to pick an ambassador for the largest Chinese American community in the U.S.

And for most of its 40-year history, despite changing outfits, hairstyles and makeup, the contestants have looked remarkably the same: willowy Chinese American girls with flowing black hair.

But as Chinese intermarry, the contest is attracting more girls of mixed race. It started with girls whose backgrounds were white and Chinese. A couple had Hispanic last names.

This year, Angela became the first contestant with an African American father.

Most of the 18 girls chosen as contestants after a preliminary interview, including Angela, could speak at least a few phrases of Chinese. They hailed from such communities as El Sereno, Monterey Park, Hacienda Heights and Anaheim, the daughters of packaging company owners, restaurateurs and seamstresses.

Almost all of them had parents who were both ethnic Chinese. There were two of mixed races: Angela and Kaye Ponnusamy, whose father was an ethnic Indian who had grown up in Malaysia and whose mother was from Taiwan.

That first day of orientation marked the beginning of weeks of preparation.

Angela's father, Harry Roberson, a wiry 60-year-old electronics technician at Ft. Irwin Army base, worried how she would be treated. But Angela didn't see herself as making history or knocking down barriers. She thought she could win.

"I'm not scared to walk into an all-Chinese place," she said. "They might be surprised that I'm there, but I'm not surprised I'm there."


"Please give it up for Contestant No. 3, Angela Roberson!"

Angela is third contestant from the left (click to enlarge)

At a glitzy ballroom downtown, the contestants were being introduced one by one on a stage festooned with gold and red banners celebrating the Chinese new year, the year of the dog.

The crowd of hundreds clapped as Angela Roberson made her way across the stage in a red and white hibiscus swimsuit. Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking emcees announced Angela's name for the benefit of the non-English speaking audience: Chao An Qi Er, or Chiu Ang Kei Yee.

Angela, whose almond-shaped eyes were accentuated with dark eyeliner, greeted everyone in slightly imperfect Chinese: Da jia hao.

Many in the crowd leaned forward or stood up to get a better look. They had puzzled looks on their faces. Some of them whispered that they thought she was too curvy. Others tried to figure out what percentage of her background was Chinese.

Angela didn't notice. She was just trying not to look scared.

She directed her wide smile toward the judges.

When the emcees interviewed her on stage, Angela didn't stumble. She was asked whether she thought herbal supplements ought to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. "It's very important that we know what we're putting in our bodies and where it's coming from," she said.

When the 18 contestants were called to the stage for the announcement of the winners, they plastered nervous smiles on their faces. First they announced Miss Friendship, whom the contestants themselves chose. Then Miss Photogenic, chosen by the Chinese media. Then the title of fourth princess.

"And the Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Third Princess is … Contestant No. 3, Angela Roberson!"

Angela broke into a broad, stunned grin as she accepted her rhinestone crown and sash. She was ecstatic, even though she wasn't the queen. That honor went to Melody Cheng, a somewhat shy, svelte 19-year-old from Hacienda Heights who was crowned in a burst of red and gold confetti.

With Kaye also winning a place on the court, it turned out to be the most diverse court the pageant had ever picked.

The winners "are a really true reflection of Chinese Americans in Southern California," said Terry R. Loo, one of the judges. "It's a mixed group these days."

"I'm glad she did it," said Harry Roberson. "This tells the community there's more out there than just pure Chinese."

Angela and the other winners have been making public appearance across Los Angeles County since the court was crowned in January.

Last week, they attended a Chinese folk dance recital in Azusa, and Angela was struck by how normal it felt to be part of the pageant court, representing the Chinese community.

"It's kind of naive of me to say nobody notices," Angela said. "But I don't think it concerns them to make a point that they notice."

Her parents' lives have changed as well. Her father, who for months had kept Angela's pageant entry to himself, now proudly trumpets to co-workers her success and how much it meant to him.

"They asked how many mixed-race [contestants] there were, and I said she was the first black and Chinese to be in the competition — and then she actually won," he said Thursday. "I was proud of that."

Recently, the pageant court helped children at the public library in Chinatown make lanterns. Angela was smitten by a 6-year-old girl who was part African American and part Chinese.

This girl had great hair, she thought. It fell like a wavy waterfall and was certainly less curly than her own hair.

"I was happy for her," Angela said. "She gets to grow up in Chinatown, surrounded by other Chinese people. In Victorville, the Chinese people were only in Mom's close circle."

Maybe, she thought, this is what a future Miss Chinatown might look like.

Source: LA Times: Tiaras, Sashes, Diversity
(April 22, 2006)


Mark Base said...

I love the idea behind your blog. Keep up the good work!

Logtar said...

That is awesome.