ORLANDO, Fla. – Every year women from across Florida travel to the Orlando area to compete in a pageant. Contestants train for weeks, practicing dances, outfit changes, and makeup looks, but there’s something distinctly different about the opportunity to be crowned.
“This will allow me to stay connected to my Vietnamese roots,” said Bi Trac, Miss Vietnam Florida 2020. “I serve the Vietnamese community as well as essential Florida communities.”
Miss Vietnam Florida puts culture at center stage, celebrating the beauty of their community and the unity it offers. The organization’s current queen said it’s also an opportunity to feel a little closer to home.
“This means a sense of belonging,” Trac said. “As a(n) Asian American living in such a diverse nation, I believe like it’s such a beautiful thing, but we can also be easily detached from our culture.”
Trac said a pageant solely focused on Vietnamese ladies helps her feel connected.
“Especially when everyone speaks the same language and shares the same interests as me,” she said. “(It) creates a home away from home.”
The pageant has five pillars: Intelligence, heritage, philanthropy, grace and beauty. Trac said though the time on stage may focus on certain pillars, those who earn the sash spend their time as part of the court serving the community.
“I try to do one event per month, whether it’s online or in-person,” the 22-year-old said. Crowned just before COVID-19 hit, she said she works hard to make sure the pandemic doesn’t hinder the impact she and her court can make.
Trac currently lives in Jacksonville but attends cultural and philanthropic events all across Florida. A lot of her duties as queen bring her to the Orlando area often.
Trac, along with the four princesses crowned alongside her, often work with Orlando’s Vietnamese community. However, the aspiring medical professional said their service extends to whoever needs help.
From delivering gifts to the elderly for Christmas to planning events for kids less fortunate, to volunteering to host dinners for the homeless, she and her court know it’s not about the crown but the example they set with it.
Trac said it’s one of her favorite parts of being queen. Her experience with the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida also encouraging her to do more.
“One of our very first events was curating hygiene bags for the women to have easy access to them whenever they need it,” she said. “Just woman to woman, you know.”
Trac explained that the pageant helped open these doors, but she never thought she would win.
“So in my hometown, I would do small things. I don’t know if it relates to pageant but like fashion show(s), we’ll just all wear our traditional áo dài and do a little cute walk,” she said.
The pageant newcomer said the arena was completely different than what she faced in the past. Speeches, performances, multiple outfit changes, and 17 girls all rushing to do the same thing.
“Very chaotic,” she chuckled. “It was definitely out of my comfort zone because I wasn’t used to meeting people that way.”
She explained though there was the opportunity to get crowned and win a monetary prize, most women treated it as a sisterhood.
“Honestly, I wasn’t doing it for the money, I was just doing it for the experience,” she said. “We sometimes forget we’re in pageant, we’re just helping; we’re hyping one another up.”
Though the pageant brought her a new sense of family, Trac said it also brought a sense of pride for her own family.
The Vietnamese American said before her family called Florida home, they fled their home country. The origin of her family’s immigration story makes a stop in Thailand, New York and Georgia before setting down roots in the Sunshine State.
“I had to just like stop and drop everything and it was a bit confusing for me,” she said. “Of course, everyone wants to come to American for a better life and bigger dreams and stuff. So we all packed our bags and left. Unfortunately, we had to leave half of our family members behind.”
As Trac was doing the pageant, she jokingly admitted that her family didn’t think she was going to win either.
“We still laugh at it,” she said.
Trac recalls her family sitting at the back of the venue, on the edge of their seats when she was called for top five.
“And then slowly when they started making their way to the queen, they call my name and my mom was like running toward the stage,” Trac said. “But when we went to dinner she was like, ‘I didn’t know you were going to win. They were very unprepared,” Trac laughed.
Though Trac has kept her crown a bit longer since the coronavirus canceled this year’s pageant, she said she took it as a greater opportunity to fulfill the mission of Miss Vietnam Florida.
“Many people probably think that pageantry is just all about, you know, crown and sash, but I believe that our voice can influence many more people. I can use my platform to push young women to give them a stronger voice,” she said. “My biggest goal (is) to use my platform, do the most I can within my regime.”
Miss Vietnam Florida plans to recruit contestants for its next pageant in the coming months. Anyone who would like to learn more about the organization and the event can click here.