US-Cambodians in the Washington metro area celebrated the Khmer New Year recently a bit differently this year, with a beauty pageant held at a Cambodian pagoda in Maryland.
Ten contestants, aged 15 to 22, competed in the event, which was open to Cambodian-Americans, and drew a large crowd to help bring in the Year of the Rabbit.
“We want Cambodian youths to come to the temple and appreciate Khmer culture, because those who were born here are American,” said Ithera Phlong, the organizer of the April 17 pageant.
The winner of the pageant was Deka Nine, a 19-year-old woman from Ashburn, Va. She told judges her definition of success was to “fail” and then “learn from it.”
“When you learn, you will grow, and you will be a better person,” she told a panel of three judges at the Budhikaram pagoda. “Where success is not a good thing is when you win all the time, and then you get proud, and your ego gets in the way. And that is a bad character.”
Deka Nine told VOA Khmer after the contest that she would donate her cash award of $500 to the Daughter Association, which helps rescue victims of trafficking.
First runner up was Ashley Pak, 15, from Alexandria, Va., followed by Dina Tang, 15, from Frederick, Md.
Pisey Prom, one of the contestants, said that she was happy to compete, even though she did not make the finals.
“My father told me that when coming to a competition, you expect either to win or to lose,” she said. “Even though I didn’t win, that’s OK, because I believe that my participation helped promote Khmer culture among the Cambodian community as well as to those who live in the US.”
Sarang Bora, a resident of Virginia who watched the pageant, said it had helped draw a large crowd to celebrate the New Year, which also saw traditional games and dancing and attracted US-Cambodians from around the country.
“This year was different from previous years because of the Cambodian-American beauty pageant,” Sarang Bora said. “We never had it before.”
Organizers said the success of this year’s pageant encouraged them to hold another one next year. The next one, they said, would be even better.