Despite the anti-immigration sentiment in the United States, 5 immigrant women are vying for the Miss USA pageant title. Speaking the Associated Press, all the women now are U.S citizens but immigrated to the U.S. with their families when they were very young, discussed the opportunities and challenges they’ve faced as immigrants.
MISS FLORIDA: LINNETTE DE LOS SANTOS
“I want them to see that anything is possible if you work hard,” said Linnette De Los Santos, who immigrated with her family from the Dominican Republic when she was 5 years old. “As Miss USA, I would love to be able to be that inspiration for our immigrant community. If I would have stopped following my dreams and working hard towards what I wanted, I wouldn’t be sitting here as Miss Florida USA or in law school ready to become an immigration attorney.”
Miss North Dakota Raquel Wellentin
Wellentin and her family left the Philippines over safety fears when she was 2 years old. Their first taste of American life was in the small community of Enderlin, North Dakota, where she and her siblings felt isolated.
“Nobody wanted to talk to me at all. I came home one day and I asked my dad ‘Why am I so different? Why isn’t anyone talking to me?'” Wellentin said. “My dad told me, ‘You know, you are not different. You are very unique yourself. You have to be strong and really accept this negativity from other people and have it motivate you.’ I still keep that in my mind.”
Their situation improved when they moved to the larger and more diverse Fargo, North Dakota.
Wellentin, 24, who wants to be a middle school teacher after she completes a student-teaching requirement, said her experiences have taught her to not take no for an answer.
“I want to tell people that they need to make sure that they should not allow anyone to tell them that they can’t do something because only you can determine your future,” she said.
Miss Hawaii Julie Kuo
Kuo was born in Tainan, Taiwan, and moved to Hawaii with her family. Julie was born & raised in Taiwan and moved to Hawaii with her family when she was ten years old. She is a 2012 graduate of Roosevelt High School and currently works as a server at Tango in Kakaako, where she was spotted & recruited to compete for the Miss Hawaii USA pageant. She aspires to be a small restaurant owner & serve her favourite Taiwanese dishes. –
20 year old Julie Kuo has been crowned as Miss Hawaii USA 2017 and she will have the opportunity to represent her state Hawaii at the prestigious Miss USA 2017 to be held in the month of June 2017. Elated by her big win, Julie says, “My goal is to ride the momentum and open as many doors as I can, and focus on the Miss USA pageant.”
Born in Taiwan, Julie moved to Honululu at a very early age. She completed her graduation from the University of Hawaii in accounting. Fact being told, she never thought of becoming a pageant girl, but it happened by chance. Julie says, “I was at a point in my life I just graduated and, I was like, “Ok, what’s next?”” A customer at the restaurant suggested her to participate in the pageant, and that’s when her modeling journey started. A tomboy by nature, it was pretty tough for her to learn the art of modeling, but she did it to her perfection.
Miss Connecticut Olga Litvinenko
Like thousands of other immigrants, Litvinenko moved to the U.S. with her family after her mother won the lottery for a green card. She was 3 when they relocated from Ukraine a few years after the Soviet Union collapsed.
The 27-year-old business owner ventured into pageants when she could no longer play basketball after injuring a foot in high school. She won Miss Connecticut Teen on her first try but had to compete five times to reach the Miss USA competition. Her persistence, Litvinenko said, shows that every effort counts.
“I want to showcase that no matter who you are, no matter what your background is, your size or what you have done in the past, through hard work and discipline, through perseverance and determination, you really can achieve what you put your heart towards.”
Miss NEW JERSEY Chhavi Verg
Indian American student Chhavi Verg walked away with the grand title of Miss New Jersey USA 2017 during a glittering ceremony in Parsippany, New Jersey, Oct. 16. She will now represent her state at the Miss USA pageant in 2017.
The 19-year-old Rutgers Business School sophomore was one of the youngest contestants to compete for the crown at the pageant.
The Edison, New Jersey native, who was the fourth runner-up in the Miss New Jersey Teen USA 2015 pageant, had been dreaming about clinching this crown for a long time. Revealing how “visualization” can help someone achieve their dreams, the beauty queen shared her top tip for aspiring talents in an Instagram post.
“I began training for the competition the moment I stepped off the stage last year as a non-finalist,” she said, adding that feeling discouraged and disappointed, she began reflecting on what she could have done better.
Upon realizing that she couldn’t win the crown without first believing that she was deserving of the crown, Verg, who looks up to Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra as an inspiration, went on to say, “In the next 365 days, I set out on a journey to prove to myself I was deserving of the title and aimed to be a person I was proud of when I competed on that stage. Your thoughts become your reality. Remember, no one can deter you from your dreams except you.”
A total fitness freak, a certified personal trainer, and a Bharatanatyam dancer, Verg also runs a health/fitness website, which features vegan/vegetarian recipes and other healthy living tips and tricks.
A second year student at the university where she is studying marketing and finance, Verg plans to use her title this year to help causes she is passionate about, including women’s education and stopping child abuse, according to a report in The Daily Targum. She also wants to spend time helping people to embrace a healthier lifestyle, both in a mental and physical sense.
“I am a huge proponent of women’s education and equality so I really would like to do appearances and talks about that,” she said.
After her run in the pageants, Verg added that she plans to run her own business either in the health/fitness or beauty industry. “I have always dreamed of becoming an ambassador to help influence policy for the greater good of humanity,” she said.
Five of the contestants vying for the Miss USA title have a message to immigrant girls and women watching the pageant this weekend: Set goals, work hard and don’t stay in the shadows.