On December 7th, 2011, Erica Chui won Miss Chinese Vancouver over the one hundred and fifty-six young women who applied that year. These young women were competing in Vancouver, but their hopes and dreams were for success in Asia. When Donna Yee won the first Miss Vancouver Chinatown in 1960, she entered to win a free trip to Hawaii with her family. Asia and a career there were not on her mind.
Donna Yee remembers the contest as “fun, not competitive,” since she had grown up in Chinatown with the other contestants. Winning had meaning because she made her parents proud: “In the Chinese community, to have the first queen be their daughter was very exciting.” At a time when many Chinese Canadians were still isolated in Vancouver, the beauty pageant was a way to celebrate the Chinatown community.
Andrea Eng won Miss Vancouver Chinatown when the Chinatown Lions Club revived the pageant in 1977. She “reluctantly” entered because her mother was worried she did not have Chinese friends. She did make friends, but the contest also opened a path into the mainstream beauty pageants. She competed at the Miss Vancouver, Miss Canada, and finally Miss Universe contests. Andrea Eng credits these pageants with exposing her to “capable” women and opening her eyes to new career possibilities: “I look at the Miss Vancouver Chinatown experience as the prep work that got me to where I am now.”
In 2000, Bernice Liu won what had now become Fairchild Television’s Miss Chinese Vancouver pageant. She went on to win Miss Chinese International in Hong Kong. She entered the pageant to learn Cantonese for an international business program at the University of British Columbia, but now found new opportunities abroad: “Not only could I pursue my career in commerce and business, I could also pursue a career [that explored] my love of dance and performance. I never thought I could make a living doing something that I love so much.”
And so, with much at stake for the outcome of this pageant, the winners now go off to Asia.