Cultural journey her crowning moment
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
Ku'uleialoha Manya Kwai Lin Chun, 25, became Hawai'i's 53rd Narcissus Queen Jan. 12. She performed a Hawaiian chant and hula in winning the pageant's talent title.
Of Chinese, Hawaiian and Russian ancestry, the Kamehameha Schools and University of Washington graduate said she couldn't resist the free cultural classes offered by the contest organizer, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
Steeped in Hawaiian culture at Kamehameha Schools and at home, Chun said she was more interested in the classes than in winning a crown. With a father, Patrick, who is Chinese but raised by Hawaiians, and a mother, Theresa, who is Chinese, Hawaiian and half-Russian, the urge to explore her roots was strong.
The discoveries she made were eye-openers, Chun said: An extended Chinese family in Canada, similarities between Chinese and Hawaiian values and learning that some of the things she thought were Hawaiian have Chinese roots.
"I'm more Chinese than I realized," she said four days after the pageant and still in a state of disbelief about its outcome. Chinese take pride in their families and believe in maintaining a balance with nature, Chun said. And ties to the family and the community are strong in both Chinese and Hawaiian cultures.
"I was searching for something outside, and everything I had came from within me," she said.
Culturally, Chinese families do not want their daughters to participate in beauty pageants, said pageant chairwoman Michele Choy, who was instrumental in adding the culture component to the contest after she competed in 1973.
"But the parents want the girls to learn the culture," Choy said, adding that she introduced the classes when she realized that some of the participants had never been to Chinatown or learned about herbs or cooking spices.
One exercise Chun engaged in while preparing for the contest since September was to identify qualities that made her special. Encouraged by her coach to search out these qualities, she said it was the most difficult aspect of the competition.
At first, the most "special" quality she noted was that she was tallest among the contestants, at 5-foot-9.
"I thought, 'Here comes this tita Hawaiian girl,'" she said good-naturedly. "You should see these little Chinese girls. They're like dolls."
More seriously, Chun said that because she hadn't earned any honors and awards, it was challenging to find those special qualities.
She drew from her background, having gained strength from her grandmother who escaped Russia during the revolution of 1917, perspective from participating in the Miss Aloha Hula competition in 2000 (and losing), experience in planning a lu'au for the Hawaiian Club at Washington University, patience from volunteer work with terminally ill children and skills in the healing touch.
Chun, who lives in Kailua, has a bachelor's degree in zoology and speaks conversational Hawaiian. She is employed at Salomon Smith Barney as a sales assistant.
Preparation and visualization were key factors to her successes, she said, but in the back of her mind she remembered the Miss Aloha Hula competition and just tried to enjoy the process.
"I totally believe that it's not the distinction, but the journey that is so important," she said, adding that she gave from her heart all she had to give in both competitions. "It didn't matter to me (if I won), because I believe everything is a stepping stone to where I am today. You're a winner if you participate."
Chun will receive about $30,000 in prizes, including a 21-day trip to China, where dignitaries will roll out the red carpet for her visit, an automobile and scholarships from Hawaii Pacific University and Hawaii Business College.
During her reign, she'll participate in cultural events, fund-raising activities and Chinese societies' dinners.
Chun will be crowned by Gov. Ben Cayetano at a ball and dinner reception that is open to the public beginning at 5 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom. The event, to feature multicultural entertainment, costs $49 and includes a seven-course dinner.
For reservations, call the Chinese Chamber of Commerce at 533-3181.
Reach Eloise Aguiar at email@example.com.