Scottsdale resident Sulia Jiang expects a yearlong struggle. The newly crowed Miss Asia Arizona wants to help change widely accepted beliefs about people of Asian ancestry.
"As with every other culture, there are misconceptions and stereotypes — we’re not very social, we’re timid and we’re quite studious. That’s the main stereotype," she said.
"But with pageants like this, you show that Asian women are very confident and very outspoken," she said.
Her approach is to be engaging, cheery and exuberant during her yearlong reign as Miss Asia Arizona. She was scheduled to make her first public appearance at the grand opening of the Chinese Cultural Center in Tucson on Saturday.
The pageant was created to showcase the variety and depth of Asian and Pacific Islander culture, said pageant director Gene Flores, who happens to be of Filipino descent.
"Traditionally, the opening number is the parade of the national costumes. It’s one of the highlights of the event," he said.
The other segments included a live interview, a talent show, plus swimsuit and evening gown competitions.
Jiang, a 20-year-old University of Arizona student, was awarded the tiara during the third annual pageant in Phoenix on Oct. 15.
She’s scheduled to compete in the Miss Asia USA Pageant in Los Angeles in April.
For the talent segment, Jiang, who’s pursuing degrees in both computer engineering and piano, played her old stand-by, Ludwig van Beethoven’s "Pathetique," a piece in three movements that’s generally regarded as a difficult work.
"It looks easy. The notes aren’t that hard themselves, but translating the music, it is quite difficult. Right now I’m working on several different pieces, but the ‘Pathetique’ is what I could pull together for the pageant," Jiang said.
She took up piano at age 5, about the same time she immigrated to the United States with her father, an educator, and her mother, Tuoya Gegen, an anthropologist who now serves as an academic adviser at Arizona State University.
Jiang performed with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra at age 10 and the Tucson Civic Orchestra at 13. She finished as a semifinalist in a Classical Period piano competition at 18.
She graduated from Sahuaro High School in Tucson and moved to Scottsdale with her mother during the summer.
She already had studied with UA music professors before reaching college, so it made sense to major in piano, she said. But she also felt she needed a fall-back degree, so she added computer engineering. Her minor is Chinese.
She speaks Mandarin Chinese and visits Beijing often.
She entered the pageant as a way to showcase China’s virtues with others.
"It’s very important to explore different cultures and different nationalities," she said.
The pageant’s other top finishers: First runner-up, Peoria resident Aimee Truong, who’s Vietnamese; second runnerup, Glendale resident Seana Gretchen Hall, who’s Filipino; third runner-up, Tucson resident Nicole Soper, who’s Korean; and fourth runner-up, Glendale resident Laura McParlane, who’s Filipino.