Wisconsin Hmong Association Miss Grand Hmong Pageant: It’s Not about Status; It’s about Service

Hmong Scholarship

The Miss Grand Hmong Court: Kaliauna Vargas (l-r), Hope Luag Ntxhi Xiong, and Tiffany Moua

By Jonathan Gramling

For decades, the Madison Hmong New Year celebration, held each November, has been the cultural foundation for Hmong life in Dane County and beyond. Held at the Alliant Energy Center, features cultural performances, food, clothing and arts and crafts. And there are a lot of competitions.

In 2022, the Wisconsin Hmong Association emerged from the pandemic with a new generation of leadership and new facets for the Hmong New Year celebration that was held in early November. One of these facets was the Miss Grand Hmong Pageant.

“There were 11 contestants last year,” said Hope Xiong, who placed first in the pageant and who works on Northwestern Mutual’s university relations team in Milwaukee. “It doesn’t seem like much, but that is actually a huge number of contestants for a Hmong pageant. Other pageants in Milwaukee, Oshkosh and other places in Wisconsin usually have 3-5 contestants. The Miss Grand Hmong was the first Hmong pageant that invited mixed Hmong women. This is a really great opportunity.”

The Miss Grand Hmong Pageant is a unique competition that weaved Hmong culture with facets of a traditional pageant.

“We gave an interview with five judges,” Xiong said. “Most of the rounds were based on how creative we were and our poise in terms of walking and answering questions. For this pageant, we were the first not to have a talent round. We walked in an evening gown or a self-designed outfit. The self-designed outfits were created with the thought of, ‘If the Hmong people were able to compete in an American pageant like Miss Universe, what would our national costume be?’ I don’t know if you are familiar with the Hmong history, but our Hmong people don’t have a country of our own. And so this round gave us an opportunity to express our creativity on what it means to be Hmong and all of the key ideas and concepts of our history. For example, for my design, I put my focus on the resources that we have used in the past like rice, bamboo, and herbal leaves. I incorporated that into my self-design.”

Being Miss Grand Hmong isn’t about status. It’s about providing service to the Hmong community and beyond.

“The Miss Grand Hmong mission is to empower Hmong women to lead and to pursue their passion to build a stronger community,” Xiong emphasized. “That could be with issues that our Hmong community is struggling with. One of the things that our pageant court is really focusing on is providing educational aid, whether it is on finances or providing workshops to students who are trying to grow and learn about building their financial literacy. It’s really exciting. I have this title for a year and it’s just crazy that it is the middle of August already. This pageant is part of the Wisconsin Hmong Association in Madison. One of the things that I do is just helping out the community with volunteer work or creating projects just to help build a stronger community.”

While Xiong took first place, in many ways, the three top placeholders shared the spotlight and the duties that come with being Miss Grand Hmong.

“We have three women in our pageant court,” Xiong said. “I am the first-place winner. I also have another pageant court member who lives in Madison who took second place. We also have a third-place winner. We work together to for the benefit of the community.”

The pageant winners got together to see what impact they could have on the Hmong community.

“We did a lot of research and a lot of reflection on our Wisconsin Hmong population,” Xiong said. “And it seems there is a low number of students in the Hmong population who attend higher education. A lot of that is because of the lack of resources. A lot of them are under pressure being the first generation going to college. They don’t have that guidance. They struggle to get the financial aid to help them. And so we truly wanted to create a scholarship that is available to Hmong students because we believe that will be one way to support students who are continuing their educational journey and providing them that motivation to continue their education in spite of how hard and difficult it may be.”

And so the three women created a $10,000 scholarship by raising funds primarily within the Hmong community, but had outside sponsors as well. And they are now recruiting scholarship applicants.

“The scholarship application opened on July 1 and it will close on October 6 of this year,” Xiong said. “The criteria are you have to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You have to be a Wisconsin resident at the time of the application or attending a university in Wisconsin. We also include students who are attending technical colleges and other non-four-year colleges. They also have to be of Hmong descent. At least one parent must be Hmong. They can be mixed Hmong. We are offering this opportunity to all students in college, from incoming college freshmen, undergrads, and graduate students for Fall 2023. They all have to be actively enrolled in courses for fall and their cumulative GPA has to be at least 2.8.”

Once the scholarship application period closes, the team will put in some hard work to select the scholarship recipients.

“Our goal is to present the top five winners of the scholarships at the Hmong New Year so that the whole community can see how hard these students have worked and also giving them the award that day,” Xiong said. “We want to give them that spotlight and also to send off my last project as Miss Grand Hmong. Each scholarship is worth $2,000. We’re giving the scholarships to two incoming freshmen, two undergrads and one grad student. We are very proud to bring this to the community and the students. We truly feel that $2,000 for each student is going to be very beneficial for them.”

Xiong and her court set a goal to have a positive impact on the Hmong community. The $10,000 in scholarships will be the crowning achievement of a year spent in service to the community.

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