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An Exclusive Interview: Miss California 2013, Crystal Lee

Miss California Crystal Lee

Crystal Lee, crowned Miss California 2013, dazzled America in September as she vied for the coveted title of Miss America 2014. This year’s competition was brought back to the place where it all started, Atlantic City, after having been hosted in Las Vegas for several years. Lee made it look so easy, and I learned through her that the journey to the competition had not been easy for her. In fact, it took three attempts on the state level before she was able to reach the national stage. Although Lee went through periods of disappointment and self-doubt, it forced her to accept failure, come up with a new perspective and plan of attack, and to develop an attitude of determination.

Lee was born in San Francisco to an American-born Chinese father and Taiwanese mother. She was educated through San Francisco’s public school system and graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in Human Biology and M.A. in Communication last June. She likes sashimi and enjoys outdoor activities such as backpacking, hiking, and camping. She also loves to read up on the latest technological developments and dreams of starting her own company one day by developing a great product or service.

Miss California Crystal Lee (3)

Ever since Lee was a young girl, she was always interested in pageants. She remembers moments like watching the Chinese New Year Parade and seeing Miss Chinatown wave from her float. Lee started her years in pageantry at the age of 15 when she entered the Miss Teen Chinatown 2007 competition. The following year was crowned Miss California’s Outstanding Teen 2008. A couple of years later, Lee was crowned Miss Chinatown USA 2010. Determination in mind, Lee had her eyes set on Miss America, but the road to get there proved quite challenging. Crystal was crowned Miss San Francisco 2011, but placed in the Top 12 of that year’s Miss California competition. The following year, Lee was crowned Miss South Counties and had another attempt at reaching the national stage, but came extremely close as she was runner up to 2012’s Miss California Leah Cecil. Lee’s persistence paid off on her third attempt as she was crowned Miss Silicon Valley and was on her way to compete for Miss California again in Fresno, where she was finally crowned Miss California 2013.

Throughout the years, several role models have influenced Lee for various reasons: Rose Chung, pageant director, for her ability to organize the community and mentor hundreds of young women across the SF Bay Area. Jan Yanehiro, broadcast journalist, for pioneering the Asian American face in the media. Lastly, Lee’s mother has always been a huge support for Crystal as she encouraged her to dream big, aim high, and work harder than she could have ever thought possible.

Oftentimes, people tend to think that pageantry is not a sport, but in fact it is more than a sport. It requires not only the physical and mental demands of a sport, but also includes developing  a mission for society or the community, showcasing a talent, and the ability to answer on the spot a question that could be extremely difficult, and most obviously, very stiff competition.

Entering a competition with a large pool of other competitors can be seemingly daunting knowing that the odds to place are slim and the stress unimaginable. How did Lee deal with the preliminaries? Well, Lee was faced with over 60 contestants at the Miss California competition, but at Miss America there were 52. With that being said, she wasn’t as stressed in the Miss America competition; however, Lee did have to increase her level of competitiveness because the caliber of competition was greater knowing she was up against the best from each state/territory. Nevertheless, Lee was mentally prepared to do her best, no matter who she was up against.

In an interesting twist of fate, another Crystal Lee from the state of Hawaii entered the picture. She was crowned Miss Chinatown Hawaii 2013 earlier this year and was eligible to move on and compete in the 2013 Miss Hawaii Organization program. In June, she was crowned Miss Hawaii 2013 and also competed in the Miss America Pageant. So with two Crystal Lees in the Miss America competition things must have been pretty interesting…, how well would they mesh.

MJ: Were you shocked/amazed/amused that you were competing against another Crystal Lee of Hawaii? How did you both get along?

CL: I found out a few weeks before I became Miss California and was thrilled to discover what a sweet, genuine girl she is. Interestingly enough, she was the contestant before me during preliminary competition so we sat next each other in the dressing room, and also stayed in the same hotel.

MJ: What was your platform and why did you chose that?

CL: I chose my platform, Women in S.T.E.M (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) for a few reasons: 1) it aligns with the Miss America mission to empower women and 2) it’s an issue that affects us all more than we realize. Young girls often think they’re less competent in science and math as the boys in their classes. As they grow up they tend to veer away from these majors, and it’s unfortunate because they lead to jobs that they need their perspectives, pay well, and solve crucial problems. Getting more Women in STEM would improve America’s industries. Everyone wins when we have more women leaning into these fields.

MJ: What was your talent and why did you choose that specific talent?

CL: I chose to perform a ballet en pointe piece called, “The Swan” and it depicts the final moments of a swan’s life. It’s a tragic and dramatic selection considering this was for the Miss America pageant, where most dancers chose high-energy, exuberant, and cheery talents. I wanted to share an experience of something deeper- the inevitable end that all creatures face, and the passion with which we cling on to life.

After a couple eliminations and after all the segments of competition, there left two standing. Both remaining in the competition were Asian American.

MJ: When Nina Davuluri and yourself were the last two contestants on the stage, what was going through your mind? Did that fact that both of you were Asian cross your mind as being a momentous part of history?

CL: In those final moments, I was focused on the announcement of results and didn’t think about us being Asian. We’ve had a Chinese-American in the Top 2 before, but perhaps not an Indian-American, which may have been why Nina said something about it. I’ve always thought of myself to be just as American as I am Asian. Our country has always been composed of immigrant backgrounds- whether or not your appearance reflects it. The order in which one’s forefathers arrived doesn’t make their descendants more or less American. But stepping out of the competition, I now realize what a huge step this is for all Asian Americans. I can’t wait for the day we have a Chinese-American Miss America. I hope she’s bilingual, too!

Although Lee did not take home the title of Miss America, she did become Miss America’s First Runner-Up. Following the competition, hateful comments were said over social media about the results of Miss America, what kind of effect did this have on Lee.

MJ: What is your response to all the negative and racial comments that were said about Miss America Nina Davuluri? Did you receive any racial comments as well?

CL: I haven’t received too many racial comments. I’m trying to be a lily pad this year- letting criticism roll right off like water off a lily pad. It’s sad that so many Americans don’t know how much they don’t know. It shows how far we have yet to go as a society. I’m glad the media publicly called out the perpetrators for their ignorance. It reinforces our commitment to acceptance and understanding.

Miss California Crystal Lee (4)MJ: Also being of Asian decent, what do you think it will take for Americans to be more unified and to put aside our differences?

CL: It will take time, and seeing movers and shakers of all ethnic backgrounds do great things. It’s easy to become complacent with the way things are, but the fact is we’re becoming a global world and the emerging generation seems more ready to put aside differences as we solve pressing problems. We need to encourage people of all backgrounds to step up and be leaders and role models. Once this becomes the norm, our so-called “differences” won’t seem so different after all.

Now that the Miss America Pageant had concluded, what lies on the horizon for Crystal and what was her overall experience with the Miss America Organization.

MJ: What’s next for you in the remaining year and/or years to follow?

CL: I plan to continue traveling throughout the state for appearances and making the most of my reign. I’ve heard this year flies by quickly so I’m already getting the ball rolling on a few exciting projects related to STEM in Silicon Valley. I ultimately want to work in technology/startups so this is fitting preparation for my career ahead.

MJ: What encouragement do you have for young girls and young women in America?

CL: I’d encourage more young women to compete in the Miss America program. It’s an incredible opportunity for personal growth, scholarship money, and tons of lifelong friends and benefits. You get what you choose to get out of it- and the best part is, it combines the controllable with the unpredictable! It’s the best life preparation.

MJ: How has the Miss America Pageant impacted your life?

CL: The Miss America program offers young women endless opportunities for growth, and the experience is unique for everyone who participates. The values of the Miss America crown are specific enough to give every contestant a concrete roadmap for how to be “ideal” yet broad enough for every woman to essentially write her own story. Through the 6 years I’ve spent in this program, I have won over $60,000 in scholarships, overcome my initial fear of public speaking, competed on national TV, made friends and mentors all over the nation, learned leadership and confidence, the list goes on…

MJ: What were a couple of memorable experiences that you have gained with the other representatives of Miss America?Miss California Crystal Lee (2)

CL: You might think the most memorable experiences would be the most well-documented ones (such as the telecast), but it’s actually the quiet moments that stand out most in my mind. The two weeks at Miss America are like being in a pressure cooker; we get to know each other really well because we’re together every waking moment. I’ll always remember how in awe I was hearing about the other girls’ community service projects. Miss South Carolina created a program to get more high school students applying to college. Miss Michigan, who lost her father when she was a child, has spent years helping other children cope with grief. I was really inspired by how committed these girls were to giving back.

MJ: What is something most people don’t realize about the Miss America pageant?

CL: We are essentially athletes. It’s just as mental as it is physical. Most onlookers think it’s all about how you look- but having been on the inside, let me tell you that how you think and how you act is equally important. At the national competition, every contestant is gorgeous and at her peak physical condition. Onstage, each girl can be as beautiful as the next. Where the judges select the winner is the interview. A magnetic personality and inner beauty takes you much farther than just having the prettiest face.

One thing that would stay with me from my interview with Lee was her philosophy on her overall character. “It’s important to always be presentable, to give others energy and respect, and to behave knowing that you represent something larger than just yourself.” Nevertheless, not only is Lee’s philosophy a great motto, but a selfless act we should all put into practice.

*Some portions of this interview has been omitted and order rearranged.

Follow me on Twitter at @MJPhotographySF or Facebook at www.facebook.com/mjphotographysf 

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SF Giants Chinese Heritage Night 2013

CYC members perform on the field for Chinese Heritage Night 2013.

CYC members perform on the field for Chinese Heritage Night 2013.

The San Francisco Giants played host Tuesday at AT&T Park for Chinese Heritage Night. Pre-game ceremonies started out wonderfully as the beautiful warm weather filled the park. On the field, the Community Youth Center (CYC) performed a drum routine with 20 percussionists while 15 youth were carrying a green orb followed by a 40ft long green snake in celebration of the “Year of the Snake”, this year’s Chinese New Year Zodiac year.

During the game, on the View Reserve level honoring Chinese Heritage Night guests who had purchased special tickets were allowed to receive a Collector’s Edition Giants themed “Year of the Snake” figurine. Partial ticket proceeds benefited local Chinese based charities.

In addition to the special give away for Chinese Heritage Night, in community partnership with the SF Giants were representatives of the SF Hep B Free campaign, whose purpose is to bring awareness to the community of the Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and encourage those to get tested and vaccinated.

In support of the SF Hep B Free, local pageant title holders greeted and took pictures with fans. Some of the fans of these lovely ladies ranged from little youngsters to the elderly. It was fascinating to see the many smiles that these ladies brought to the ballpark.

Meanwhile, with all the hoopla of Chinese Heritage Night, the San Francisco Giants trailed the Colorado Rockies 6-2. The Giants scored two runs in the first two innings, while the Rockies were rocking Tim Lincecum by scoring five runs in the 2nd inning and then another in the 5th inning.

Bruce Bochy allowed Lincecum to pitch only 6 innings, giving Tim 7 strikeouts for the night. He allowed 6 total runs on 4 hits. However, the Chinese Zodiac Snake was going to bite back and benefit the SF Giants by bringing great luck and fortune as they would eventually turn things around.

The crowd came to life in the bottom of the 6th inning when the Giants picked up a base runner after Gregor Blanco was walked by Adam Ottavino. Immediately following, Hector Sanchez was walked also, moving Blanco to second base. On a wild pitch with Brandon Crawford batting, both runners then advanced to scoring position, but that wouldn’t matter because Crawford hit a three run homer to left field. A fourth run would come in as Hunter Pence singled to right allowing Nick Noonan to score. The Giants tied the Rockies 6-6 after the side was retired.

Two innings passed with no Rockies scoring. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Andres Torres doubles to right field. Angel Pagan next up at bat hits a single line drive to center field as Torres comes in to score. Marco Scutaro singles to left moving Pagan to 3rd. Next Pablo Sandoval singles scoring Pagan and moving Scutaro to 2nd. Hunter Pence lines out. Brandon Belt grounds into a force out to Sandoval at 2nd with Belt and Scutaro on the corners. Gregor Blanco with two outs on the board takes the chance with a bunt to first base, as it was going to roll foul, pitcher Wilton Lopez decides to play the ball and tries to throw out Blanco at 1st for the third out, but with no luck. Scutaro ends up scoring, while Belt moves to 2nd. Hector Sanchez strikes out swinging and the Giants take the lead 9-6.

In the top of the 9th inning, Sergio Romo with 4 saves this season entered the game for a save opportunity. Reid Brignac faced Romo first, but hits into a ground out as Romo puts him out at first base to Belt. Next two batters, Eric Young and Dexter Fowler strike out swinging. Romo picks up his 5th save of the season and leads MLB in saves so far. Final score: Giants 9 – Rockies 6. The Giants picked up their largest deficit (4-runs) come-from-behind victory since Sept 11th, 2012 vs. Colorado. The Giants win also marked the eighth-straight victory over the Rockies, which is the longest current winning streak for any major league team against a current division rival. Lincecum luckily gets by with a no-decision as Reliever Santiago Casilla picks up his 1st win of the season. Rockies Matt Belisle picks up his 1st loss of the season.

The SF Giants win on Chinese Heritage Night leaves the Giants in a 3-way tie for 1st in the NL West with a record of 5-3. They are tied with the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Although the season is just beginning, it looks very promising for the SF Giants to get back into the playoffs and then hopefully onto the World Series for a repeat.

Follow me on Twitter at @MJPhotographySF or Facebook at www.facebook.com/mjphotographysf

Mother and daughter at the game with their “Year of the Snake” bobblehead.

Mother and daughter at the game with their “Year of the Snake” bobblehead.

Community Youth Center (CYC) youth perform on the drums.

Community Youth Center (CYC) youth perform on the drums.

The CYC youth drum in unison.

The CYC youth drum in unison.

The CYC youth carry a 40ft. long snake while chasing a green orb.

The CYC youth carry a 40ft. long snake while chasing a green orb.

Lou Seal shows off his two World Series rings.

Lou Seal shows off his two World Series rings.

The Collector’s Edition Giants themed “Year of the Snake” figurines.

The Collector’s Edition Giants themed “Year of the Snake” figurines.

The first 20,000 fans at the game received a promotional 2012 World Series snow globe.

The first 20,000 fans at the game received a promotional 2012 World Series snow globe.

The SF Hep B Free table with brand ambassadors and local pageant title holders.

The SF Hep B Free table with brand ambassadors and local pageant title holders.

Local pageant title holders pose with SF Giants towels.

Local pageant title holders pose with SF Giants towels.

Tim Lincecum on the mound allows for 4 hits and 6 runs. Lincecum strikes out 7 for the night.

Tim Lincecum on the mound allows for 4 hits and 6 runs. Lincecum strikes out 7 for the night.

 

Marco Scutaro’s hitting groove is coming back as he hits 3 for 4.

Marco Scutaro’s hitting groove is coming back as he hits 3 for 4.

Hunter Pence with his seventh game hitting streak.

Hunter Pence with his seventh game hitting streak.

 

Brandon Crawford is welcomed home after hitting a three run homer, which marks his second career home run at AT&T Park (coming on his 363rd plate appearance at AT&T).

Brandon Crawford is welcomed home after hitting a three run homer, which marks his second career home run at AT&T Park (coming on his 363rd plate appearance at AT&T).

Santiago Casilla picks up his 1st win of the season.

Santiago Casilla picks up his 1st win of the season.

Sergio Romo picks up his 5th save of the season.

Sergio Romo picks up his 5th save of the season.

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Miss San Francisco & Miss Golden Gate 2012

Miss San Francisco 2012

Eight young ladies competed at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco for the coveted title of Miss San Francisco and Miss Golden Gate. This year the scholarship pageant had the privilege of having Alissa Anderegg, 2011′s Miss Golden Gate Outstanding Teen, sing the National Anthem to start the program. Emcee for the evening was Nicole Honaker, Miss SF 2010.

The ladies competed in five segments:  Question and Answer, Physical Fitness, Talent, Evening Wear, and Interview (which took place prior to the on stage performance). Special Entertainment was provided by the Shan-Yee Poon Ballet School and the current reigning title holders of Miss SF Outstanding Teen 2012 & Miss Golden Gate Outstanding Teen 2012.

The Miss SF and Miss GG program had the privilege of having visiting delegates from various counties introduce themselves and introductions of the young 2012 San Francisco Princesses. Before the crowning and sashing of the 2012 title holders, the past 2011 title holders gave their farewell speeches. Many thanks go out to 2011′s title holders Miss Crystal Lee, Miss Holly Heiserman, Miss Jasmine Lee, and Miss Alissa Anderegg for their service in the community throughout the past year.

Family and friends cheered in support of their loved ones as the winners were announced and with complete surprise and shock to herself, Miss Vivian Wei was crowned Miss San Francisco 2012 and gave her walk across the stage in awe and happiness.

Congratulations to the following title holders:

Miss San Francisco 2012: Vivian Wei

Miss Golden Gate 2012: Sara Choi

Miss San Francisco Outstanding Teen 2012: Elyse Vincenzi

Miss Golden Gate Outstanding Teen 2012: Grace Lee Grant

Miss San Francisco 1st Runner-Up: Marcy Chun

Miss San Francsico 2nd Runner-Up: Lindsey Nakashima

Miss Congenialilty: Marcy Chun

Miss People’s Choice: Anna Lisa Matias

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Miss San Francisco 2012 (1)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (2)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (3)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (4)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (5)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (6)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (7)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (8)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (9)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (10)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (11)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (12)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (13)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (14)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (15)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (16)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (18)
Miss San Francisco 2012 (19)
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