Over the July 4 weekend at the Dae Dong Manor banquet hall in a Flushing strip mall, nineteen young Korean-American women slipped into stilettos and one-pieces for the 30th annual Miss Korea New York competition. “It’s just like the Miss America pageant,” said organizer Paul Lee, who works for the New York edition of the Korea Times. In August, the winner, Jin Lee, 22, and two runners-up will fly to Seoul for the Miss Korea pageant, which is a Miss Universe feeder and often a nodutdol, or stepping-stone, to a Korean film career. Here they are, four would-be Miss Koreas (and one auntie).
24, Astoria; restaurant owner; in U.S. eleven years.
Sang: The Carpenters’ “Top of the World.”
Why do you want to win?
At my restaurant, I spend a lot of time explaining what Korean culture is like. If I had the Miss Korea title, people would trust my information more.
In a Korean deli or cleaners, say Ahn nyoung ha se yo. That means hello. They’ll give you a discount.
Mijin Park, 19, Philadelphia; schoolteacher and college student; in U.S. twelve years.
Sang: “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid.
Why do you want to win?
Audrey Hepburn said you should use one hand to help yourself and the other hand to help others.
I’ve heard in Africa they really need education there. I can help if I have the title.
Why the Little Mermaid song?
She’s trying to get out of the sea to be a person. That’s me. I want to grow from a little girl to a young lady.
What’s your favorite Hepburn movie?
[Long pause] I’m not really sure.
Irene Noh, 20, Fort Lee, N.J.; student at the Rhode Island School of Design; born in U.S.
Sang: And belly- and jazz-danced to a dance remix of “Hava Nee,” a Korean song.
You want to be an architect. What are you doing in a beauty pageant?
It’s an outlet for expressing myself.
Ever been to Korea?
I went to study in Seoul. They’re more conservative there. It’s not polite to speak on the subway or talk on your cell phone too loudly.
Naomi “Nina” Kim, 19, Scarsdale, N.Y.; aspiring model
born in U.S.
Hip-hop danced to: “Crowded,” by Jeanni Ortega & Papoose.
Why are you doing this?
To represent the Korean race. I want to be the first Korean supermodel.
What’s Korea like?
People are still very—I don’t want to say closed-minded. But they won’t make out at the movies.
What about you?
I’m very American, but I have a lot of Korean values. I respect my elders. This is my Auntie Gina, by the way.
Do you think she’ll win? Gina: Yes, I do. She’s the most glamorous and well-balanced.