From refugee to beauty queen
One measure of the American dream: After your parents dodge soldiers in the Laotian countryside, and your father builds a bamboo raft to escape across the Mekong River, and your family settles in a prosperous neighbourhood in Savage, Minn., you are crowned Miss Minnesota USA, and the thing that makes you shake your head in wonder is butt glue.
“I never knew about butt glue! Did you know about butt glue?” asks Nitaya Panemalaythong, eyes wide. She discovered it during the swimwear part of the state pageant in November, where there’s a downside of having your bikini bottom ride up your backside. That Panemalaythong had never heard of the glue - officially known as It Stays! - speaks to her unfamiliarity with pageant culture.
The Miss Minnesota USA pageant is the only contest Panemalaythong entered. Not only that, she’s 26, the oldest a competitor can be. She’s also the first AsianAmerican to be named Miss Minnesota USA.
“I did this for the scholarship money,” she said, explaining a state pageant winner is eligible for a $45,000 scholarship. Meanwhile, she’s had to delay her education at Normandale Community College, where she enrolled as a part-time student last fall after she’d gotten her parents and siblings settled and decided she could “finally focus on myself instead of worrying about everyone else.”