HomeChinese AmericanMedical student Eleanor Kang wins Chicago's Miss Chinatown

Medical student Eleanor Kang wins Chicago’s Miss Chinatown

By Tenzin Wodhean, AsAmNews Intern

After Eleanor Kang completed her third year at University of California San Francisco’s medical school, she decided to take a year-long pause to reevaluate her relationship towards medicine — a pause that led to her being crowned Miss Chinatown at the 40th annual Chicago Chinatown Chamber of Commerce pageant.

It marked her return to the stage since playing the viola in middle school recitals.

“No words do it justice. It’s interesting though because obviously I was really happy and ecstatic to win but honestly I was more proud of the pageant as a whole and what we put together,” said Kang.

Amongst Kang was seven other contestants, who had all committed at least 3 hours every week for the past two months in preparation for the pageant. The pageant comprised three main performances: a traditional Cheongsam dance, a traditional Hanfu dance and a K-pop dance as well as portions where the contestants modeled in evening gowns and participated in a beauty quiz.

The annual gala aims to celebrate Chinese culture in a way that bolsters the local community both economically and socially. This year it was held at the Marriott Marquis Chicago, which the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Li Jianming, attributes as incredibly purposeful given that the hotel’s proximity to Chinatown would forge a reciprocal connection with the local businesses.

Strengthening such a connection is one of the sentiments that informed why Kang entered the pageant in the first place. As a third generation Chinese American, she remembers being regarded as more American and Whiter than Chinese by some in the Chinese community, warranting a recurring absence of open arms.

This coupled with her experiences with the rest of the world as someone Chinese casted a dichotomy that was difficult for Kang to understand yet something she’s committed herself to working through with her participation in the pageant contributing to that.

“Another reason is using it as an opportunity to meet other people and have a shared experience. The other contestants — our backgrounds are very different, we grew up in different areas, came from different places, work in different industries — the only way we’d meet each other is through this pageant,” Kang revealed.

Eleanor Kang is seen here in the center with second runner up, Irene Lo, left , and Angela Kang, first runner up, right.
Courtesy: Eleanor Kang. Irene Lo who is the second runner up is to the left of Kang, center. The person on the right is Angel Zhao, first runner up

Her fellow contestant, Irene Lo, who followed as the second runner-up, was particularly inspiring to her after hearing Lo answer the panel’s question about an obstacle she overcame and what she learned. Lo narrated the deferral of her dream of becoming a performer on Broadway because the circumstances of the pandemic and various visa changes had disrupted her upcoming performances in the U.S. She had no other choice but to return to Taiwan.

It was Lo’s resilience that impressed Kang about her fellow contestant.

“What was really fascinating was like I knew she was a musical theater performer and I knew that she performed in Taiwan but hearing the backstory ‘oh I didn’t realize this happened to you’ and I’ve spent two months with you, 6 hours every week with you and didn’t know that about you — that also added to the impact of everything,” said Kang.

When Kang took to the stage for the talent portion, she planned on relaying a similar impact — one that was “lighthearted yet informative” — through a mini-Ted talk on Asian glow. The common association of blushing with embarrassment is something that’s mapped onto the alcohol flushing response that most Asians exhibit and it’s a negative association that Kang intended on converting into positive during her 3-minute talk.

In encouraging this optimistic attitude, Kang concluded with an enthusiastic “Let’s raise a glass of a non-alcoholic beverage of our choice and cheers to our Asian glow!” It was a line that Kang practiced about a hundred times in front of her parents. But it was because of the heavy preparation that Kang credits in imparting impact and in enabling her to improvise during a technical issue.

“My talent relies on the fact that people know that I’m a medical student. When we did our introductions at the very beginning of the pageant, the mic wasn’t working well when I was doing mine so they might not have known that I was a medical student. So I had to add a portion at the beginning of my talent so that they knew that about me,” Kang said.

Contestants in the Miss Chicago Chinatown pageant. Eleanor Kang, center in the  blue/turquoise outfit, with her fellow contestants
Photo courtesy Eleanor Kang Eleanor Kang, center in the blue/turquoise outfit, with her fellow contestants

Improvising seems to flow naturally through Kang because while the decision to take a leave of absence from medicine school was not sudden, the abrupt shift in where her life was heading is something she describes as instantaneous.

“I also felt really overwhelmed because medical school feels like a train where once you get on, it’s really hard to get off,” said Kang. Getting off the train before it’s too late is something that takes incredible courage from passengers who have given so many years to their destination — becoming a doctor to help people.

Since her leave of absence, Kang has graduated with an MBA from University at Chicago to grasp how “medicine exists in the ecosystem of business” and has become a medical consultant. It’s been a fulfilling short-term departure as the pageant has renewed her of the opportunities and experiences that lay outside of the train she was riding while reminding her of the reasons why she boarded the train in the first place.

In the one month she’s held the title, she’s been planning with the Chamber of Commerce about the direction they want to go and Kang is particularly interested in how investing in the youth through resources and access to opportunities will allow communities to flourish as the youth will return their investments.

For Kang, this translates into mentoring youth or coordinating more people-focused events for everyone where there’s a playful yet meaningful interaction between culture and community. It’s a passion that rests on the popular belief that America is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness and Kang wants to contribute to nurturing the preservation of connections in any way that she can.

Kang is also intent on intertwining these community initiatives with her experiences in business and healthcare by getting involved in ways that enable greater access to resources or help the economy grow.

“There’s making sure that the underserved in the area are getting resources and connected to care. You can also tackle healthcare disparities in the community like Hepatitis B, making sure that people have access to care that’s in the correct language or culturally informed. I know there’s disparities in access to behavioral and mental health,” said Kang.

Eleanor Kang is seen on the right
Courtesy: Eleanor Kang. Kang is on the right.

As Miss Chinatown, Kang has already felt extremely welcomed by the Chinese community despite the language barrier and has observed how she can harness the power from her monolingual background.

“Because I don’t have Chinese skills, I can definitely lean into being the more outward facing spokesperson and connecting more to the broader city of Chicago and engaging with the Chicagoans and hopefully serving as this bridge,” said Kang.

This commitment to ensuring the flourishing of the community is arguably not complete without Kang’s personal flourishing as well and the pageant has made her well aware that she is primed for it. Her threshold for throwing herself into new situations has grown as she’s noticed a greater confidence in her speech in meetings.

More specifically, one moment from the pageant that Kang recalls as pivotal in informing further personal growth was when a leader of a rehearsal was being inconsiderate of their language with the contestants. Kang believes it could’ve been a source of stress as it seemed other contestants believed similarly since they accepted it except for one.

“One other contestant was more vocal and standing up for us and I really appreciated it. It’s something I would like to work on where if I’m asked directly, I think I would’ve said something. I want to find ways to be proactive and do it in a respectful way in a way that doesn’t escalate things but stays firm in your belief and in defending others,” said Kang.

As for her own future, she plans to return to UCSF in June to begin her fourth year of medical school.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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