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Post Info TOPIC: Miss Laos to join Miss Massachusetts USA 2008 !!!
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Miss Laos to join Miss Massachusetts USA 2008 !!!
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Photo: Jenee Raschak grew up in Lowell but recently moved to Framingham. (David Kamerman/Globe Staff)

Having grown up in Lowell, Jenee Raschak has fond memories of performing traditional Laotian dances at the Southeast Asian Water Festival.

But later this month, the 25-year-old will be moving across a different stage as one of 52 contestants vying to become the next Miss Massachusetts USA.

Officials say she's the first Southeast Asian from Lowell to enter the competition and one of only a few statewide who have entered over the years. Not only will Raschak be representing herself and her city, but she'll also stand up for an entire culture that traditionally shies away from such mainstream activities and events.

It's a role Raschak relishes, and she hopes she can be an example for Southeast Asian students and young adults who are hesitant to step outside their culture. "It was unexpected, and the fact that the community would encourage me to become the first Southeast Asian contestant [from Lowell] for something as well known as the Miss Massachusetts pageant was an honor," she said in a recent interview.

Raschak said many Southeast Asians, such as her parents, had little when they first came to the United States more than two decades ago. They were focused on work and caring for their families; they didn't have time to get involved in mainstream America, she said.

Though her family lived in subsidized housing and received welfare assistance when they first moved to Lowell, Raschak said her parents worked hard and eventually supported themselves and bought a home. Thanks to their hard work, Raschak said she and her two brothers have opportunities her parents never had.

She was the first in her family to graduate from college, and she bought her first home when she was 20.

Now that the younger generation is established, Raschak said, it is time to get more involved.

"Many of us are first-generation Americans whose parents came in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so this is about making our mark here in Massachusetts and [in] America," she said. "We are proud Americans and we want society to know that we want to stay and be an active member of the community."

After spending most of her life in Lowell, Raschak recently moved to Framingham to be closer to her job as an information technology sales consultant. She maintains strong ties to Lowell, however, where her mother and many friends live.

Raschak entered the Miss Massachusetts competition after she was crowned the winner of the first-ever beauty pageant at this year's Southeast Asian Water Festival. One of the pageant organizers, Kevin Sengkeomixay, said he thought Raschak's participation in the statewide contest would generate a buzz in the Southeast Asian community. He hopes it will spark interest in a mainstream event many Southeast Asians would otherwise shy away from.

"They are comfortable in their own culture," said Sengkeomixay, 22. "They don't like to step out of the box, and that's how the kids are raised. I'm trying to break the image so that other young people can look at us and see we're doing something different. There are other ways we can support the community."

So far, the community has responded. Southeast Asian businesses and organizations have rallied around Raschak. The city's political leaders are offering their support as well.

City Councilor Rita Mercier, who was one of the judges at this year's Southeast Asian Water Festival pageant, said she thinks Raschak will represent the city well and she hopes it will convince other Southeast Asians to run for office or join neighborhood groups.

"I wish they'd become more involved, because they are a great part of this city," she said.


Sengkeomixay said supporters have spent about $3,000 on clothes, a bathing suit, shoes, jewelry, and entry fees for Raschak. Win or no win, it will be exciting to see a Laotion woman compete in the pageant, to be held in Quincy on Nov. 22-23, he said.


"I want this to be an example for other young ladies," he said. "We can do something instead of sitting back and keeping to ourselves. We can be involved and interact with other races. This can be an example to other young Laotian and Cambodian people out there."


Laurie Clemente, executive director of the Miss Massachusetts USA Pageant, said there have been Southeast Asian contestants in the past, though she didn't know how many. She said one, Rosalie Allain of Leominster, was crowned Miss Massachusetts USA in 2000.


Allain's sister, Robin Allain-Moody of Hubbardston, was named Mrs. Massachusetts earlier this year.


Clemente said the contestant pool is usually diverse from an ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic standpoint. She did not have an ethnic breakdown of this year's competitors.


Raschak said she's been amazed by the wide support she's received, and hopes she can be a positive role model for other young Southeast Asians.

"They want to use me as the face of the community," she said. "They hope it would bring more awareness and be an honor for everyone."

If Raschak is successful, she would be the third contestant from Lowell in recent years to win the title. Latoyia Foster won in 2002, and Christine Netishen wore the crown in 1992.


Phala Chea, director of the Lowell school system's Parent Information Center, said she thinks Raschak could have a positive influence on the younger generation of Southeast Asians. Though she has seen some students start to participate in mainstream school and community activities, she said most Southeast Asian students tend to stay within their own group. The student population in the public schools for the 2007-08 school year was 29 percent Asian, significantly higher than the state average of 5 percent.


"She will definitely be one of the first to be involved in that type of activity," Chea said. "I'm sure others will see that and want to follow in her footsteps, but right now we don't have too many of our youngsters having the courage to take that role."


But Chea said she doesn't think it would take much to spur some change. She said more role models like Raschak and a concerted effort to reach out to Southeast Asian students and young adults could go a long way toward convincing them to try something new.


"They need to feel they're going to be accepted once they step out," she said. "I think it's being able to fit in, and sometimes they don't have enough confidence or self-esteem."


Chea said she saw one example of that last year at Lowell High School during an American Idol-type competition. Chea said many Southeast Asian students entered, much to the surprise of school officials.

But Chea said the school made an effort to recruit all students so everyone felt included.


"When provided with that opportunity, we had a lot of diverse students," she said.


http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/11/16/shes_standing_up_for_her_culture_at_state_pageant/



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Anonymous

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More of her photo


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Anonymous

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Please internal Lao and external Lao check out for more her picts. Hahahaaaaaaaaaaaaa...............then some comments http://viewmorepics.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewPicture&friendID=377207764&albumId=967048

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Anonymous

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Yes Jenee go for it.

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Anonymous

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She is very pretty, but I'm not so sure about Miss Massachusetts. Sorry!!!

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