“The crown illuminates me, I made it today”. This touching comment comes from H’Hen Nie, the first candidate of an ethnic minority to win the crown at Miss Universe Vietnam 2017. Her victory is a sumptuous feast of joys and emotions: surprise, touchingness, and pride. For the first time, the Miss Universe crown goes to a girl who refuses to be a copycat, with her pixie hair and tanned skin. This inspirational success story has been lauded over and over these days – an Ehde girl who resiliently works on her path to the crown, and succeeds. Her story embodies dream, passion, prowess and strong will.
Culture Magazine: Can you please tell us about your life before and after your victory in Miss Universe Vietnam 2017?
H’Hen Nie: Before my coronation, I was just a girl next door like any others. I went to school, worked and lived for myself. Now, as Miss Universe Vietnam, I contribute more to my community and society. I have the support of the audience and the assistance of the Saigon Universe Company team. No longer do I stand alone, but work for the sake of the team and the community. While I could previously hang out and go shopping with my friends, those pursuits are now indeed a luxury for me. In addition, I am also more aware of my look when I walk down the street or attend an event. These are some fundamental changes that befall me.
Culture Magazine: May you share about your life, family and homeland with readers of Culture Magazine?
H’Hen Nie: When it comes to my private life, I am fond of simple things. I am not particularly demanding in makeup or clothing, provided that they look beautiful on me. I think of myself as honest and straightforward. When I talk, I say what I think or what I know. I suppose that if I treat someone with sincerity, they will do the same for me. When it comes to my family, I am really fortunate to have both of my parents. My parents do love me, particularly after I became Miss Universe Vietnam, they paid even greater attention to me. Especially, my mum still worries that I would be “deceived”.
My homeland? I am an Ehde, which is widely known. I really love my homeland. My homeland raised me, gave me self-confidence and provided me with the cushion against all odds of my life, so that I can continue to march on. Wherever and whoever I am, I will forever be a child of Daklak Province.
Culture Magazine: Is there anything special of your Ehde homeland (in term of traditions or culture)?
I truly love my homeland. It is home to my childhood memories, my family and my friends. My homeland projects a mirage of Ehde solidarity. They can set all their tasks aside to attend a funeral and send each other condolence. Hence, an Ehde funeral is usually quite crowded.
In the harvest, families work side by side. Families can harvest for another one. As a result, my community shares inseparable bonding, as villagers all over the place know each other. For Ehde people, it is assumed that people of Nie lineage are brothers and sisters, although they don’t share the same bloodline and can no way marry each other. Hence, people of Nie families will acquaint and marry people of other clans in other hamlets, for instance, E Ban clan.
If you visit an Ehde village, you can easily spot children aged 5 or 6 fetching water. It is also how my childhood took place, so did any other Ehde people. It is the way Ehde people to instill strength in a little girl because women prevail in the matrimonial Ehde community. For me, it is a beautiful custom of my village and I do desire to preserve it.
It is the independence and strong work ethics that renders money insignificant for Ehde people. Vegetables are harvested in one’s own garden, so are his poultry and cattle. Evryone can support himself. Money is needed only after the harvest of coffee, when Ehde people prepare for their New Year celebrations or buy fertilizers. Ehde people find money not that important and don’t bother to gain money at any cost. Money is not heavily earnt, but also not heavily spent. I still remember when I was in my homeland, I could walk 8km to school without cash in my pocket.
Moving to Saigon, I still kept that thought. I just kept enough money to feed myself. When I earned money from my modelling job, I always transferred to my older sister to take care of her family at home.
Culture Magazine: Some difficulties you have faced and successfully beat, please? Were those times wear you away or make you weary on your way?
H’Hen Nie: My parents have six children, among which I am the third. As a child I and my siblings had to lend a hand in different tasks, such as fetching water, mowning, tending our herds, growing paddies or harvesting coffee beans… and contributed to my family’s livelihoods. Sometimes I followed my aunt to work and was paid 60,000 dongs a day ($3 CAD). Life was fraught with hardship. Under the pressure of my community’s custom, my mom used to advise me to give up schooling and get married. Ehde people are simple minded, and youngsters are helped to win someone’s hand in marriage when they are 15 to 18. Mom also feared I could hardly get married if I studied in the city. However, deep in my heart, I always yearned for something new, a leap further, and a direction for my life. Hence, I was determined to go to the city to nurture my dream of studying higher and become a college student. The time after I left my hamlet and my family was riddled with troubles.
I had to move residence from time to time after being thieved, or was even robbed on my way home. One day I was biking and leaving all my belongings in the basket, I was robbed of my cell phone, books, personal documents and laptop. I cried so hard in my room. I had no relative in Saigon, and dare not admit to my parents. I also landed different jobs to eke out my living.
However, I never had the thought of giving up or stepping back. Those hardships and challenges tempered my inmost strength, self-confidence and independence. I think that everything that befalls us comes for a reason. If you can’t change something, just face, improve and overcome it. I truly cherish my hardships, which shaped me into who I am today.
Culture Magazine: What do you think of opinions that your beauty mismatches with beauty standards of a Miss Universe?
H’Hen Nie: Actually, I am aware that my look fails to meet universally acknowledged yardsticks of beauty. I have pixie hair, tanned skin and crooked teeth. I can’t coerce anyone into loving me. Each person has his own taste of beauty. Thus, instead of giving second thoughts to those opinions, I focus on doing my job as the incumbent Miss Universe Vietnam. Superficial beauty will change over time, but inner beauty does not.
Culture Magazine: Had you not attended the Miss Universe Vietnam 2017, what would you have done?
H’Hen Nie: I graduated in Corporate Finance from the College of Foreign Economic Relations. However, after my graduation and internship, I find myself unsuitable for this job, and realized my true passion in arts.
Had I not attended the Miss Universe Vietnam 2017 pageant, I would surely work as a model. I love acting, photoshoots and performing in front of the camera. For close friends, sometimes I didn’t require any wages, just experiences to mature.
When I decided to become a model, I wanted to prove that this job was far from what people thought of it. When I was still new, an aunt said to me: “Don’t be a model because this job is dirty and models never walk on their feet”.
At the moment, I said nothing to her. I wanted to prove to her that I could take it seriously and shine in any job. Every job requires us to work hard to earn a living. By now, I still put my money where my mouth is.
Miss Universe Vietnam 2017 was the second pageant I attended, because I had previously joined the Vietnam Next Top Model but failed to advance too far. Entering Miss Universe, I want to inspire my Ehde girls. I want girls already married at 15 or 16 will think more positively and have motivation to get ahead. I want myself to be a role model for those girls.
Culture Magazine: What are the goals in your life and career?
H’Hen Nie: As Miss Universe Vietnam, I will do more for the sake of the community. By means of positive tasks, I want to change people’s minds and lend a hand in building a better life. Of course, it is not lip service, I will do it. Hopefully the audience will always support me in these activities.
Culture Magazine: Can you talk about some of your future intentions, please?
H’Hen Nie: Currently, I have spent time on several plans and projects of Miss Universe Vietnam Organization and Saigon Universe Company, in particular charity activities for the community at large. In the meantime, I also joined many campaigns, including Earth Hour or Room To Read… I want to travel more to meet, talk and share with others, spreading my positive energy and kindness.
In 2018, the biggest goal of Hen is the Miss Universe contest. It is a global and brutal beauty arena, which requires me to come well-prepared and hone my skills. I go in for this pageant not only for myself, but for my supporters and fans of beauty. Vietnam has not been in the top for 10 years. I don’t force myself into victory because outcomes depend on various elements. However, I will try my best. I sincerely want to tell my stories to the world so that Kinh people as well as the whole world can learn more of the essences of Ehde community and Ehde people.
This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt