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"A" is for . . .

Fala Chen
Fala Chen spent the first 15 years of her life in Chengdu, in central China. Then she and her family moved to Atlanta, in the heart of the American South.

Culture shock? Not at all. Today, at age 20, she already speaks English perfectly. There's only a trace of a Chinese accent, and it makes her sound well-bred and sophisticated, not foreign at all. She's right at home in the land of the red, white and blue.

Fala ChenFala Chen
And now she reigns over her adopted land. In August 2002, on a pageant stage in San Francisco, she was crowned Miss Asian America.

Asians in the United States come from many cultures and ethnicities -- Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Hmong, to name a few. Some are highly assimilated (the pageant allows contestants that are as much as three-fourths non-Asian), while others are still deeply rooted to the old country.

Ms. Chen doesn't fit neatly into either category. She still speaks Chinese fluently. For her talent at the pageant, she donned a golden dress and performed the traditional "Peacock Dance" that her mother taught her. But her father is a technical expert on that most Western of musical instruments, the piano. And she's studying for a career in international business.

With her predecessorThe full court
She's also studying Japanese, an important language in world commerce, and one that's nothing like Chinese or English. "I want to know two and a half languages," she says cutely.

Indeed, she is cute, like a Chinese version of Audrey Hepburn. And just as elegant. She got into pageants on a whim, and has already gone a long way.

New worlds are easy for Fala Chen.

Pageant photos by Calvin Jeng, others courtesy of Fala Chen
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