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Miss Eden ‘09 Doubles as ‘Exit Saigon’ Poster Child

Nhien Pho, 22, of Springfield knew she was proactive in her local Vietnamese-American community. What she didn’t know was that that same activism would land her on the front page of The Washington Post and peg her the poster child — literally — for the traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon.” In addition, she’d be crowned Miss Eden two years later during the 2nd Annual Trung Thu Moon Festival. misseden

Nhien Pho, 22, of Springfield knew she was proactive in her local Vietnamese-American community. What she didn’t know was that that same activism would land her on the front page of The Washington Post and peg her the poster child — literally — for the traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon.” In addition, she’d be crowned Miss Eden two years later during the 2nd Annual Trung Thu Moon Festival.

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SPRINGFIELD’S NHIEN PHO re-enacts the pose that made her the face of the traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon,” featured at the Eden Center in Falls Church this past August. (Photo: Courtesy Alan Frank)

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

“I didn’t even realize I was in the exhibit until a friend told me. Apparently, my name had some weird apostrophe in it on the poster,” said Pho.

Grammatical faux pas aside, it was during her participation the 2006 National Independence Day parade, spent dancing with the Hernon-based Vietnamese Americans Celebrating Freedom, when the famous shot of her with outstretched arms was taken by Post photographer Gerald Martineau. The rest is history.

Pho said watching her photo garner such attention was “very strange,” but left her “humbled and proud to be in a photo representative of Vietnamese-American culture.”

Cultural dance isn’t Pho’s only endeavor. Her main passion is HIV prevention education. She’s currently in Vietnam for a visit, during which she’ll see family, visit schools to see what supplies are needed and visit an orphanage.

“AIDS is such a preventable-disease epidemic in Vietnam,” said Pho, who chose to take a year off her studies at George Mason University to dabble in philanthropic efforts before buckling down for med school.

Not only did her community efforts impress the judges of September’s Miss Eden pageant, but her answer during the question portion left them in a unanimous agreement that Pho deserved the crown.

Contestants were asked what else they were proud of, aside from simply being a Vietnamese-American.

Pho went on to say how proud of her parents she was, “the fact that, as a whole, Vietnamese-Americans are resilient, especially [their] immigrant parents who have endured so much and who started with nothing.”

Judge Chi Lan Vu said all of the judges — including Miss D.C. 2009, Joy Hodges — wanted Pho to win from the time they heard her answer, but had to wait it out until the end to give the other contestants a fair chance.

“For those at the festival, Nhien clearly stood out from the other three. Not only was she the judges’ choice, but the crowd’s too,” said Vu.

Though not a judge, Alan Frank, senior vice president for the Eden Center’s owner, Capital Commercial Properties, echoed Vu’s sentiment, saying Pho’s “connection to her heritage stood out.”

The Eden royalty herself said her recent win “means [she’s] successfully embraces both of [her] cultures as a Vietnamese-American, with an equal fondness for each.”

“Suddenly, I realized this is what it means to be a ‘hypen,’” said Pho

 

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