Princess Melissa Chen traveled a long way to become an Azalea Princess in Brookings. She was born in China, moved to America when six years old, and to Brookings when she was in the 4th grade. "It took me five years to really enjoy it here," she admits.
Her father, Mike Chen wanted Melissa and her older brother, Jerry, to grow up in a different society. He first traveled to Panama, where his mother-in-law was living, but in Panama he found too much heat and too much crime.
He stayed in Panama for two years, working out arrangements through an aunt for the family to immigrate to America. When the family reached San Francisco's China Town, six-year-old Melissa didn't even realize she was in a different country. "San Francisco was just like China," she said. "I thought the Americans were strangers."
The family moved to Brookings when her father accepted a job at Lee's Dragon Gate. "Coming to America really opened up our world," she said. "I talk to my mom (Hua Ping Huang) and we agree I wouldn't be the same person as I am now, after being raised in western culture. I'm really proud of my nationality, and I'm trying to teach myself to write Chinese. I want to learn Chinese history and language and be more aware of my own culture."
She explained that there are many dialects spoken in China and each small town has its own dialect, which meant she had to learn a new language when they moved into a Cantonese section of China Town.
At first she attended an immigrant school for Chinese students. In the second grade she transferred to Caesar Chavez School, where she discovered if she spoke her own dialogue she didn't make many friends. "My parents stopped speaking our dialogue, and I learned Cantonese, helped by watching Chinese TV." Next she learned English, and then moved to Oregon.
Princess Melissa said about being a princess, "I've really met lots of interesting people with such a supportive attitude. I'm having fun going around meeting people who really do care about what's going on at the high school."
She said getting to know the other princesses has been special. "We've gotten a lot closer. All five of us didn't really know each other, and now we have a nice bonding friendship."
Being a princess has made her feel pampered, she said. "I never knew what I was getting into when I signed up. We've done so many interesting things, courtesy classes, etiquette classes, dinner at Chives."
Her career plans include Portland State University and dental school, but first she wants to take a year off to travel and work in the San Francisco Bay area. She said she will stay with her 19-year-old brother who will be in college there in the fall.
Melissa explained, "I want to experience living alone." Then added, "but if it doesn't work out like I expect, I'll probably go on to college." She chose dentistry because she has a friend who is a dental hygienist who convinced her it would be great to be a dentist.
"My folks would like me to go straight to college, but it's my decision. They suggest things, but let me choose. My mom always let me decide and then learn from the consequences, and not to just fall, but to pick myself up. She said her parents have had the strongest effect upon her life. Her mother has been a stay-at-home mom. "It's nice to have her there for us," Melissa said.
Princess Melissa will sing a Chinese song for her performance in the talent part of the pageant.
Her advice to aspiring princesses? "It's really an experience you can hold onto for the rest of this life. It's an opportunity to be part of the community, and you will really meet a lot of incredible people."