From left to right: Liana Azman, Ijechi Nazirah Nwaozuzu and Haymisha Francis. Photo: TNP
By Charlene Chua
The New Paper
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Excuse me, are you a Singaporean? Some of this year's Miss Universe Singapore finalists get asked this because of their multicultural backgrounds. Charlene Chua speaks to three of the pageant's finalists.
Ijechi Nazirah Nwaozuzu: Parents are my heroes
Her name may be a mouthful, but Ijechi is your typical girl-next-door with a heartland story.
Born to a Nigerian father and Malay mother, the 21-year-old National University of Singapore law student revealed that she had a tough childhood.
When she was 10, her father lost his job at a shipping firm. He became a stay-at-home dad. Her mother, a logistics officer, is the sole breadwinner to this day.
Ijechi said: "I think my story resonates best with the masses.
"I come from a single-income household and was raised in a four-room flat in Bukit Panjang most of my life.
"Life was challenging especially as a kid because I realised early on that money was scarce and I couldn't always get what I wanted.
Slept when hungry
She continued: "I remember all the times I used to just sleep whenever I was hungry and there was no food in the house.
"But my parents were my heroes and they toiled and struggled to give my sister and me the best education we could have.
"For my sister and me, it was never a smooth and easy ride, and we had to work at least twice as hard as any of our friends. But it all paid off, I must say."
Not only does Ijechi have African and Malay blood, she is part Chinese, Indian and Portuguese on her mother's side. She has always felt that her uniqueness is something to be celebrated.
"My sister and I were raised to be Singaporean in identity and values, but global in our outlook and perspective," she said.
One of the things that made it more challenging for her when she was younger was her race being listed as "Others" in the school register.
She felt it was harder to fit in because she did not belong to any of the major racial groups.
"But it's been a long time since those days. Singapore has become more cosmopolitan and diverse," she said. "Now, I have a strong desire to want to represent that cosmopolitanism that is the essence of this country."
The self-confessed tomboy played basketball for both West View Primary School and Singapore Chinese Girls' School. She was also a hurdler on the Anglo-Chinese Junior College's athletics team. She wants to finish school and make a difference in the world.
"I'm interested in issues in international law, human rights, women's rights and family law," she said.
"My dream is to be like (British-Lebanese lawyer-activist) Amal Alamuddin, (American media proprietor-talk show host) Oprah Winfrey, (US First Lady) Michelle Obama, and (ancient Egyptian pharaoh) Cleopatra - all put together.
"But the most important thing to do now is to survive law school and graduate."
The baby of the competition is also one of the few here who celebrates Hari Raya, Deepavali and Chinese New Year.
That is because her music professor father is a mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian and her music director mother is French. The 20-year-old music teacher said she has enjoyed celebrating all the public holidays since she was a little girl.
"My parents had agreed before I was born that their children would know their Chinese, Malay, Indian and French roots equally. So it has been great experiencing all the different cultures.
"I fast now and then, receive hongbao during Chinese New Year and visit relatives on all the different occasions. I grew up in a home where cultures were constantly fusing and that inspired me to value tolerance."
Her desire to represent Singapore in the Miss Universe pageant is no surprise considering who her father is.
Liana's dad is Mr Azman Abdullah, a renowned bodybuilder who became Singapore's first-ever International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness's Mr Universe in 1993.
Liana was born that same year and her father decided to take a break from bodybuilding to focus on fatherhood.
When she was 8, Liana's parents were divorced. The 21-year-old model said that she does not see her father often as he has another family.
But if her father's competitive spirit is anything to go by, Liana will be one to watch at this year's pageant.Said Liana, whose father is Malay and whose mother is Chinese:
"I haven't told my dad that I'm in Miss Universe. I don't even have his contact number."
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