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  • Writer's pictureKathy Chin Leong

Katherine Wu

Former Miss Chinatown 2019

Life couldn’t get any better for Katherine Wu in February of 2019. The high school senior won the title of Miss Chinatown USA. She was accepted to Rice University in Texas, one of the nation’s top institutions, and was fastidiously practicing several hours a day to land a spot on the Olympic archery team. During her reign, she felt thoroughly satisfied, connecting with her cultural heritage and the Chinese American community at functions throughout the city. And although Katherine didn’t make the Olympic team this time, she was undaunted. The athlete continued perfecting her skills (and still does), making the Academic All-American Team and aiming for the next set of summer Olympic games. In Texas, college life was stimulating, and it didn’t take long for her to go into the sciences, which is not surprising since her father is a principal scientist and her mother is an emergency medicine doctor.

In this interview, she reflects on her era as Miss Chinatown and college life in 2020. We caught up with the freshman-turned-sophomore who is now back at home, sequestering with her family in the Bay Area.

What was it like to be Miss Chinatown?

So many great things come to mind. I’ve had the privilege of being on the float in the Chinese New Year Parade as the face of the Chinese-American community, as a goodwill ambassador. I’ve been out at a lot of community events both in San Francisco and Houston, many of which are ribbon cutting opening ceremonies and dinner banquets. One of my favorite events was participating in a book reading activity to preschool children in English and Mandarin.

All my knowledge of Chinese culture has been through my parents, books, my Chinese teachers, and through learning art forms like Chinese dance and guzheng. But I’ve come to a deeper understanding of the Chinese community through visiting 17 different family associations in Chinatown and meeting people in the community. For example, I learned that the family associations are mutual aid associations formed during the Gold Rush. So through visitations and through meeting many people, I was able to learn a lot about the Chinese community that is not found it books.

How has the pandemic affected your schedule?

Rice University sent us home early during the spring semester and transitioned us to online classes. I just finished my finals, and I’m surprised at how well classes can be taught online.

What are your plans for summer?

Since internships and research lab plans are cancelled, I plan to spend the summer brushing up on my studies and continuing to do the activities I enjoy, such as dancing Chinese dance, playing guzheng (Chinese table harp), and shooting archery in my backyard.

What about your archery plans?

Like everything else, archery tournaments have been postponed. The summer Olympics have also been postponed until next year. The archery ranges in San Francisco recently opened back up again after being closed for a month, so I’ve been shooting archery at a target in my backyard to keep up my strength in the meantime.

What are you missing the most right now?

There are a lot of things I miss, food from my favorite restaurants and going for long walks with my dogs. But perhaps what I miss the most right now are my college friends. Since we left school early, I wasn’t able to fully experience campus life and all of the Rice University traditions.

Any new hobbies you are pursuing at the moment?

With my spare time, I’ve been sculpting miniature clay figures, folding tiny origami cranes, learning a new language, and checking in with friends and family.

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