On Jan. 14, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles crowned Lauren Zhou Weinberger as the 2012 Miss Los Angeles Chinatown Queen. In the pageant’s 47-year history, Weinberger is the first queen with half-Chinese and half-European ancestry.
Weinberger’s father is Jewish and her mother Chinese. And although she identifies and practices as a Christian, the 22-year-old considers herself “a Christian with Jewish values.”
“I was taught the importance of questioning, of using my intellect, of exploring scholastically a lot of the issues that come up,” Weinberger said at a Chinese Chamber-sponsored event held at a factory in the City of Commerce last week. “Doubting and challenging things — that’s very Jewish, and I consider myself to have a very Jewish mentality when it comes to those things.”
For the pageant, along with walking, etiquette and public speaking, Weinberger and the 17 other contestants had their mental chops tested.
“Beauty should not be just perceived as an outside thing,” said Nicki Ung, who took over the reins as executive director of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles five months ago. “In order to be successful, you have to be intelligent.”
Weinberger graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in communications last spring and now works in production on a brand-new TV show that she preferred not to name. In advance of the pageant’s Q-and-A session, she binged on news.
“I was listening to NPR, I was reading CNN, China Daily, I was reading a ton of news articles, every single day, listening to the radio on the way to work,” Weinberger said.
All that preparation for one question.
“The question that I got was about organ donation,” Weinberger said. “Not once had I thought about that.”
She must have answered the question reasonably well — and Weinberger has since put her body where her mouth is.
“On Sunday, I signed up for the registry to donate my bone marrow,” she said last week.
She may wear sparkly earrings and perfectly applied eye makeup, but Weinberger is still new to the role of a queen. In January, she rode on a float with the other five members of the Miss Chinatown Los Angeles Court in this year’s Golden Dragon Parade. The Pasadena native’s previous float-riding experience: one test-ride of a Rose Parade float. A former cross-country runner, Weinberger said she felt very much at ease bestowing medals in the Firecracker 10K footrace in Chinatown in early February.
But certain encounters — such as a recent event where she and her court met with dozens of young girls adopted from China by Los Angeles-area families, many of them Jewish — have begun to show Weinberger just how weighty the task of being a role model to young women can be, especially for someone wearing a crown.
“Older people may look at the tiara as a symbol of the pageant or whatever,” Weinberger said. “But the younger girls, they looked up to it, and that’s really changed my perspective of moving forward, of what my reign is going to be.”
While she’s fulfilling her duties as an ambassador for Los Angeles’ Chinese-American community, Weinberger is also hoping to use the year as a chance to learn more about the person she’d like to become, the identity she’d like to craft.
Of course, that identity will be hybrid.
“I wouldn’t say that I am closer to one side or the other,” Weinberger said, “but I’ve definitely used parts of each to make who I am.”