I recently sat down for a chat with Justine Ker, who was crowned Miss Louisiana in 2016 and placed in the top 15 during the 2017 Miss America Pageant. She also represents the first Taiwanese or Asian American to represent Louisiana on the national stage, a worthy accomplishment within our Taiwanese American community.
Justine is intelligent, talented, and accomplished. I suspect her Taiwanese American parents would have expected no less. After all, her parents’ stories are familiar ones in our community: Her dad came to the U.S. to complete his Ph.D in Industrial Engineering; her mom, just as worldly, has a Masters degree from Osaka University. Justine, herself, is classically trained in both piano and violin for over 16 years. For her academic accomplishments, the Miss Louisiana program recognized her with both a Women in STEM award and a Women in Medicine award–scholarship money included. Soon, she will be starting medical school at Tulane University, and no doubt, will be making even greater impact on people’s lives as a physician.
Before, I concluded my interview with her, I asked her to share some advice to young Taiwanese Americans in our community. She says:
“It’s so important to try new things–to experience new things in this world and figure out who you are. You have so much time to grow and learn. Don’t be afraid of failures and setbacks that might come in your way because those are things that going to help you develop who you are and become the person that you are. I’ve had my own share of setbacks, but I have also had many successes that have brought me to who I am today. Don’t take your Taiwanese American heritage for granted. Your parents have worked very hard to bring you to where you are today. Think about how you can take those opportunities and do more with that… and to make an impact in your own lifestyle and your own future.”
Wise words, indeed. A good reminder, even for me, aged over the years.
Our conversations continued on for a good hour after the interview you see on camera… so much of it about being Taiwanese American, finding Taiwanese comfort foods, and making an impact through service and medicine. Afterwards, I walked away from this casual chat knowing that I had connected with a new friend and discovered someone who knows how to represent the best of the Taiwanese American experience–even under the stage’s glaring spotlight.
At 23 years old, I can only imagine the pressures Justine has faced in her life so far, but I am impressed by how well she has managed and navigated through those stressful times. Already, she has held tightly to the healthiest and most positive of those experiences, and she has taken this opportunity to serve as a role-model for others by sharing, teaching, and guiding.
I can’t help but feel a certain pride for the inspiring role that she plays in our Taiwanese and Asian American communities. More young people need to see themselves represented in the mainstream, and Justine Ker is a beautiful example, mind and soul.