Lifestyle

Miss Universe finalists asked: Excuse me, are you S'porean?

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 (cchar@sph.com.sg) speaks to three of the pageant’s finalists

Parents are my heroes

IjechI NazIrah Nwaozuzu

Her name may be a mouthful, but Ijechi is your typical girl-nextdoor 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 stayat- 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.”

Born with competitive spirit

LIANA AZMAN

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.

Mr Abdullah made history as the first Singaporean to strike gold in the World Games Bodybuilding Championships that year, making him a local sports icon.

Liana was born that same year and her father decided to take a break from bodybuilding to focus on fatherhood.

When she was eight, Liana's parents were divorced. She has been living with her mother, a masseuse, in a one-room flat in Bedok.

The 21-year-old model said that she does not see her father often as he has another family.

ONE TO WATCH

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.

"In the last five years, I've seen him only twice at family functions. And he lives in Singapore.

"I miss having him around and hope he will see this and come to the Miss Universe events."

Liana said that her mother has not remarried because she is still hurting from the divorce.

For now, she is putting her heart and soul into supporting her daughter's every endeavour.

Said Liana: "My mum is an extremely strong woman. I think I got my physique and smile from my dad.

"The rest of my looks, I got from my mum. She's into healthy eating and she's gorgeous."

Heritage taught her tolerance

HAYMISHA FRANCIS

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.

She owns a sari and sarong kebaya and is looking forward to buying her first cheongsam.

ROOTS

Haymisha, who has a younger sister, said: "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."

Haymisha, who lives with her family in a terrace house at Cashew Crescent, plays the cello, guitar, piano and drums.

She also loves to paint and has held exhibitions, for example, at Chijmes. She held a solo art exhibition this month to raise money for charity.

She said: "I have extremely strong family values. As part of an Arabic band known as Arabizca, I perform the blues with my father and sister often at Clarke Quay."