Mr. and Ms. Chinatown, Profiles

Berjayneth Chee Finding Strength in Heritage: Miss Chinatown Philippines 2022’s Journey to the Crown

Mr. and Ms. Chinatown Philippines is a beauty pageant competition that is organized annually by the Chinoy community in the Philippines. The pageant aims to promote the rich Chinese-Filipino heritage and culture in the Philippines and to showcase the beauty and intelligence of young Chinoy women. The pageant has become a popular cultural event in the Philippines, and the winners of Mr. and Ms. Chinatown Philippines often serves as an ambassador for the Chinese-Filipino community, promoting cultural and social causes throughout the year. Today, we will talk about Berjayneth Goc-ong Chee, who is Miss Chinatown Philippines 2022, and how her upbringing and her past experiences have led her to who she is today.

The value of working hard for what she wants

Berjayneth Goc-ong Chee reflects on how having Chinese blood but being raised in a Filipino environment has made her feel like a representation of both cultures. Growing up, she was taught the value of hard work and started earning money at a young age by creating stickers and selling them to classmates. In grade 3, Berjayneth had to raise money to buy her first cell phone, her father’s wa of teaching her the value of money and the importance of earning it. 

She learned early on that if she wants something, she needs to work hard for it. This value of hard work has extended beyond just earning money, but also to achieving her goals, such as becoming Ms. Chinatown. Berjayneth’s father was a general manager and trader for Cagayan Oil Trade-in Corporation, which is also involved in their family business in Bohol. Meanwhile, Berjayneth’s mother focused on raising her and had an online business and a boutique selling luxury goods. Berjayneth, however, is aiming to become a doctor and is not interested in business.

Despite this, Berjayneth sometimes represents her mother in business meetings and also assists in selling and delivering goods. Berjayneth’s mother is hands-on with the business and wants her to follow in her footsteps. Berjayneth believes that discipline and resilience are essential to starting a business, especially since her mother did not start out wealthy. She noted, “She taught me that starting something, it’s a step-by-step process. You need to discipline yourself not just in business, but in your life.”

Berjayneth’s mother did not spend the money she earned on personal wants but instead invested it in the business to make it grow. Berjayneth wishes to continue the values of discipline and resilience instilled in her by her mother. Berjayneth recognizes that life has its ups and downs and it’s important to be able to stand up and continue. 

How her school life impacted her career choices and her relationship with her Chinese roots

Berjayneth also mentions joining a training school in Cagayan de Oro but did not choose it as an option in the past because her friends were going to a different university. She added, “It was just a late realization that I could have pala chosen to go to the Chinese school, Kong Hua, to learn more about Chinese culture and at the same time learn Mandarin.”

Berjayneth learned German and Dutch languages while growing up but was more interested in learning Mandarin. In 2018, she stayed in Manila for a year and joined Miss Philippines Earth, winning Miss Philippines Earth Water. This exposed her to the Chinoy community in Manila and allowed her to meet different business people. Others were even surprised to learn that Berjayneth was of Chinese descent. She continued, “And I’m like, Yeah, I’m actually half so sabi nila oh so do you know Chinese, you know how to speak Chinese or do you know the culture of Chinese? And that was the time when I was like, ‘Oh, unfortunately I was not really forced to [enter a] Chinese school, forced to learn the Chinese culture,’ but at the same time, it was then I realized— I should have grabbed that opportunity.” Berjayneth regrets limiting herself to a particular school based on friends and not seeing the bigger picture at a young age. Berjayneth celebrated Chinese New Year with her father’s side of the family but was introduced to the culture in Manila, which was different from what she experienced in Cagayan de Oro city. Berjayneth’s friends still have traditions such as the Great Wall, which was not a big deal to her before.  

Berjayneth also notes that she went through a phase where she wanted to become a pastry chef due to her love for baking, but her father insisted that she either go to law school or medical school. She shifted back to biology and plans to pursue her passion for medicine, as she is graduating soon and will be starting med school in July. She sees this as a step closer to achieving her dream. She mentioned again her strict upbringing: “Ever since I was young, well, growing up, also at the same time, my parents were very, very strict, especially my father. I was not allowed to do sports. I was not allowed to do any extracurricular activities. Yung tipong bahay-school, after school sundo-hatid parang ganun lang my life was honestly boring.” Berjayneth was not allowed to pursue her interest in volleyball because her father wanted her to focus solely on her studies and avoid mingling with too many people. Her father believed that after school, she should focus on other activities related to her studies.

Her new-found love for pageantry

Berjayneth eventually went home and met her mentor, Samantha, who encouraged her to join a beauty pageant. She was hesitant at first but eventually asked her mom’s permission. Surprisingly, her mom wanted her to join to expose herself to new experiences. She explained, “When we talked to my mom, my mom agreed, my father di nya pa alam. So I signed the contract. I joined the pageant at the young age of 15. Tapos sinabi ko sa dad ko and my dad was like, ‘No, no, no, you’re not allowed to join the pageant. You should back out of the pageant.”

Berjayneth eventually discovered her passion for pageantry and met many people who became a big part of her life. She realized that she couldn’t be forced into a restricted life. She participated in various national pageants such as Ms. Millennial Philippines, Miss Earth Philippines, and Miss Chinatown Philippines. Berjayneth’s father saw something in her during her first pageant that he couldn’t see every day, as she displayed excitement, thrill, and happiness being on stage despite having stage fright. This convinced her father to allow her to continue pageantry while still focusing on her studies.

Berjayneth believes that life is not just about school, and pageantry helped her explore what life can offer. In 2018, she was introduced to the MMCP, and every year she was encouraged to join. She thought of joining in 2019 but found the Q&A difficult as some questions were in Chinese. She said, “I saw the videos nung Q and A sabi ko ‘Bakit chinese?’ sabi ko ‘it’s so hard’ paano pa ako yung natanong is there an interpreter? Parang ganun, so it’s like tapos they were asking questions like how was your experience?”

Berjayneth initially felt that she was not Chinese enough to join the Chinatown pageant. However, she saw an online post that applicants don’t have to know Mandarin, Fukien, or Cantonese. She waited for a sign to join and was convinced by people to try because it could be her last pageant. She wants to challenge herself and find her identity as a Chinoy. Berjayneth  then took the opportunity to join the MMCP pageant and is glad she did as it helped her learn more about her Chinoy culture. After winning the crown, she was able to celebrate Chinese New Year with other Chinese people in Binondo and reconnect with her roots since her father passed away.

Her self-doubts about not being “Chinese enough”

Berjayneth found support and a sense of family among the people she met during the pageant. Despite the usual competitiveness in pageants, she found genuine connections with the other contestants. She feels happy and content with what she has now. During the interview, she was initially unsure of her chances of winning due to doubts about her identity as a Chinoy. She said, “Am I not fit to the criteria of what they’re currently looking for? Maybe I’m not someone who is relatable towards the Chinoys…”

Despite feeling uncertain, she received encouragement and support from friends she met through the Mr. and Ms. Chinatown Philippines pageant. Their words of encouragement helped her to gain the confidence needed to win the crown. 

Her advice to fellow Chinoys

Berjayneth observes that modern Chinoys are more open to new ideas and they pursue what they want unlike in the past when parents usually decide for their children. Berjayneth’s father advised standing on what one believes in because it will be their backbone in life.  As such, her message to the new generation of Chinoy is to believe in oneself and pursue the life one wants because life is hard and one needs to go for their goal, not just dream about it.

She finishes her interview with some advice to the youth, “Make that dream your goal and pursue it. I believed in myself and that’s why I’m here.”

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