The pandemic did not stop the rise of a new reign.
The very first virtual Mr. and Ms. Chinatown has finally been concluded, passing the phoenix crown to Justi Yap and Cassandra Chan.
Out of the 24 individuals who braved the competition, Cassandra and Justin proved that they are indeed the embodiment of the #RISE campaign.
On the first few days of their coronation, CHiNOY TV got the chance to have an exclusive interview. They talked about their respective inspiring journeys to win the crown.
“It has always been a dream come true!”
Since 2016, Cassandra has been religiously following Mr.& Ms. Chinatown because it has been her dream to win the crown and represent the Filipino-Chinese community in the country.
Minutes before the announcement of the winners, Cassandra said her mind was a blank slate. After the Q and A portion, the top six girls already breathed a sigh of relief but they were all quiet in the “backstage” Zoom meeting. Cassandra shared that on the coronation night, she was mostly praying silently for a mindset of acceptance.
“Whatever placement God would grant me during the announcement, I just wished for a heart with no regret. I admit, it was more nerve-wracking this time because none of us were able to gauge the answers of our fellow candidates. All we could do was wait patiently and pray hard for the outcome,” she said.
But despite the tension of waiting for the results, all of them did not forget to have some fun. They took group photos behind the scenes and savored the moments they had together both as candidates and friends.
Right after the coronation night, she went straight back to work. But then she received numerous congratulatory messages from her supporters who have found inspiration in her journey. Cassandra shares that some find her authenticity and her ability to stay true over the course of the pageant very inspiring. She admits, she’s still on cloud nine.
The world of pageantry isn’t new to Cassandra. Before Mr. & Ms. Chinatown, Cassandra joined Binibining Pilipinas 2019. She admits she was a bit culture-shocked with the competition but she is flexible enough to adjust and even gave outstanding performances in the talent portion. She was awarded the Miss Talent 2019 award and Top 10 in National Costume.
Despite not winning a crown, her Binibini journey made her understand the influence of beauty queens on the community. She also learned from her mentors to write about her thoughts and honest opinions about topics such as the local news, daily life, pandemic, and mental health. Cassandra said this helped her become more eloquent during interviews.
But originally, her heart beats for dancing. For about 19 years, Cassandra has been training and working professionally as a ballet dancer and teacher. Her passion for dancing grew more when she trained abroad and joined several dance competitions and performances both locally and internationally.
This beauty queen and ballerina also works as a commercial and ramp model. When asked what makes her unstoppable, Cassandra said working in both professions has always given her a sense of purpose and pleasure. She adds it is a rare chance to have two careers and to have both your passions sustain you financially.
On being Chinoy
Like any other Filipino-Chinese daughter, Cassandra is very close to her family. She shares that during her childhood abroad, she would always stay in her aunt and uncle’s house playing with her cousins.
After migrating to the Philippines, she often stays with her parents and her ahia (older brother) and they would hang out just like a group of friends. She proudly said that her parents are still up to speed with the trends so they would usually watch movies on Netflix and try to create their versions of the latest quarantine food.
Cassandra is often described by her friends as the bubbly and outgoing person in the group. She admits she is kind of an extrovert that she doesn’t say no to a day out with them. They have a habit to catch up after a long week of work. Unfortunately, when the pandemic started, their hangouts were limited due to the implementation of the lockdown.
Meanwhile, during serious times, Cassandra said her family and friends would always notice that she is very disciplined and hardworking on making things done. They also mention many times that she is very focused on her career as a teacher. There have been countless family gatherings that she missed because of her ballet classes but, Cassandra said, she feels very blessed that they respect and understand her decisions.
As a teacher, she always finds the physical and mental wellness of the children as her top priority. Cassandra has been working with the Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy Family Awareness Group of the Philippines for the past year wherein she held movement classes for children with special needs.
“I’ve always felt that this sector of society is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. I am working towards bringing the benefits of movement and dance to these children. It’s something I’ve been working on since my undergraduate degree in the University of the Philippines”, Cassandra said.
She further explained that she had a collaboration project with The Heart at Play Foundation in creating a Dance and Movement: Home Kit for families to use for their children with special needs at the comfort of their own homes.
Cassandra expressed her desire to further develop and advocate these projects in the future alongside the #RISE campaign of Mr. and Ms. Chinatown 2020.
“The tremendous victory I got was the victory of the whole Tacloban City.”
That’s how Justin described the impact of his win. He said being crowned as the Mr. Chinatown 2020 became a glimpse of good hope and good news to his fellow Taclobanons amidst all the negativity that is happening around the world.
After being announced as the grand winner, Justin received hundreds of messages from his friends and family saying that it felt like they were watching Manny Pacquaio’s fight. Some were even in tears while some were literally jumping for joy when they heard Justin’s name.
He admits he was very anxious about his answer for the Q&A portion. Just like Cassandra, he was quietly praying that what he said was enough for him to get the title.
“It was not sinking in yet and it hasn’t until I went to sleep that night,” Justin said.
The only experience he had in pageantry before Mr& Ms. Chinatown was when he joined Soiree Pageant in his college days. Justin shares, he was somehow forced to join since there was a lack of participants and at that time, he was a member of the organizing committee.
But looking back, Justin said it was a great experience. In fact, he considers it the start of his dream of joining bigger competitions such as the MMCP.
Contrary to what most people think that joining this year’s Mr& Ms. Chinatown was easier since it was an all-virtual kind of competition, Justin said it has been very challenging to showcase his best in front of the camera than just doing that in person. He had a team to ensure his on cam appearance would look good and presentable.
Justin added that his acquired values and practices on being hospitable and service-oriented has helped him during the entire duration of the competition. In terms of preparing for the interviews and Q&A, Justin said he has always been comfortable in expressing his heart out rather than going with a scripted speech.
A hotelier and a performer
Before he was crowned as Mr. Chinatown 2020, Justin graduated from Les Roches Jinjiang International Hotel Management in Shanghai, China. And just when he was about to dip his hands in the hospitality industry, the pandemic started.
But Justin has remained optimistic. During the quarantine period, he went over some recipes of his mother that were used by the previous several generations of their family. He thought he had to share his family’s legacy to others by offering quality home goodies and pastries.
Before getting into the world of pageantry, Justin honed his skills in performing.
He believes that music is a language of communication that helps him express himself and make him more relaxed in times of uncertainty. He found this passion of his at an early age. During his grade school days, he would always enroll in summer singing classes.
His first official performance, Justin shares, was when he did an opening act for Sam Milby and Richard Poon’s concert in Tacloban City. Several gigs started to come after that. He was then booked and performed in the X Factor Philippines Concert, and later on, he was tapped to perform in the late-night TV variety show ‘Walang Tulugan with Master Showman.’
Justin said these experiences have given him confidence and encouraged him to do more.
On being a Chinoy
Justin said it is the nature of the Filipino-Chinese people to be respectful. “Learning to respect traditions, cultures, values, and people will bring out the best in you”, he shared.
His family has also instilled in him that there aren’t any shortcuts to achieve success. Hard work is very much needed to get things done. Justin was brought up in an environment that believes ‘you should always do your best in everything you do, that’s how you create a better version of yourself’.
He is often described by his family and friends as a serious, competitive, driven, and compassionate person. Justin shares he is usually shy who prefers afternoon tea instead of going to clubs or partying all night.
But within his circle, he would always be willing to listen to their problems and even plan whatever they need or want to do such as school projects, activities, or simply planning to eat out.
Justin said it was a coincidence that Cassandra’s advocacy is in sync with his. Ever since the audition for the pageant, he has been mentioning that children are the game-changers of our society.
Especially now that the pandemic has greatly affected the education sector, Justin plans to do a collaboration project to address some of the problems and to impart in the children some inspiration and a dash of hope that life will get better and that these problems are just temporary.
“I want to show them that they aren’t alone in facing all of life’s challenges and that whatever happens, we will all rise just like the Phoenix”, Justin said.
After his reign, Justin plans to continue being an ambassador of goodwill. As a member of the Chinoy community in Tacloban, he said he will forever be proud of being born and raised in the land of the happiest people in the world.