U Student Sisilia Kaufusi Takes on Miss Utah Competition as Only Competitor of Color


Natalie Colby

Sisilia Kaufusi speaks at the AAPI Heritage Month Celebration Rally at Washington Square Park in Salt Lake City on May 22, 2021. (Photo by Natalie Colby | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


When you think of a Tongan woman, it’s probably not me — too dark, too skinny, too plastic, too fie palangi,” said Sisilia Kaufusi at the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Celebration and Rally on May 22. “When you think of an American woman I’m not what comes to mind. The tone of my skin and the curl of my hair is all they see sometimes. So tell me what I’m supposed to do? What space is left for me?”

Kaufusi, a University of Utah student studying human resources, spoke at the event as Miss Rocky Mountain and the only person of color out of 49 to be competing at this year’s Miss Utah competition. 

The fifth of nine kids and a first-generation college student, Kaufusi found the Miss America organization in an attempt to pay for her education. The Miss America organization focuses on providing scholarships to young women competitors.

In 2017 she competed in her first pageant, Miss Pacific Islander, and won. 

“It was a lot more to it than just wearing a dress,” she said. “What I found out very quickly [is] you have to serve your community, have your whole year be all about the service and what your platform is and what you’re supporting.”

Kaufusi has held the title of Miss Rocky Mountain for about five months. She originally placed first runner-up in the competition, but soon got the crown when the original winner dropped out because of COVID-19 concerns. 

Now, she is going on to compete at Miss Utah from June 10-12. The competition was canceled last year because of COVID-19, and events will be scaled back this year as well.

We are so excited to be able to put on a competition and provide this experience to a group of women that are very deserving of the scholarships and recognition,” said Whitney Thomas, communications director for Miss Utah Scholarship Organization, Inc., in an email interview.

As aforementioned, Kaufusi will be the only woman of color competing and she said she feels a lot of pressure because of it. 

“I feel a huge weight on my shoulders just because I know that for me as a little girl, I want to see myself in that kind of position because I didn’t. It’s hard to imagine yourself as something that you don’t see,” Kaufusi said. “It gets a little lonely because I feel like a lot of people don’t really understand why that’s so important to me, or why it’s even a subject to talk about.”

In the early years of the Miss America pageants, rule number seven prohibited women of color from competing. 

Kaufusi said she thinks it may be hard for people of color to compete in these pageants due to the lack of representation. 

“I don’t match the stereotypical standard of beauty that Utah holds,” she said. “It’s difficult because you look at all of the past winners of this competition, and you look at all the girls that you are competing against, all the people that are going to be judging you, and you don’t look like any of them, but everyone expects you to still feel just as confident as everybody else, still feel like you have a place there.”

Sisilia Kaufusi poses at the Salt Flats. (Courtesy Sisilia Kaufusi)

Thomas said the judges are looking for someone who loves the state of Utah and is willing to serve it. 

There is a strong emphasis on service and education. While we encourage our candidates to present themselves in a professional manner, there is no scoring based on their appearance or beauty,” Thomas said. 

She also said they want someone who is ready to jump in and promote her social impact initiative. 

Kaufusi’s initiative, titled “IM-POSSIBLE,” focuses on motivating inner-city youth to exceed expectations and break the boundaries society puts on them. 

Growing up in West Valley, she said she wanted to make an environment better than the one she grew up in. This includes changing the narrative about success. 

To do this, Kaufusi started working with the high schools around her home, talking to the youth and encouraging them to change the statistics stacked against them. 

“When I was in high school, I had a 1.3 GPA — I wasn’t going to graduate,” she said. “I didn’t have any kind of goals or anything like that. It wasn’t until I really realized that I was in control of my life, is when I started changing my grades, I was able to graduate.”

If she were to win Miss Utah, she wants to work with city councils to improve the environments these kids are growing up in. 

“Get them more funding, equal funding, and really help them see other aspects of life than just, if you’re good enough to throw a football, or if you’re good enough to have all of these straight A’s, then you’ll make it in life,” Kaufusi said. 

After redefining success and introducing opportunities to these kids, Kaufusi believes they will be able to find what pathway is meant for them. 

“It’s a lot more than just pretty girls and pretty dresses, it’s young women who are taking the time to make the changes you wish to see in the communities that you live in,” she said.


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