Aakshi Sharma Walia, a Riverton resident, was recently crowned Mrs. Asia U.S.A. at a pageant held on Nov. 22 in Redondo Beach, Calif. Walia was excited to represent her Indian culture and about her win, especially because she decided to compete just three months before the pageant was scheduled.
Virgelia Productions, Inc., a California company, has produced the Mrs. Asia U.S.A Cultural Pageant for 10 years and the Miss Asia U.S.A. Cultural Pageant for 26 years.
Both pageants empower Asian women by focusing on their beauty, confidence and talents.
“It’s a cultural Asian pageant, and the main goal is to bring Asian women together to preserve their ancestry . . . It’s done every year to unite the Asian communities. It’s a great platform to raise awareness for our Asian heritage and traditions,” Walia said.
There were 15 contestants in the final round of the Nov. 22 pageant from all over the world, including Iran, Kazakhstan, Korea, Philippines, China and Japan. For winning, Walia was awarded a cash prize, but didn’t want to disclose the amount because she said that wasn’t the point. She is more excited for the opportunity to tour the country promoting her culture.
Walia was born and raised in Jammu and Kashmir, which is a northern state in India. She competed in and won two pageants while living in India. After she was married in 2003 to Amit Walia, a man living in America, she moved to Utah to start a family.
“My husband and son were my biggest supporters. They were cheering for me and screaming, and they were there right next to me the whole time,” Walia said.
The couple has been happily married for 11 years, and they have a 9-year-old son named Arjun. Although she had competed in a few pageants before, Walia knew that competing as a wife and mother would be a completely different experience, which is why she was hesitant to register.
However, while visiting friends in India this past summer, they talked her into entering the pageant. Her friends didn’t understand why she stopped competing in the first place and were confident that she could win again. They registered Walia in August, which left her just three months to prepare.
“I think these types of pageants are a wonderful platform to empower Asian women to achieve their goals and dreams. Like, it’s our culture that we have to stay home, so it empowers Asian women to get out of the house. It also promotes leadership and personal growth,” Walia said.
Walia wants to use her title to help raise awareness for two causes near to her heart. She works with an organization in Nepal that helps human trafficking victims recover and get back on their feet. She also works with an orphanage in India that helps stand up for babies who are discriminated against and often aborted just because they’re female.
“We don’t want to release [the names of the organizations], just because of security reasons, but I go every year to help them,” Walia said.
She said her favorite round of competition was the traditional outfit round, where each contestant wore an outfit that represented their cultures’ tastes. She worked with a store in Riverton called Zari Couture, and they spent months putting together the perfect ensemble.
“The main thing we were judged on was how you’re promoting your culture, and that was through the clothing,” Walia said.
After she returned home, Walia organized a Head Start program in Riverton. She wants to help families with kids in kindergarten who are in foster care and live below the poverty line get started with learning and schooling. She also volunteers at Summit Academy with the second-graders who need help learning to read.
“I just want to say to all the married women that they should just dream. Don’t think that marriage can stop anything; it’s not going to as long as you have a wonderful partner and a great family. Go ahead and live your dreams because dreams don’t stop after you get married,” Walia said.