This week I had the opportunity to go to a showing of our film at Trinity Western University, where my husband Jay and I did Q & A with the students afterwards. The event was hosted by Tara Teng, a beautiful and vibrant student who is passionate to end modern day slavery and exploitation. In addition to being a student, she is the president of the social justice club and has two jobs. Did I mention she also happens to be Miss BC?
My interview with Tara was delightful – her passion to fight human trafficking is contagious! This girl is determined, motivated, and full of energy, but she is also humble, compassionate, and others-focused. I hope this interview is able to capture some of that!
How did you get involved in the fight against human trafficking?
When I was younger, around 10 years old, I was fascinated with the underground railroad and the transatlantic slave trade. In my early teens I kept running into the topic of human trafficking…documentaries, articles etc. I got to the point where I started to actually look for it instead of just coming across it. Tho whole thing terrified me. It’s dangerous, and let’s be honest, I’m not the toughest person out there! It got to the point where I thought: I am tired of being too afraid to to be the person I was born to be. I can’t keep this to myself. Now you can’t have a conversation with me without talking about this.
What are you currently studying and how do you see that playing out in the future?
I’m studying Education, with an English and Spanish language focus. I want to use education as a rehabilitation and prevention tool for human trafficking. Knowledge is power. Education provides resources for people to traffic-proof their lives, especially those living in poverty. Whether I actually end up being a teacher or not – who knows where life’s curve balls will take me! But I know that my career will in some way be connected to abolition. It is to be determined how that plays out!
How have you been involved in the fight against trafficking so far?
Telling everybody I can. Social media is amazing. Facebook, Twitter, my blog. As Miss BC the opportunity to spread the word has been amazing! Now I am doing public speaking on a regular basis, and they always start off with ‘why did you do the pageant’ and ‘what do you hope to do now as reigning Miss BC?’ Human trafficking is what I’m talking about. That’s when the magazine interview really starts to go somewhere! I’m doing about 4 interviews/speaking engagements a month. I had never even done any public speaking before the summer and everything is crash course learning!
What is the response when you do these interviews?
At first they come in with their preconceived idea that I am just going to be a ‘pageant girl.’ They ask me all the time if I want world peace, and I say: “No, I’m here to declare war! War on injustice, war on greed…!” And they say…’okay that’s pretty cool!’ I had never done a pageant before. Pageants are not my focus. I always say that I’m not a beauty queen, I’m an abolitionist. That is the heart of it for me: social justice, human rights, ending exploitation, speaking out for the oppressed and the marginalized, and raising awareness of ending modern day slavery. The title is just a platform and avenue which to do it.
Our world gives us a very one-dimensional version of beauty. It is all about sex appeal. What is your definition of beauty?
I always say that the world needs to know that they were wrong about beauty. And that’s something that is really important to me. Beauty is not a contest. Its not a skin colour or a size or a style. Beauty is the legacy we leave behind, beauty is grace, beauty is compassion, beauty is justice. Beauty is in the moment doing what you know is right, beauty is impact. ‘Beautiful’ girls are a dime a dozen, and you’ll find them all over the place. ‘Beauty’ tarnishes and wrinkles and it’s skin deep, but the thing that is really beautiful is the way that we love one another and the way that we stand up for one another…that is the thing that will really make an impact. People miss that because they want to comform to the popular idea of beauty. But I don’t want to waste my time and my life on that. I want to be brave enough to be myself, because that is something that is beautiful.
How does our society’s contorted view of beauty play into sex trafficking?
Everyone has insecurities, and thats how you prey on the weak and vulnerable. If I had grown up in a different home with different parents, I could have been so different because I had my days, as a 13 year old girl, where I just wanted people to love me. And if that somebody is the wrong person, you are vulnerable. You want to be desirable and cherished and that is used against you.
What is the one question you wish people asked you?
Any question that leads to justice. I hate it when people compare me to Miss Teen South Carolina and that girl who got that maps and Iraq question wrong. I just think, “I’m so not like her!” This is my heart. I wish people asked me where they can sign up, what they can do. Because that is when we will really start to see a change.
What are your hopes for Miss Canada?
Of course everybody wants to win, but for me it’s about national awareness and the opportunity to make this message international. This is what I was born to do. Those are my hopes for Miss Canada. I will know by Saturday what the outcome is, but going into it, I know what I stand for, and if that’s not what they are looking for that’s okay. Because another door is going to open, and the message will get out. I’m not going to compromise or water it down, play the game so I win the title, because this is what I am called to do. Those are my hopes around it.
Shortly after this interview Tara won the title of Miss Canada 2011! You can follow her blog here.Thanks Tara for being so committed to fighting human trafficking and using your platform to do some serious good.
Update: Tara just won the title of Miss World Canada 2012, and she will be heading to Mongolia to represent Canada for the Miss World 2012 Pageant.
(photo credits Danny Hiaso Photography & Jessica Teng Photography)