New Miss Minnesota is first Asian-American to hold title


As far as Minnesota firsts go, this one might not have been on your radar.

The state will send an Asian-American to the Miss USA pageant next year.

Nitaya Panemalaythong, 26, of Savage was crowned Miss Minnesota last month. The office worker and Normandale College student is the first Asian-American to win the honors, according to pageant producers.

Panemalaythong, whose family is from Laos, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand. In 1986, she moved to the United States as an infant. Her family lived in Minneapolis and North Carolina.

Her bio says her proudest achievement was buying a house last year. Why?

“She and her brother in law support 10 family members, living in that home,” the bio says.

Panemalaythong was at first skeptical about entering the pageant, and at 26, she was the oldest contestant in the competition, the Savage Pacer reports.

(Photo courtesy of Future Productions)

  • Kelly Basco, Minneapolis

    Great post! Nitaya was actually born in a refugee camp in Thailand. Her family fled from Laos.

  • Laura Yuen

    Thanks, Kelly. I wondered about that. I’ll fix the copy. Cheers.

  • Thanks for the coverage, Laura! The Savage Pacer did no justice to Nitaya and the community with this historical news last week. Glad it’s up and buzzing.

  • Jade

    Is anyone sure she’s really Laotian? “Nitaya” is a Thai name. Culturally there is a lot of animosity between Laos and Thai people. What laos mother would give their child a Thai name? And even if they did, the last name is Thai as well.

    There are many instances where a Thai family would come to America claiming they are from Laos, especially from the North-Eastern region called Esan where the dialect is basically the same as Laos. It’s easier to come to America claiming to be from Laos than Thailand. I know many people personally who did it.

    It’s good that she’s trying to represent Laos and all (I’m Laotian) but I would rather have the facts straight.

  • BuC_LaO

    The first name is Thai but the last name is surely a Laos Last name.

  • Kelly Basco

    Jade – she was named after the Thai nurse who delivered her in the Thai refugee camp in which she was born.