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From US beauty pageant to promotion of cultural diversity on TV: Kazakhstani native Zhanna Stinson

Zhanna Stinson. Screenshot from “On the Planet of Culture with Shanna May”. Zhanna Stinson. Screenshot from “On the Planet of Culture with Shanna May”.

Zhanna Stinson (nee Dosmakhambetova) known as Shanna May on the community access channels in Santa Barbara and San Luis with her TV show "On the Planet of Culture with Shanna May" believes in celebration of cultural diversity and difference. In her interview with Hollywood Weekly, the winner of the second place at the Mrs. Asia USA Cultural Pageant talked about her childhood in the steppes of Western Kazakhstan and her current life in the West of the USA.


"I was born and raised in a very small village in Kazakhstan. According to Kazakh tradition, after I was born, I was adopted by my grandmother whom I always called "Mama". We both lived in a circular domed tent, called a yurt, among the other nomads from different tribes. (…) In this area, there were more animals than residents, so naturally, these animals became my best friends," Zhanna told the magazine.

 When Zhanna was 12 y.o., her grandmother fell ill. The young girl had to learn the ropes of housekeeping early. "I had no choice but to learn to juggle between making good grades in school, housekeeping, animal farming and taking care of my grandmother," she said.


She studied to become an accountant, but never felt real interest in her future profession. "For a long time I couldn't really figure out what I wanted from life. However, it became clear when I turned 35 years old and I finally found my dream job. It had always been a silent calling; and this time I followed my heart. I decided to work as a caregiver. I really enjoy being around older people and taking care of them has always been dear to my heart," Zhanna said.

Immigration to the USA was not easy for Zhanna. She gave birth to her son Justin in the USA and found it difficult to deal with the pressure of being a mother and a newly arrived immigrant.


"The entire pregnancy was complicated. (…) I suffered from postpartum depression. But at that time, people didn't talk about postpartum depression; it was still rather "taboo". Therefore, I had to handle it on my own quietly," she said.

But the birth of her son changed everything for Zhanna. "It's such a joy to live for someone else; it's the best feeling in the world to be a mother!" she said. 

"I teach my son that only acceptance, forgiveness and love will make him successful in life. Some people learn from their mistakes, while others never recover. Therefore, I teach him that it's okey to fall or make mistakes in life as long as he learns from his mistakes and turns every fall into a dance," Zhanna shared.


Zhanna decided to take part in the beauty pageantry to meet new people and learn new cultures. "I had a tremendous opportunity to hear about different ethnic customs and traditions. What a delight! I loved the whole experience; from tasting different national foods during the rehearsal breaks to creating bonds with many women I now consider my dear friends," she said.

In addition, Zhanna was tired of hearing about the "Borat" movie and portrayal of Kazakhstan as a backwards country. "This is all a big misconception! In truth, Kazakhstan is a modern, vibrant and mineral-rick nation. Additionally, it hosts many foreign companies and investments," Zhanna said. 

"Honestly, I'm not sure what other people learn from their pageant experience, but I’ve learned that real beauty comes from the inside; the outside "look" is truly just the "cover of the book". (…) People keep asking me if I’d consider participating in other beauty pageants. And I’d have to say probably not, because I now have found another powerful “outlet” through my TV Program titled "On the Planet of Culture with Shanna May," she said.

 "On the Planet of Culture with Shanna May" "raises awareness about unique cultural diversity that America shares".

 "Often, we are too busy with our daily routines: work, home, family, etc. that we don't always have time to learn about each other. Let's face the truth: how much time do we truly spend with our neighbours? How much do we know about them? As for me, I just know their names and barely have time to tell them: "Hi! Bye! How are you doing?" I realize its wrong. (…) There are remarkable relationships that have the potential to be formed with our very neighbours. It seems to be easier for us just to divide people into different races, such as Asians, Caucasians, Black, Latinos, etc… However, take note, when we remember our ethnical roots and share our culture with others, we become kinder and less judgmental towards each other," Zhanna concluded.

By Gyuzel Kamalova

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