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Nina Davuluri – Miss America 2014
Miss America – is Indian!
This breaking news seems to have sent waves of joy and also waves of shock across the Internet. Nina Davuluri, 24, of Syracuse, New York, has been crowned Miss America 2014 in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall. She is the first contestant of Indian descent to win the title.
A graduate of University of Michigan, she did all the right desi things – made the Dean’s list, bagged the Michigan Merit Award and was also in the National Honor Society. And her career ambition is one which delights all desi parents – to become a physician!
The Good Indian
Well, like a good Indian, she also is a true Bollywood fan, and when push came to shove, and all the beauty queens were showcasing their talents, she did the fail-proof thing – break into a fantastic Bollywood dance! After all, Indian cinema has been around for a hundred years – how could she go wrong?
What could be sweeter for Indian parents?
Well, sweeter is when the unexpected happens. Remember, she beat out a nation full of beautiful ‘real’ American girls to become Miss America! For immigrant parents and their children there has to be a sweetness and a poignancy to this.
The Brown Girl Story
For a whole generation of young people, growing up Indian in America meant painful things. You often looked different from the other kids in your class, you were the one with the long, unpronounceable name, the one with the lunch that smelled strange, the one with the parents who dressed weirdly. While others were cheerleaders, at a rock concert or out on dates, you were the one going to the temple or learning bharat natyam in some aunty’s basement.
In various parts of Middle America, you were often the only brown kid in your class, a lonely place to be. Even your Gods looked different, had too many hands and often too many heads.
By winning the Miss America title, Nina Davuluri has scored big for all those little brown girls who were always the outsider and had to answer the taunt “But where are you really from?” Generations of kids were often asked why their mothers had dots on their heads and whether they lived in huts and about their connection to tigers, snakes and elephants.
The title of Miss America makes Nina Davuluri as American as apple pie, as American as American can be. In fact, you can dance the bhangra, eat dosas and sambar, worship any God you choose – and you’re still American. Davuluri’s win shows Indian-American children that their many differences are what make America rich and special, and don’t make them any less American.
A Changing America
Nina’s Miss America crown is a validation of the changing face of America, of the many colors and races which make up its incredibly rich fabric.
White is beautiful and so is brown and so is black. The judges at the Miss America pageant seem to have absorbed this fact much more clearly than many in Indian society where dark skin is regarded as something to be scrubbed clean into white and ‘Fair and Lovely’ and other skin lighteners do a rip-roaring trade.
Along with the title of Miss America 2014, Nina, who comes from a family of many physicians, won a $50,000 scholarship for her medical education. As Miss America, her platform issue is ‘Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency’ and she will be the official National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
She will also be the official spokesperson for R.E.I.G.N. Cosmetics, Joseph Ribkoff Inc. and Catalina Swimwear. Not bad! And oh, yes, she will be traveling all over the US, a rising American star.
Thanks to Nina Davuluri, Indian kids have won new bragging rights. They not only win all the Spelling Bees in existence – they also bag the crown of Miss America! Bravo!
(c) Lavina Melwani
A Photo Gallery of Nina Davuluri – Miss America