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Commentary: Miss America’s Indian heritage represents US ‘melting pot’

Newly-crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri, waves to the audience Sept. 15. Davuluri, an Indian-American, was the representative from New York in the contest and the first Indian-American winner.

Newly-crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri, waves to the audience Sept. 15. Davuluri, an Indian-American, was the representative from New York in the contest and the first Indian-American winner.Credit: Courtesy of Facebook

As American citizens, we pride ourselves on being a ‘melting pot’ of cultures — a diverse amalgamation of ethnicities and races. We put up yard signs saying “United We Stand” but when something threatens our preconceived notions, we fall apart like a set of billiard balls hit with a cue ball.

Where is this unifying sentiment and patriotism when one of our fellow American sisters is crowned Miss America?

Mere seconds after the gleaming tiara touched Nina Davuluri’s long, dark hair, Twitter erupted with comments such as “This is Miss America… Not Miss Foreign Country,” “Miss America? You mean Miss 7-Eleven?,” “She’s like not even American and she won Miss America” and “Miss America, buffalo footlong chicken on whole wheat. Please and thank you.”

Some tweeters went so far as to propose that Davuluri had ties to al-Qaida and referred to her Bollywood dance routine during the talent portion as a voodoo ritual done to sway the judges.

Davuluri is of Indian descent — not Egyptian or Arabic. Where she comes from in Andhra Pradesh differs vastly from the Middle East, both culturally and geographically. Furthermore, Davuluri is not Muslim, but rather the daughter of Hindu immigrants. Hinduism and Islam are both divergent religions and followers have a completely separate set of values and beliefs. Contrary to what these ignorant tweeters may think, not all Indian-Americans own or work at 7-Elevens or Subways.

As an American citizen of Indian descent who grew up watching Miss America pageants, I was infuriated. These comments are offensive at the very least, if not absolutely hurtful. In fact, my heart swells with pride at the thought of Davuluri being the first Indian-American Miss America, and I can safely say I’m not the only one. She has become a new role model for many Indian-American girls.

Even if Davuluri had lost out on the crown, two other runners-up were of Asian descent. Looks like the aforementioned tweeters were out of luck regardless of the draw. I apologize for bursting any bubbles but the conventional blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty is simply just not representative of our nation.

However, the shock and anger of these vocal Americans comes as no surprise to me. Vanessa Williams, who paved the way as the first black Miss America in 1983, received a lot of racist backlash and hate mail during her reign, which was shortened after scandalous photos of her appeared in Penthouse magazine, according to Huffington Post.

Why are we so scared to accept somebody who is so beautifully unique?

I don’t think it’s smart or morally correct to criticize someone for their brown skin, especially when American culture is infatuated with tanning. I don’t see how it’s fair to attack someone who might be treating patients and saving lives later in life — Davuluri wants to attend medical school in the future.

I do not believe Davuluri has done anything to deserve the incredible amount of hate speech directed her way — Indian or Arabic, Muslim or Hindu, 7-Eleven owner or not.

A person’s value should not be determined by the color of their skin but rather the merit in their actions and service to society. Differences should not be intimidating but rather celebrated.

Our country was built upon the foundation that “All men are created equal.” I don’t know what some people might think, but I’m pretty sure that line didn’t disappear from the Declaration of Independence the night Davuluri was crowned Miss America.

We live in a 21st century world. Put on your progressive thinking caps, people.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: Sept. 18, 2013

An earlier version of this story stated that “All men are created equal” is part of the Constitution, when in fact, it is a line in the Declaration of Independence.


  1. I am a “white” American of European descent who is absolutley thrilled that Nina was crowned Miss-America and wish her the best. She represents America in a wonderful way.

  2. Ritika– While I appreciate the spirit of this article, I am also frustrated. Even though your point is to dispel stereotypes and racism, you too appear to be guilty of that “othering” and ignorance. First of all, “Arabic” is a language. The people are “Arab.” Second of all, to explicitly describe Miss Davuluri as a non-Muslim with a weak followup on whether this matters makes it seem that if she were Muslim the racism would be more justified. And of course, this completely neglects that as far as identities are concerned, the Indian-American identity is not exclusive to any particular faith. Those who take pride in this identity should not be angered by, of all things, the “inaccuracy” of the racist backlash. Since when is racism accurate? Makes no sense to take the discussion there seeing as it is all fundamentally wrong, and in fact, this may be illustrating the levels of ignorance that exist even within a community. Furthermore, to classify Hinduism and Islam as “divergent” is not only incorrect, but completely counter-intuitive to the oneness of American culture you are trying to convey, as well as an unfortunate perpetuation of the difficult history between the two faiths. More othering. In the future, please be mindful of these glitches in tone because they really alienated me from your main point.

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