When I was a little girl and I first came to this land, I was just like every other immigrant child wanting what was evident: the dream.
I wanted to be the all-American girl, the one with a white picket fence, a golden retriever and a degree. Whatever the American dream entailed, I wanted it.
So imagine my pride for the first time in history when an Indian-American woman won the Miss America pageant. I thought, “Finally, a woman of color, someone who truly represents what America is now, has won this title.”
But apparently, I was too accepting of the fact that Nina Davuluri, an Indian-American woman, was crowned Miss America. My social media feeds took a turn toward the deep end. The tweets and statuses started popping up: “An Arab won?” Or better yet, my personal favorite: “A terrorist won a few days after 9/11. Disgusting.”
Wow. Way to go, America.
But this isn’t the first time people have been outraged by a person of color winning the Miss America pageant. Bess Myerson, the 1945 winner of Russian-Jewish heritage, said she was “pressured to change her to name to a less Jewish-sounding name.” She, of course, did not change her last name, because she didn’t feel like it was right for her Jewish family, let alone the history of America.
Even more outrageous? The first African-American winner, Vanessa Williams (of “Ugly Betty” fame), was only crowned in 1983 — a mere 30 years ago.
This is a part of our past.
Davuluri has put a little spice into the Miss America contest. What Americans need to start realizing is that being American can mean many things. Davuluri represents the true America now. She has a darker skin tone, she is of Indian descent, she comes with morals and culture of other cultures and that goes along with the America’s status as a melting pot.
The Miss America pageant should represent all skin tones and backgrounds. The fact that there are racist posts all over my social media feeds because the first Indian-American woman won Miss America truly disgusts me.
She’s not a “terrorist” or an “Arab.” First, get a history lesson and then a geography lesson (the Indian and Arab peoples are separated by hundreds of miles geographically). Then do us all a favor: Get a lesson in acceptance and diversity. She’s an American. The bottom line is that she is a part of us. She is the true American girl, just like any of her competitors.
Race should not and does not matter when it comes to entering a pageant, let alone winning a pageant. Americans should realize if they are going to preach about diversity, they should start practicing it as well. The backlash that the new Miss America faces is just a lesson to be learned: Racism still exists today, and even being Miss America can cause an uproar.
As a 20-year-old American-Sri Lankan, I am constantly surrounded by the vast majority of different cultures and races.
Look around you: the generations are mixed and skin tones are getting darker and even a little more lighter. America is not just what people think it is anymore.
Davuluri is a true American. No tweet or status can change that fact. She is the face of a new generation, the face of hope and the face that shows many little girls across the country that dreams of becoming Miss America, regardless of their race or religion, are possible.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @tishnii