India / Southeast Asia

Miss America

The first Miss America of Indian descent was crowned just a few short days ago in the US. The news of her victory has taken the American media and the internet by storm. And no one seems to be afraid to say exactly how they feel about Nina Duvuluri’s triumph.

Twitter Backlash

I’m sure you’ve already read many of these by now, but here are of few of my favorite racist tweets in response to her crowning. (editor’s note: read favorite with sarcasm).

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These hateful messages are the ones that have found clout both online and in print in America the last couple of days. They stand out from the majority of supportive and celebratory tweets that were also posted when Nina was chosen as the winner.

More American Stereotypes for the Indian Media

And from my experience in India, it’s the negative tweets that have caught the attention of the Indian press too.

On the day Nina was crowned Miss America, The Times of India ran a cover story titled “Indian girl beats Latino Beauties for Miss America Crown.” The front page article was short and to the point. It acknowledged Nina’s success and included a picture of her wearing the crown. It didn’t continue onto another page.

That night when I got online, news of the “American backlash” against her victory flooded my newsfeed on facebook and twitter. And I began to read through the racist tweets with disgust thinking, I’m so glad the Indian newspapers didn’t report the reaction of these Americans in the paper. The last thing America needs is more bad press in India.

The next morning The Times of India ran another front page story on Miss America titled, “Racist tweets mar sweet moment for Nina Davuluri, first Miss America of Indian origin.” Reading the title, I silently added “racist bigots” to the growing list of American stereotypes I’ve seen fueled in India.

A Frustrated American in India

Yes, I was disappointed in the small minority who displayed such tactlessness and racism in response to Nina’s victory. Yes, I have a million and one things I would like to say to the racist tweeters from Friday. And yes, I could write about all of those things for hours and still have more to say.

But I won’t.

The questions I want to address are these:

What is an American woman, anyway? Who is Miss America? And does Nina fit the description?

Let’s begin with Miss Kansas because many of the tweets on Friday lamented that she didn’t win the crown. The tweeters claimed she was somehow “more American” that Nina.

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Miss Kansas is a “real American” the racist twitterverse claimed. And to some extent, I agree with them.

Miss Kansas is a real American. She’s American-born and raised, she has engaged in public service in the National Guard, she’s passionate about what she does–whether that’s hunting or performing, and she’s not afraid to be exactly who she is without apology–I mean she showed off her tattoos in the swimsuit competitions for goodness sake! That takes guts.

And I would agree that those are good American qualities to aspire to.

In the same vein, Nina is a real American. Like Miss Kansas, she’s American-born and raised. Like Miss Kansas, she has engaged in public service as a medical student. Like Miss Kansas, she is passionate about what she does and performed her fusion of classical Indian and Bollywood dance with great expertise. And like Miss Kansas, she’s not afraid to be exactly who she is without apology–even when that means having to shake off the minority of Americans who call her a terrorist and link her to Al Qaeda.

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So, by my standards, both of these women are “real Americans.”

Isn’t it true that…?

My ideas about what constitutes a “real American” have come into question time and again during my study abroad and when the Miss America news broke I found myself reliving some of those moments.

I’ve been in India for a little over a month now and I’ve found that one of the things I still struggle with is accurately describing America and Americans to Indians.

Isn’t it true that women and men are equal in America? people ask.

Isn’t it true that you have lots of Chinese people in America? people wonder.

Isn’t it true that most kids have premarital sex in America? people speculate.

I’m sure this is true of most countries, but there’s no one answer I can ever give about life in America.

I know that men and women are not equal in America, so I could reply to the first question with that for example. But as I can only speak from my own experience, I don’t even know the extent to which that is true. We live in a massive and populated country with overt and subtle differences to communities everywhere you go. I can say that as an upper-middle class, educated, white girl from a suburb in Massachusetts, men and women are more equal in some ways than they are in India. I can say that I feel safe in Massachusetts walking around alone at night. But I can also say that women still get paid $0.77 to a man’s $1.

I could talk about my experience as a woman in America for hours, but I can’t speak for the experiences of lower class men or middle class women. I can’t speak for urban or rural communities. My views are only a small portion of the whole.

I can’t generalize about the American public and their tendency to treat women as equals because it’s much more complex than that and ultimately I just don’t know.

Melting Pot

More than not knowing the answers to these questions with certainty, I am uncomfortable speaking on behalf of an entire nation. Because what America is like depends on where you go and what Americans are like depends on who you talk to.

One of the things I find most inspiring about America is its variety of perspectives. I think we’re lucky to have so many different nationalities represented in our country and I believe they each add a little something special to our melting pot.

So if you asked me: Who is Miss America? What is an American woman like? I wouldn’t be able to give you a straight answer. Because when you say the words, “American woman,” no singular image pops into my head. A multitude of images flip through.

Miss America

That’s why I’m so glad Nina won Miss America. Because she is one of the many faces of an “American woman” I see. And I believe that most Americans can appreciate that.

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So congratulations Nina, from an American in India to an American in America.

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2 thoughts on “Miss America

    • I think you’re absolutely right. It’s such a shame that the minority of vocal Americans were able to have their narrow-minded opinions so widely circulated. It’s complete ignorance of what our country stands for and who it stands for.

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