Nina Davuluri just became the most famous Indian person on the planet, having made history as the first Miss America beauty pageant winner of East Indian descent. "I was the first Indian Miss New York and I'm so proud to be the first Indian Miss America," said the graduate of the University of Michigan, who wants to become a doctor.
The 24-year-old from Syracuse -- who strongly emphasized her Indian heritage by performing a Bollywood-style dance routine while clad in a sari during the talent portion of the pageant -- asserted that she is “first and foremost” an American and that her victory is a celebration of “diversity.” "I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America,” she boasted at her first press conference as Miss America 2014.
Her grandmother in her native southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh told The Associated Press that she wept with joy when she saw the news on television. “I am very, very, happy for the girl. It was her dream and it was fulfilled," 89-year-old V. Koteshwaramma said from the city of Vijaywada.
Davuluri also shrugged off waves of bigoted comments made on social media by viewers who were appalled by an Indian winner, making references to 7-11 convenience stores and even suggesting she was an “Arab,” by bizarrely linking her to the 9-11 terrorist attacks and al-Qaeda. "I have to rise above that," she said. "I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."
Indian media generally lauded her selection as the first Miss America of Indian descent, but heavily emphasized the racialist comments her triumph triggered. The Times of India commented that the abusive tweets and taunts on social media “marred” her historic selection. “In a flaming demonstration that an egalitarian, non-discriminatory United States, like with India, is a work in progress, bigotry and bias kept popping up on social media for hours after the event,” the Times of India fumed. “Mindless racist stereotyping raced ahead of the ideals professed by many Americans.” But the Times also proudly pointed out that Davuluri’s family profile perfectly fits the common perception of Indian-Americans as academically accomplished and high-earning (her father is a gynecologist).
The Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) also referred to another controversy involving Davuluri, that she reportedly insulted the prior Miss New York Mallory Hagan (and also Miss America) as being “fat as ----,” while admitting she had weight issues herself in the past.
But some Indians also noted that, as a dark-skinned South Indian, Davuluri might never have won a beauty contest in her ancestral homeland, where fair complexions are prized. An article in FirstPost cited a tweet from an Indian source named “Anna John” who declared: “What’s interesting is … Nina Davuluri would never win pageants in South Asia because she’d be too dark to be considered beautiful & the same is true for all of those ‘Miss Indian American USA’ pseudo-pageants held here, as well. No darkies allowed in winner’s circle.” Indeed, in readers’ comments sections on various Indian newspapers, including Times of India, readers blasted Americans for being racist and bigoted, while others condemned India itself for having a bias toward fair-skinned beauties.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.