Monday, September 16, 2013

Congratulations Miss Nina Davuluri, The First Desi Miss America

Kamana Khadka

         Miss Nina Davuluri made history by becoming the first Indian American crowned to be Miss America, 2014.  Ms. Davuluri, a 24-year-old Fayetteville, New York native and an aspiring physician, is the daughter of Indian parents who emigrated from India 30 years ago.

         I am most excited about Ms. Davuluri’s platform “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.”  If you saw her performing the classical Indian dance in the stage of Miss America Beauty Pageant, you know the kind of “celebration of diversity” I am referring to.  Each sound made by Ms. Davuluri’s Ghunghroo, the musical anklet tied to the feet of Indian classical dancers, as she danced to the beat of Indian drums, brought to life, all the stories, struggles, and victories of Asian Americans and Americans of other race/ethnicity in the United States. 

         In 1965, the United States Congress liberalized law restricting Asian immigration.  The Immigration Reform Act of 1965 was framed as an amendment to the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, under which quota system was implemented in the immigration process and preference was given to skilled laborers and relatives of United States citizens.  This legislative action made a tremendous shift in the Asian Indian population from only a few thousand in the 1960’s to over 300,000 by the mid 1980’s.  Today with a population of 3.2 million, Asian Indians, make the top three largest Asian groups in the United States.  In 2011, the estimated population of Asians was 18.2 million, making them the fastest growing population in the United States.

         Despite the drastic change in demographics of the United States, which communicates a clear message that the image of today’s “American” is not only what used be the typical “blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skinned” individual; reading Twitter feeds full of racist comments in response to Ms. Nina Davuluri being crowed as Miss America, 2014 shows nothing but the need for cultural competency. 

And NO, the one-hour online cultural competency training provided by your organization that you sit through and check the box, as having “successfully completed the cultural competency training” is NOT ENOUGH.

         In response to a significant population of Americans who have expressed their deep disappointment upon Ms. Nina Davuluri’s win, I would like to respond by quoting Frenchman J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur’s article “What Is An American?” written in 1782 – “He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds.”

         Friends, celebrating diversity and being culturally competent is more than taking Bollywood dance lessons, watching foreign movies, being able to digest spicy foods, or even traveling to foreign countries for few weeks and posting tons of fun photos on social media.  It is in moments like this when we can genuinely celebrate the win of a truly deserving Indian American beauty queen as Miss America 2014.

Congratulations Nina Davuluri.  You Go Desi Girl!

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