Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, served as the keynote speaker for Bluffton University’s Civic Engagement Day on Wednesday evening in the Sommer Center and talked about her experience as the first Indian American woman to win the pageant.
Davuluri said that winning the title of Miss America was always something that she strived for. She said that she “believed that someone ethnic would be (crowned) Miss America” one day and that she knew it could be her. Davuluri said that she wanted to “change the image of who the girl next door was.” The idea of “the girl next door” is how Miss America has been portrayed over the years.
“The girl next door is evolving, just like diversity is in America,” Davuluri said. Davuluri said that she wanted “to reach out to a new demographic of young women” so that they could see a Miss America who extends outside of the typical racial makeup of a model; blonde hair and blue eyes.
Davuluri was crowned Miss America 2014 on September 15 of last year. She did not only make headlines because of her accomplishment, but also because of racist backlash directed toward her on social media. Much of the racist reaction was seen particularly on Twitter and it was due to Davuluri being the first woman of Indian decent to win the title of Miss America. Some of the hateful comments can be seen in past articles on Buzzfeed and Jezebel.
When Davuluri was crowned Miss New York 2013, she also experienced similar racist backlash. She said that this previous experience prepared her for what she faced when she won Miss America. Davuluri was proud of the younger generation for stepping up to respond to “those ignorant remarks” with lots of support and words of encouragement.
Davuluri grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and as a child she faced questioning about her Indian background frequently. As the only Indian girl in many of her classes at school, she was asked stereotypical questions about aspects of Indian culture such as arranged marriages. “Many of these remarks were not meant to be malicious” Davuluri said, but were asked simply due to ignorance.
When Davuluri was age 10, she and her family moved to Michigan. There, she was able to identify more with her Indian background as her peers and teachers were more accepting of her culture. Davuluri especially felt acceptance when she attended the University of Michigan as an undergraduate. She said that it was “such a different experience” at Michigan because she was surrounded by hundreds of Indian Americans who had similar upbringings and experiences.
Davuluri said that the most rewarding part about being Miss America is visiting children in hospitals. While the most difficult part, Davuluri said, is “being on, all of the time” as a public figure. She said that she always tries to make a good impression when meeting people, even though she might be having a bad day personally.
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