By Elizabeth Tran
Last year’s Miss America pageant set history in the Asian-American community. Three Asian-Americans made the top five, and the last two standing were Miss California Crystal Lee of Chinese descent and Miss New York Nina Davuluri of Indian descent. Nina Davuluri brought New York the national crown and became the first Indian Miss America. She’s had a busy year advocating the Miss America Organization, Children’s Miracle Network, STEM education, and her platform, Circles of Unity. I was able to take part in her Joseph Ribkoff Miss America media tour and learn a little more about her.
Elizabeth Tran: In many Asian-American families, the parents expect a lot from their children academically and limit them from other extra-curriculars. How did your parents feel when you got involved in pageants?
Nina Davuluri : Well, I have to say I’m very lucky to have parents who really promoted being well rounded, so as much as there was a very significant emphasis on academics, there was also an equal emphasis on having those extra-curricular activities that were important. I was a cheerleader, I was a tennis player, I was on varsity for all four years, I was in the marching band, colorguard, I was in Science Olympiad, I was in Student Senate. I was just one of those students that tried to excel in as many fields as I could. That being said, I think there is a certain stigma surrounding the pageant world unfortunately, and with so many Toddlers and Tiaras and the way reality TV makes it out to be which is really not it. But I started competing for scholarship money. My parents were always supportive, not necessarily encouraging. But I think when they realized what the Miss America Organization is all about, the values that it was founded upon, what it really stood for, the scholarship, the education, when I competed in the teen program, I walked away with $25,000 in scholarship money which they were very appreciative of. I took a five year hiatus from the Miss America Organization. Graduated from the University of Michigan debt free with support of my parents and the scholarship money and found myself competing again. I wanted to go to graduate school, and get scholarship money. So through this organization, I’ve earned a little over $90,000, and I have 60 of that left to put in my graduate degree. So it’s absolutely something that any parent, any student, any person can really appreciate in the scholarship aspect especially since student loans and the cost of education is astronomically expensive. This is definitely one way for women to further their education, promote a cause that their passionate about, and be really well rounded and balanced.
Elizabeth : How do you advise second generation, children with immigrant parents, the
proper balance between their traditional values and American culture?
Nina: It is hard, and for me, one of the ways I was able to express myself is through dance. I grew up classically trained in Indian dance called Bharatanatyam and for Miss America I performed a Bollywood dance for, I compare it to being trained in classical ballet pointe and performing something like hip hop. That was the route to go because Bollywood is more mainstream now in American culture and it made sense to tie that in but in terms of growing up in my journey, I realized that assimilation really has to happen on both sides. And for me, being able to share my talent, my culture, with my peers is something that I love to do. They were always curious and wanted to know what it meant. And I felt my community was very accepting of that. I was able to teach and vice versa.
Elizabeth: How were you able to overcome the obstacle of xenophobic tweets and social media backlash after you were crowned Miss America?
Nina: Unfortunately it was something I experienced on a much smaller scale when I was Miss New York, and I knew if I were to win Miss America it would probably happen again, I actually remember talking about it in my Miss America interview and telling the judges those remarks might happen again and I now know how to handle that, especially since it was my platform. I’ve promoted it my entire life, officially for three years. Being able to promote it on an international scale and spark a global conversation really launched my year on the right path in a weird kind of way. For every negative post, I received thousands of positive notes.
To read the extended version of Elizabeth’s interview go to http://enthusiastic-elizabeth.blogspot.com/2014/08/miss-america-2014-nina-davuluri.html.