September 17, 2013

Indian Miss America resonates as symbol of change

Indian-Americans, especially those born here like Nina Davuluri, are demonstrating a newfound comfort level in their country.

By Jesse Washington / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Miss America Nina Davuluri poses for photographers following her crowning in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sunday. For some who observe the progress of people of color in the U.S., Davaluri's victory in the pageant shows that Indian-Americans can become icons even in parts of mainstream American culture that once seemed closed.

AP

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89-year-old Vege Koteshwaramma, looks at a photograph of her granddaughter Nina Davuluri, the first contestant of Indian origin to become Miss America, center on laptop screen, in Vijaywada, 174 miles east of Hyderabad, India, on Monday.

AP

"There are a number of narratives coming out," she said. "One is, isn't it something that someone who looks like her, who has her name, can win this pageant?"

"The other piece," Iyer continued, "is that we're still seeing this story of racist backlash that we have seen in many ways over the years. It just reflects the racial anxiety that some people have in this country when someone who looks or sounds different achieves a level of success that for some reason is seen as being reserved for a certain type of quote-unquote Americans."

Vandana Kumar, publisher of India Currents magazine, likened those racist tweets to some of the racial resistance faced by President Barack Obama: "When people of different races break barriers, we get some scrutiny, some pushback."

But ultimately, she saw Davuluri's win as a sign of promise.

"This sounds so cliché, but if you set your heart to do anything, don't let your skin or your religion or anything hold you back," she said. "I loved the fact that she proved that the best woman wins."

The second best woman in this year's pageant? Miss California Crystal Lee, who is Chinese-American. Which makes Davuluri's prediction resonate even more deeply — especially in a slightly shortened form:

"America is changing. And she's not going to look the same anymore."

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