WASHINGTON DC— Nina Davuluri’s crowning as Miss America on Sunday marked the first time an Indian-American had won the prestigious competition.
Davuluri competed on a theme of "Celebrating Diversity through Cultural Competency." She is American and was born in New York, but vicious posts have appeared on Twitter labeling her as Arab, Muslim, al-Qaida and un-American.
When asked about this latest controversy, the new Miss America said she has to rise above it, and that she's always considered herself "first and foremost American."
Reaction in India
The tweets touched off a debate about racism and nationalism in this country and in India. A nightly talk show on the Indian TV network NDTV featured a panelist saying, "Clearly there is a large body of that country that feels she represents everything that's good and cosmopolitan about the United States. In the world of social networking, there will be thousands of people who now have a right to air their opinion and some of that opinion is racist, sexist and incorrect. But because they have an ability to air it, we can hear it. But to extrapolate that out and think that 260 million people are racist would be a bit far fetched."
The 24-year-old Davuluri wants to be a doctor. She received various academic awards before graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Sciences.
Aswin Punathambeker teaches immigrant identities and media at Davuluri's alma mater and is also of Indian origin. Via Skype, he said he was encouraged by the tweets that criticized and shut down the original prejudiced ones.
"They said this is negative, this ignores the long history of migration of South Asians to the United States, and it ignores the fact that America is a diverse and multi-cultured country."
Nationalism vs. Racism
The NDTV talk show panelist queried her Indian viewers, "If you had the American ideal of beauty standing right here, would you crown her Miss India? I'm not sure."
Punathambeker says nationalism can be good until it becomes racism.
"We have often seen nationalism tends to take on racist overtones during moments of crisis, 9/11 being one of the best examples in recent historical memory. But nationalism can also generate some positive things and America does have the advantage of having one strand of its history being about inclusion. Being about pluralism. So it is possible to tap into that side of nationalism as well."
The conversation continues on the web and on talk shows. Everyone seems to agree that what is deemed "beautiful" often depends on where you live. But the world is becoming a smaller place. And politics is changing that definition.