Okay, so yes, even though I don’t typically make a habit of following the Miss America pageant, I was definitely pulling for Miss Kansas, AKA Theresa Vail, this year—her story is totally inspiring for so many reasons. But even though she didn’t win (at least she came in the top 10 and earned America’s Choice!), I’m actually still pretty stoked about the results: Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, is the first Indian American woman in history to win the pageant. Her pageant platform was “celebrating diversity through cultural competency.” Awesome, no?
I still can’t believe, though, the social media backlash that has resulted from Nina’s ethnic background after she was crowned on Sunday night in Atlantic City, NJ. Between the terrorist references, convenience store stereotypes, and claims that Nina “isn’t American enough” to be Miss America, it’s MINDBLOWING to me that this is still an issue. Nina, though, is rolling with the punches and dealing with it all graciously: “I have to rise above that,” she said of the negative social media explosion. “I always viewed myself at first and foremost American.” Good for her.
For the curious, here are a few fast facts about Miss America 2014:
1. Nina hails from Syracuse, NY; her parents, Sheila Ranjani and Davuluri Kotshewara Choudhary, are originally from the city of Vijayawada in the Indian state of Adhra Pradesh. They came to the US in 1981.
2. She’s 24 years old.
3. She comes from a family of doctors: Her father is a gynecologist, her sister Meena is a third year med student, her aunt and uncle on her mother’s side in India run a nursing home, and her father’s siblings in the US are all doctors, as well.
4. Nina has also lived in both Oklahoma and Michigan.
5. She’s an academic high achiever: Nina attended college at the University of Michigan, where she majored in Brain Behavior and Cognitive Science’. She also landed herself on the Dean’s List, earned the Michigan Merit Award, and was inducted into the National Honor Society while she was there.
6. Nina’s plan is to go to med school to become a cardiologist.
7. She’s trained in both the classical Indian dance forms of Kuchipudi and Bharat Natyum. She put those skills to use during the talent portion of the competition, dancing a Bollywood fusion number to the song “Dhoom Tana,” from the Bollywood flick Om Shanti Om. Take a look here:
Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s senior editor.