When 2014’s Miss America pageant was won by 24-year-old New York native, Nina Davuluri, Twitter went mad. Mad because Davuluri is an Indian American. That’s not to say that Twitter’s incessant ramblings are not always batshit crazy, but this time, it was personal. Not because I am also both brown and American, but because I am probably the most American person I know, and it has nothing to do with the color of my skin, but the ideologies my skin and I tend to cling to. The passport, helps, too.
Davuluri is the daughter of an East Indian native who has lived in the USA for decades. I don’t believe that he would have guessed that in this present day, his American-born daughter, who has a degree in brain behavior and cognitive sciences, would be treated like a second class citizen.
Now this is all very strange and ironic to me as it’s not every day that a grown man with a beard gets all hot and bothered by a beauty pageant, at least for the right reasons.
Here are some of the most notable twitter updates:
“Do you not have to be American to win MISS AMERICA anymore?! #whatisthis ”
“I don’t understand how you can be up for miss America you’re not American you’re a fucking dot head!! #MERICA”
“How the fuck does a foreigner win miss America? She is a Arab! #idiots”
“I swear I’m not racist but this is America”
Davuluri took these comments in stride though, mentioning that she experienced the same thing when she won Miss New York. This is ironic, as New York is supposedly a traditional example of a melting pot in its attitude towards non-white Americans. If we are going to define what technically makes someone an American, it would be having actual Native American roots. Yet, that’s not being touched on here. It’s simply that Davuluri is not ‘white,’ which is a term used to group together people from countless European countries that could not be more different from one another, all on account of their similar skin tones.
This social commentary could go on and on with a hostile tone beneath my station, yet justified due to the offense, but the issue here isn’t about me being offended. The issue is about a startling misunderstanding of what it means to be American. Based on all of those tweets, I think we only know what it means to be a “Merican” in “Merica.”
America was founded by immigrants. European immigrants, Asian immigrants and African immigrants. Either by choice, indentured servitude or slavery. Yet they all built the country on one another’s backs, adopting countless traditions and cultural normalities we take for granted today as “American.”
What truly sets us apart is our affinity for independence. The right to act on one’s personal preference, rather than that of a dominating monarchy and/or group. There is democracy here, which isn’t perfect but it’s better than most. America is sometimes heavily criticized in the news, yet many want to move here. This isn’t new news, and it’s because you can literally ‘be all you can be’ here. You couldn’t necessarily move to Saudi Arabia to be the greatest Christian youth minister, or open up the greatest women’s shelter. But you could create something like that here, and even use America as your home base while you do what you want around the world.
American democracy allows that. America’s ideologies allow that, and that’s what makes being American a nationality, not a race. You could take a road trip from Seattle to Texas, then to Florida, up to New Orleans and finish in New York. I guarantee that you would not return home thinking that the USA was filled with ‘minorities.’ Because when minorities even out with and/or outnumber the majority, they stop being minorities. Hell, you don’t go to Africa and say, “Sure are a lot of minorities.”
It has also been 30 years since America crowned Vanessa Williams, the country’s first African American Miss America. With an African American President and an Indian American Miss America, hopefully it slowly becomes common knowledge that America is far past the days of believing that America is a race rather than a nationality.