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First Miss America of Indian descent embraces discussion on diversity

She says her win shows how what defines "the girl next door" is evolving

Greg Botelho | CNN | 9/19/2013, 9:08 a.m.
That's how the 24-year-old Indian-American woman sees herself, she explained to CNN's Erin Burnett on Wednesday, three days after being ...
Nina Davuluri is crowned Miss America 2014 on Saturday, September 15, 2013. MissAmerica.org

— Ready or not America, Nina Davuluri is the new girl next door.

That's how the 24-year-old Indian-American woman sees herself, she explained to CNN's Erin Burnett on Wednesday, three days after being crowned Miss America.

"I have always viewed Miss America as the girl next door," Davuluri said. "But the girl next door is evolving, as the diversity of America evolves. She's not who she was 10 years ago, and she's not going to be the same person come 10 years down the road."

The fact that her win Sunday spurred a torrent of racist reactions online -- many along the lines that she doesn't represent what the United States is -- didn't surprise Davuluri. She'd experienced it on a smaller scale when she became the first Miss New York of Indian descent.

Davuluri sees it as her mission to tackle such stereotypes head on. It's why the daughter of two Indian-born parents has a pageant platform of "celebrating diversity through cultural competence."

"I wanted to be the first Indian Miss America, to be that symbol of a new face for the organization," she said Wednesday. "And to let younger girls know that regardless of race, their socioeconomic status, their religion that anyone can become not only Miss America, but anything."

Still, it would be understandable if Davuluri was taken aback by tweets claiming she wasn't sufficiently American or was a terrorist. Yet she's been more heartened by all those that rallied around her.

"For one negative tweet, I received dozens of positive tweets and support from not only Indians, but the American people across the country and ... the world for that matter," the Fayetteville, New York, native said. "It's been such an honor."

And while some criticize the pageant circuit for putting looks above all else, Davuluri said she's thankful it helped her earn $25,000 in scholarships to study cognitive science at the University of Michigan. She will have another $60,000 to apply to her medical school tuition -- $50,000 from her Miss America win and $10,000 from Miss New York. This is all part of the more than $45 million in cash and scholarships the pageant organization gives out.

Yes, Davuluri admits, good looks are a part of the equation. Contestants do strut around in swimsuits, after all, and they are judged as they walk in evening gowns. Davuluri says "that's reality," as is the 10-minute interview with judges that people don't see on TV.

And Davuluri couldn't be happier with the reality she's now living -- as a groundbreaker, and a talking point, in a country addressing its cultural diversity.

As she says: "I am living my American dream."

The-CNN-Wire

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