San Francisco, California – Miss America Nina Davuluri was the guest of honor May 28 at Macy’s Union Square department store here as part of the celebrations for Asian American Pacific Heritage Month.
In honor of contributions made by Asian-Pacific Americans, Macy’s celebrated Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May at select locations nationwide with a special series of events. Davuluri, the first Indian American to win the Miss America pageant, has been attending numerous public-speaking special programs for this cultural event all across the country.
Since winning her title, she has logged over 20,000 miles meeting diverse people, speaking at events and raising scholarship funds in her year of service as part of the mission of the Miss America pageant.
The pageant requires each contestant to choose an issue about which she cares deeply and that is of relevance to the country. Her platform issue, “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency,” was something she has been developing ever since she became Miss New York.
She said she was active with her Circles of Unity in social media, which she uses as a tool to combat ignorance and raise cultural awareness.
The program at Macy’s began with the performance of a music ensemble, &Blue, from UC Berkeley, followed by a traditional dance by Thai Cultural Center of SF Bay Area.
Freska Griarte of Radio station 99.7 hosted the interview session. When asked of her experiences in winning the title, Davuluri talked of the hate and xenophobic messages she received after being crowned Miss America. Many of her talks on national networks after the title focused on this, she said, as she wanted to send a message of understanding and tolerance.
She said she was proud to be an American and proud of her ethnic roots. In promoting her cultural message of learning to embrace the ethnic diversity of America, she said it was time to recognize the changing demographics and the aspirations of ethnic groups.
One question was: Some critics said you weren’t “American enough” to win. For you, what does it mean to be an American?
“I’ve always viewed myself as first and foremost an American. I think growing up in America with Indian parents, you struggle so much with your identity because you’re pulled in so many directions from your family trying to maintain your culture and heritage but also trying to assimilate and be ‘normal.’ I say normal in quotes because it is difficult. … It’s been a journey in my household to find the best of both worlds, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she replied.
Born to Telugu-speaking parents in Syracuse, New York, Davuluri said her mother had raised her to be proud of who she was and to study and work hard.
Responding to an audience question of what message she had for the girl-child in India, she replied that she was lucky to be supported by loving parents and encouraged to be anything she wanted to be. She said that in trying for the Miss New York title, she was unsuccessful twice but made it in her third attempt. She was also discouraged by many in her interest to perform a Bollywood sequence for the dance segment in the Miss America pageant. She kept her choice, however, feeling that Bollywood dance would make a splash and appeal to audiences. Using this example, she said the value of working hard and not giving up is important.
To an audience question on whether she would like to act in Bollywood films, she said that “scholarship, service and education last a lot longer than acting and modeling.”
On her future plans, Davuluri said she intended to pursue a business degree as opposed to going to medical school as she had stated prior to the pageant.
Even with her busy schedule, Davuluri likes to spend time on meditation, yoga and attending fitness centers. She is a “Star Trek” follower, an avid user of Netflix and loves idli-sambar.
In her busy travels across the country, Davuluri said she took time off once a month to meet her parents in Syracuse. She is also close to her older sister Meena, she stated.
The Q&A concluded with a lilting dance to the hit song “Balam Pichkari” by a troupe from Do Me a Dance & Drum Company.