Nina Davuluri, who was only 24 when she became the first Miss America of Indian origin last year, has come a long way since the night of her win. Although she’s been hard at work to promote cultural diversity even after her year-long reign ended, the racial slurs that stemmed from her victory are still something we remember.Mincing no words, Davuluri says that she was prepared for the backlash, and expected it too. "I grew up with many questions – whether I’d have an arranged marriage, do I worship cows etc, — so I knew the misconception about our culture was always there," she says, adding, "But I suppose the silver lining is that for every negative comment, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of positive words of encouragement from around the world. Also, it became an opportunity for me to carry this discussion forward."
Most importantly, Davuluri feels that her win was really timely for the Miss America organisation to celebrate diversity and reach out to a new demographic, given the stereotype of a blonde, blue-eyed winner over the years. "I grew up feeling I could never win because I looked different. So, when I won, it was great for that young girl who was watching the show and thinking. Wow, this year Miss America looks like me," she says.
Nina Davuluri spent two years in Vijaywada before moving to the US, and annual vacations back here helped her stay connected with her roots — especially by way of dance. "I’m trained in Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Ballet, Jazz and Tap dance. At the Miss America talent round, I even performed to ‘Dhoom taana’ (from Om Shanti Om; 2007)," says the pageant winner.
It’s no surprise, then, that Davuluri was drawn to — and signed up as a judge — for Dance India Dance Super Moms North America. She says, "It’s interesting and fun to be on the other side of the table. For these moms to live their dream is very inspiring, and their stories are heart-warming. They’ve been incredible." The reality show features mothers of Indian-origin, competing as dancers.
However, this isn’t a stepping stone for a Bollywood career. The 25-year-old is applying for MBA programs after graduating debt-free, thanks to funds she earned as scholarships during her one-year reign.
"With the degree in hand, I’d like to focus on international relations and cross-cultural marketing. Miss America is a very service-oriented job. Everyone wants to win Miss America, but no one wants to do the job. It’s not as glamorous as people might think. I’m at the forefront a speaker and an advocate for my platform, which is celebrating diversity," she explains, adding, "Now that my reign is over, I’m looking forward to transitioning and doing a lot more social work in India itself."