As a little girl, growing up, I never dreamed of becoming Miss America. I never even dreamed of becoming Miss Korea. Hell no. I was more interested in becoming one of the judges…
I watched Miss America religiously every year with my parents since I was in kindergarten. I don’t say “kindergarten” to be cute, because quite literally kindergarten was the day I truly became an American in my five-year-old mind. I realized once I got to kindergarten, that I got to speak only English all the time unlike at home where Korean was our tongue. Kindergarten was American to me, simply, and I loved being American.
So I remember clearly that I watched my first Miss America pageant in 1980 on our new color television, and I couldn’t believe how fancy everything and everyone was. We’d watch all pageants, as a matter of fact, because it was the American thing to do. We were Korean immigrants, living in New York, and so we rooted for Miss New York come each Miss America pageant. It didn’t matter what color their skin was, or that they were mostly white anyway. It never occurred to me at all. As a little girl I was proud of each beauty representing New York for me. I just felt bad that they had to walk around being perfect all the time in high heels and makeup.
A few years later, lo and behold, our Miss New York won it all. Vanessa Williams. On our television set in our small 2-bedroom apartment in the Manhattan sky, we cheered. We cheered because Miss New York won, and not just because a black woman took the title of Miss America for the first time. I was 9 years old at the time, and fat. I sat in awe of stunning Vanessa Williams and all her glow, but still I never dreamed of Miss America crowns or sashes for myself. I was a realist even in grade school, and I knew there could never be a fat Miss America like me. I knew though at least, that there was such a thing as Vanessa Williams as Miss America.
I stopped watching the Miss America pageants with my parents eventually, because growing up means moving out and being too busy for such things.
Today from here in Belgium I learned that the first Indian-American Miss America, and Miss New York, was crowned last night. Nina Davuluri. I also learned that her win has angered many Americans, many racist Americans. These are probably the same Americans who may hate Obama and Muslims, and gays and people who eat lots of rice, or any number of people that together actually make up a large part of America. Having pride in your country means having pride in all of your country as a whole.
I never dreamed of becoming Miss America, but I’m thankful that Vanessa Williams and Nina Davuluri did at some point. I do dream of a day when being a Korean-American or African-American, Indian-American or anyone-American doesn’t qualify them any less than “just” an American. A girl can dream…