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posted: 9/27/2013 5:00 AM

Pageant's message: Different is dazzling

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  • Shaan Khan

    Shaan Khan

  • Miss America Nina Davuluri

    Miss America Nina Davuluri

By Shaan Khan

The days of insecure immigrant students opening up their exotic lunches at a table by themselves are over, because diversity is the new norm -- or at least it is the new beautiful. America witnessed a changing of the guard moment this month, when Miss New York and Indian-American Nina Davuluri became the first woman of her heritage to be crowned Miss America. In addition to this, three out of the top five Miss America candidates for 2014 were of Asian descent, including Miss Minnesota Rebecca Yeh and Miss California Crystal Lee, both of Chinese heritage. And of course as a new resident of Washington, D.C., I cannot forget to mention the district's contestant, Bindhu Pamarthi, also an Indian-American, who had a good showing but did not crack the top five.

Being of Indian descent, I am thrilled to cheer Davuluri, who -- like me and thousands of Indian-Americans whose parents certainly push their children to be among the highest achievers -- wants to be a physician. Being an Asian-American, I should also salute Yeh, Lee and Pamarthi for displaying and promoting the softer side of the Asian community.

Perhaps most unique about the Miss America 2014 pageant is that its beauty and diversity came in all shapes, ethnicities, talents and inspirations. Miss Iowa Nicole Kelly, who was born without a left arm, acknowledged that the competition reinforced her resolve to promote a platform of overcoming disabilities. Miss Kansas Theresa Vail, a sergeant in the Army National Guard, showed off her tattoos, which gained admiration from millions of Americans and scorn from many others. Despite the controversy, Vail's participation included certain Americans otherwise disengaged into the mainstream tent. Miss Texas Ivana Hall respectfully represented the African-American community just weeks after the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's March on Washington.

This is certainly not to imply that the U.S. pageants have never seen diversity; in fact, they have a long history of it. The first Asian-American to win Miss USA was Macel Wilson in 1962; the first Hispanic Laura Martinez-Herring in 1985; the first African-American Carole Gist in 1990; and the first Miss USA of Middle-Eastern descent was Rima Fakih in 2010.

But such steps toward diversity are not always smooth. After Davuluri was crowned, remarks floated around cyberspace against various races and religions. This turmoil reminds us that the process of diversification will take more time and more intense efforts. But those who feel threatened with the diversity must adjust, as America is becoming more like Baskin-Robbins, but with even more flavors. America was once a cultural melting pot; today, it is a cultural mosaic. It is undeniably in our best interest as a nation to accept the beauty of every race, as America is home to nearly all races of the world.

The face of America has changed, but we now eagerly await a similar revolution in its voice. As an American by birth, an Indian by lineage and an Asian by legal classification, I put my ear to the sky, hoping to hear a whisper from the moon. Its light is universal, as are the inalienable rights all humans share, despite recent events and murmurings that would suggest otherwise. Still, one message rumbles the earth and echoes through the night sky; it is a new era, and lady luck speaks many languages.

• Shaan Khan, a freshman at Howard University, is a graduate of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn and a recipient of a Daily Herald 2012 Leadership Team honorable mention.

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