THE BLOG
09/17/2013 01:27 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2013

Nina Davuluri's Story Is an American Story, Not an Indian One

If there is one Indian who should really be upset about some of the racist garbage tossed at Miss America Nina Davuluri, it's her maternal grandmother, 89-year-old V Koteshwaramma of Vijaywada.

But she's chosen to focus on the positives. "I am very, very happy for the girl," she told Associated Press. "It was her dream and it was fulfilled."

Not a word about doing India proud.

Indians should all take a deep breath and learn from Koteshwaramma before running headlines like the one The Times of India chose to splash on its front page.

"Racist remarks sour Indian girl's Miss America moment."

It's understandable we may all want to bask in her newly crowned glory, but Nina Davuluri is not Indian. She's American through and through. Born in Syracuse, raised in Oklahoma and Michigan -- this is a 100 percent American story. Her being trained in Kuchipudi dance or being able to speak Telugu or having visited Vijaywada in 2007 does not change that one bit.

The storm in a Twitter tea-cup is in fact about some Americans having a problem with her all-American-ness. Her becoming Miss America represents a reality about their country that they are not willing to accept. It is really not India's problem.

Davuluri made that explicit in her first statements after becoming Miss America. "I have to rise above (the hate). I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."

The last thing Indians should do is try to claim her as their own by saying she has not forgotten her roots as PTI has done. (To be pedantic her roots are actually in Syracuse and Oklahoma. Her parents' roots are in Andhra, a state they left in 1981, before she was born).

Indians can rejoice as spectators, but this story is not changing American perceptions of India. At best it's changing a larger American perception of Indian-American. "Davuluri's victory in a beauty pageant, challenges perceptions that Indians are only geeky, or only small business owners," writes Ruchika Tulshyan in Forbes. "Indeed the uproar against her win is interesting -- I wouldn't be writing this if she had won a Spelling Bee or Mathematics competition."

Or even the governorship of an American state, now that Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley have shown the way.

It's as if beauty is the last frontier for some Americans grudgingly willing to accept Americans of another color in other fields. As Wajahat Ali quips on Twitter Davuluri's win smells to them like a eight-point South Asian stealth takeover of America -" 1) Subways 2) Motels 3) 7-11′s 4) Taxis 5) Tech Support 6) Spelling Bees 7) ER's 8) #Miss America."

But jokes aside, this is really an American story, not one about Nina Davuluri upending Grace Kelly as an icon of beauty. There should be room for more than one icon anyway. If the Miss World and Miss Universe wins for Indian beauty queens Aishwariya Rai and Sushmita Sen in the '90s was in many ways an acknowledgement of the opening of the Indian markets to global cosmetic brands, Davuluri's win is an acknowledgment of another ground reality -- the inexorable browning of America.

Essayist Richard Rodriguez, author of the book Brown: The last discovery of America, says in an interview that he remembered a blonde woman who would come to the family Christmas gathering with all his Indian relatives. She had married his uncle's nephew whom she met as a law student in Berkeley.

"What I realize now was that that woman's blondness was not an exception to our brownness but was deepening our brownness, was darkening our brownness," says Rodriguez. "Her very blondness was making our brownness deeper and richer."

Nina Davuluri's victory is the other side of that same coin, part of that same process of enrichment and deepening or what Rodriguez calls "brown meltdown" that is happening in the United States. A blonde country's roots are showing and do not have to be dyed into acceptance. This is less about America's embrace of India, much as Indians might like to spin it that way, as it is about America's startled embrace of itself.

Another version of this blog originally appeared on Firstpost.com.

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