ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Nina Davuluri isn’t the first Miss America of color. She’s not even the first Asian-American to wear the crown. But her victory has clearly struck a chord in some quarters.
At a news conference held after her name was announced Sunday night, the first question was about a slew of social media users apparently upset that someone of Indian heritage had won. Some tweets called her Arab and a terrorist.
“I have to rise above that,” said Davuluri, who competed as Miss New York. “I always viewed myself as first and foremost American.”
She said she’s delighted that the nearly century-old pageant sees beauty and talent of all kinds.
“I’m so happy this organization has embraced diversity,” she said. “I’m thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America.”
Her pageant platform was “celebrating diversity through cultural competency.” Her talent routine was a Bollywood fusion dance.
Davuluri, a 24-year-old native of Syracuse, N.Y., wants to be a doctor and is applying to medical school, with the help of a $50,000 scholarship she won as part of the pageant title. She’s the second consecutive Miss New York to win the Miss America crown, succeeding Mallory Hagan, who was selected in January.
Davuluri’s grandmother said she cried when she saw the news on television.
“I am very, very happy for the girl. It was her dream, and it was fulfilled,” 89-year-old Vege Koteshwaramma said by phone from her home in Vijaywada, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
There are numerous doctors in the family, in the U.S. and India, she said, and if her granddaughter wants to become one, “I am sure she will do it.”
Asked about her granddaughter appearing in a bikini, given the conservative attitudes in India, Koteshwaramma said: “I haven’t seen any such thing. This must be all part of the competition.”
Davuluri is the second Asian-American winner, after Angela Perez-Baraquio, who is of Filipino descent and won in 2001.
She now heads to New York City to prepare for TV talk show appearances and plans to take in Broadway musicals over the next several days.
On Tuesday, she’ll see “Pippin.” On Wednesday, she’ll meet former Miss America and fellow Syracuse native Vanessa Williams and see “The Trip To Bountiful,” in which Williams appears.
Williams became the first black Miss America in 1984 but resigned after Penthouse magazine published nude photographs of her.
Monday morning, Davuluri took the traditional ocean frolic dip in the surf in front of Boardwalk Hall, where she won the title hours earlier. The pageant, which originated in Atlantic City in 1921, spent the past six years in Las Vegas before returning to New Jersey.
“Welcome home, Miss America!” Davuluri said as she stood barefoot in the shallow surf, wearing a lime green Miss America T-shirt and white shorts. “We’re back in Atlantic City!”
Davuluri had planned to go to the scene of a devastating boardwalk fire in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights on Monday afternoon. But pageant officials canceled that visit after learning that Gov. Chris Christie was making cabinet officials available at that time to business owners victimized by the fire and said Davuluri will visit later.
Associated Press writer to Omer Farooq in Hyderabad, India, contributed to this report.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC