September 16, 2013

Miss America pageant puts Indian Americans in the spotlight

FT_miss-america-discriminationThis past weekend, for the first time in its history, the Miss America pageant crowned an Indian American as the winner. The announcement was followed by a barrage of tweets disparaging the beauty queen’s ethnic heritage and questioning whether her Indian background makes her less “American.”

The new Miss America is 24-year-old Nina Davuluri of Fayetteville, N.Y. Her parents emigrated from India 30 years ago. Davuluri, who is a graduate of the University of Michigan, plans to attend medical school and become a physician, like her father.

The Indian American community, now numbering more than 3 million, has notably high rates of education. According to the American Community Survey, seven-in-ten Indian Americans ages 25 and older have a college degree, compared with 28% of the general population. A Pew Research Center survey of Asian Americans conducted in 2012 found that a majority of first-generation (foreign-born) Indian Americans (71%) cite educational or economic opportunities as the main reason they decided to move to the United States.

The survey also found that few Indian Americans (10%) say discrimination against their community is a major problem. Nearly half (48%) see discrimination as a minor problem, while 38% say it is not a problem at all. When asked about their personal experiences with discrimination, most Indian Americans (81%) say they have not been treated unfairly because of their national origin, but nearly a fifth (18%) say they have faced discrimination. And while a large majority of Indian Americans (90%) say they have not been called offensive names, 10% say they have had that experience.

Topics: Discrimination and Prejudice

  1. Photo of Neha Sahgal

    is associate director of religion research at Pew Research Center.