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Miss America pageant puts Indian Americans in the spotlight


This 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.