Nina Davuluri Is America's Future

Nina Davuluri Is America's Future

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Nina Davuluri is the first Indian American to hold the title of Miss America. It should be something for all Americans to celebrate. Alas, it's a victory marred by waves of racist backlash in social media. Davuluri is called a "terrorist," and derogatory references to convenience stores - "Miss 7-Eleven" - and Muslims are mentioned. But the biggest complaint? Miss America should be more "American."

Perhaps what the haters resent is that immigration and diversity have irrevocably changed who is an American these days. U.S. demographics are shifting toward a reality where non-white groups are emerging as majorities. By 2050, whites will represent less than 50 percent of the U.S. population, while minorities will reach 54 percent, an astonishing shift.

But diversity is nothing new. What is new is that at the dawn of the 21st century, many of us have finally overcome our xenophobia, our fear and distrust of "the other" to celebrate our complexity in an epic way.

After all, we elected Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, and his is a global biography -- Muslim father from Kenya, white mother, raised in Hawaii and Indonesia with a half-sister who is part Indonesian and married to a Chinese man, with a grandmother in Kenya and relatives in Kansas. Obama gives all of us license to embrace our diversity and still call ourselves Americans.

In San Francisco, where I live, the year 2050 has already arrived. Mayor Ed Lee is Chinese American. The population is so diverse here that no one group constitutes more than 50 percent, and more than 100 languages are spoken on any given day. It's a city where the Chinese New Year parade is followed by the St. Patrick's Day parade, followed by the Carnaval Parade, followed by the Cinco de Mayo Parade, and followed by the Gay Pride Parade. In my mind's eye, they crisscross into one another, amalgamating toward a hopeful future.

What happens in San Francisco doesn't stay in San Francisco. Already we see signs of this demographic shift everywhere: Arab Americans as a major voting bloc in Dearborn, Mich., Cambodians as an emerging voting bloc in Lowell, Mass., Vietnamese a major voting block in Houston, Tex. and in Orange County, Calif.

In Louisiana, there's an Indian-American governor. And now, an Indian American has become Miss America.

To her credit, Davuluri, who plans to become a cardiologist, shrugged off the haters. "I have to rise above that," she said according to AP. "I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."

"I'm so happy this organization has embraced diversity," she added. "I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America."

Every generation needs to redefine its American identity, to claim it for themselves. To do so, they need a sense of openness, an acceptance that identity is not fixed in stone but open-ended and inclusive.

In the spirit of diversity, I, too, am rooting for Miss Davuluri, America's future.

Another version of this commentary appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Andrew Lam is author of "Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora," and "East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres." His first book of fiction, "Birds of Paradise Lost" was published in March 2013.