Who Gets to be an American?

16 Sep
Miss America

Miss America

Today is sandwiched between Sunday September 15th, when Nina Davaluri was crowned Miss America, and Tuesday September 17th, when PBS airs its three part series, “Latino Americans”. So the PBS special will illustrate the long-standing, vital contributions of Latinos in the United States, but on Sunday, a handful of pig-headed racists unleashed their vitriol on Twitter and voiced their displeasure at Miss America being non-white. These knuckle-draggers clearly equate American-ness with whiteness. The PBS series will show us Latinos the history of our involvement in the Unites States and its evolution, but perhaps this is a documentary that should be viewed by all Americans, latino and non-Latino. There are many people out there who still hold a very narrow view of who is and isn’t American.

I am always surprised at the way that certain white folks view America- they see it as the land where they can trace the history of their family for generations. The sense of ownership in the land gives them a view of America as unchanging, a palce where one can draw a straight line from white colonist to white suburban homeowner. Yet for those of us who see America through the eyes of relative newcomers- my Mom came as a kid- we see this country as a place of opportunity, where our families got to start over. We don’t freak out at the prospect of a multiracial America, because we are multiracial America. This country is great precisely because it is based on an idea- that you can pursue happiness and remake yourself. It is a dream open to all, from the descendents of slaves to Cuban emigrés to the parents of beautiful Nina Davaluri.

This country is so great that Indians have noted that a dark-skinned beauty such as Davaluri would never be given this platform on the Indian subcontinent. In Huffington Post, Riddhi Shah writes, “the world’s most influential country is showing my people that a deep velvet brown complexion is nothing to be ashamed of.” So yes, a few racists have found a very loud mouthpiece, but at the end of the day, Nina Davaluri’s selection as Miss America is something to be proud of.  America is made up of much more than a few blowhards with Twitter accounts.

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