U.S.

First Indian-American crowned Miss America

Nina Davuluri, an aspiring physician, wins $50,000 scholarship

Miss America 2014, New York's Nina Davuluri, receives her crown from the outgoing titleholder, New York's Mallory Hagan, in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sept. 15.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

A 24-year-old native of Syracuse, N.Y., became the first Miss America of Indian descent Monday night.

Pageant winner Nina Davuluri wants to be a doctor and is applying to medical school, with the help of a $50,000 scholarship she won with the title.

Moments after being chosen, Davuluri described how delighted she was that the nearly century-old pageant sees beauty and talent of all kinds.

"I'm so happy this organization has embraced diversity," she said in her first news conference after winning the crown in Atlantic City, N.J. "I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America."

Davuluri's win prompted congratulations and praise, but it also drew a stream of racist tweets questioning whether Davuluri is "American enough" to deserve the crown. Some maligned her as a "terrorist" or mockingly referred to her as "Miss 7-11."

"I have to rise above that," she said. "I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."

This isn't the first time a Miss New York crowned Miss America has had to deal with discrimination.

Bess Myerson, who won the crown in 1945, becoming the first and so far the only Jewish woman to win, encountered prejudice during her reign. A pageant official suggested she change her name to something that sounded less Jewish, according to a 1995 interview in Jewish Weekly.

Davuluri is the second consecutive Miss New York to be Miss America, succeeding Mallory Hagan, who was selected in January in Las Vegas. For the 2014 title, the competition returned to its traditional Atlantic City location and September timing. The Miss America Organization will compensate Hagan for her shortened reign.

Davuluri's pageant platform was "celebrating diversity through cultural competency." Her talent routine was a Bollywood-fusion dance.

Her grandmother told The Associated Press that 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 told the AP by phone from her home in the city of Vijaywada in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She said there are many doctors in the family in the U.S. and India and that if her granddaughter plans to become one as well, "I am sure she will do it."

Davuluri had planned to go to the scene of a devastating boardwalk fire in the New Jersey communities of 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 then to business owners victimized by the fire.

Davuluri will visit at an unscheduled date, pageant officials said.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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