Stepping aboard a tourist ferry, a group of beautiful ladies in stilettos huddled together to pose for a photo op. In far front stood a lithe beauty sporting bright eyes and a wavy red hair. She stands with a hint of authority and as if she has an air of sophistication and experience lacking on the other girls. She smiled nicely and no one perhaps can miss her aura for she is Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella.
The girls who just boarded the tourist ferry are the contestants of the Miss USA 2012 pageant. They are chattering and it is amazing to hear various accents reflective of how diverse America is. There’s that distinctive Southern accent, a more familiar New England tone and some Midwestern drawl to complete the diorama. E pluribus unum – out from many, one – is the national motto of United States and it is the resolute basis of multiculturalism in the country and is very much alive and evident in a national beauty pageant just like Miss USA.
Unlike its rival, Miss America, Miss USA seems to be more diverse in picking up its winners. In 2007 a bi-racial Rachel Smith represented the country at the Miss Universe 2007 contest held in Mexico. In 2009, the pageant crowned a southern belle in the name of Kristen Dalton and in 2010 it made history by electing Rima Fakih, an Arab-American beauty and so far the only known Muslim Miss USA. Last year a red-head (by choice) stunner named Alyssa Campanella - whose name reminds us all of the Italian community in the country – took the title.
This year, the multicultural and multi-ethnic soul of United States is very much apparent at the pageant. Miss New York is from the Caribbean Hispaniola. Miss Texas is as blonde as Marilyn Monroe. Miss Minnesota was originally from Laos born in a Thai refugee camp and brought to the United States as an infant. Such a colorful tableau of multi-racial backgrounds reinforces the notion that the country, albeit not 100%, is post-racial. Barack Obama after all is the current leader of the nation founded in an age when just having a black family in a White House dinner could trigger a scandal.
Miss USA pageant is very much like an evolved America – it is best when it exults the wisdom of diversity. It becomes boring when it is not. Consider the fact that the last two Misses Universe from the country reflect not a monotonous racial profile but an amalgam of two or more racial origins.
In 1995, Chelsi Mariam Pearl Smith donning the costume of suffragettes – the activists that gave American women the right to vote – wowed the post apartheid Namibia with her racial profile. She is a living evidence that the “fish” and “bird” can fall in love and they can build their “nest” anywhere they like. Chelsi who hails from the shadows of oil refineries and tank terminals of Deer Park, Texas was born to a black father and a white mother. Chelsi is a testament of the evolution of racial perspective in the country. Decades ago, her parents’ marriage would be illegal in more than 10 states.
Chelsi won the Miss Universe 1995 crown handily thanks to her brilliant answer that even edged out the intelligent contestant from India. It is unavoidable though to surmise that she could have won the approval of a country that has also suffered under the yoke of racism. A black Miss USA winning the crown in post-apartheid Namibia is not just setting a subtle racial overtone. It is a triumph of the ideals that counter the very notion of racial purity and racial superiority
Similarly, Miss Universe 1997 Mahealani Brook Lee invokes the fact that an American can be an amalgam of races. Describing herself as a Hawaiian-Korean but definitely American, Mahealani is a quarter of this race and that race – her race is anything but “pure” which is actually the very essence of a modern American. Mahealani is in every way Hawaiian, a state so far from the mainland that it has more racial diversity concentrated in such a relatively small land mass and perhaps more racial diverse than any other state.
Mahealani won the crown because she showed more elegance than the more physically beautiful contestant from Venezuela. Her final answer about eating everything twice if there are no pageant rules shows her genuineness mixed with her own sense of humor and somehow alluding to the fact that her immediate predecessor ran into trouble for gaining weight during her reign. No wonder perhaps that Alicia Machado appeared to smirk when she crowned Mahealani.
As the examples have shown, America seems to be doing great when it is sending delegates that represent its cultural diversity. Is it safe to assume that the Miss USA 2012 will be someone who is bi-racial or someone who reflects racial diversity in the United States? Perhaps not. The last time that USA almost snatched the crown (and is its best performance since Mahealani’s victory), its representative represents the most dominant racial make-up of the country. Shandi Finessey, Miss Universe 2004 first runner-up, is white and blonde and she almost became Miss Universe if only an Australian stunner gave way.
It’s true that it is been a while since a white woman won the Miss Universe crown for the United States. The changing taste of beauty is a major factor here. Reality says, a multi-racial Miss USA has a bigger chance of winning the Miss Universe crown but it would be grossly wrong to assume that it will always be the case. Miss USA should enjoy the racial diversity of its contestants but by the end of the day, whoever is the best should win be she black, white, brown or somewhere in between.