The face of the American girl is changing.
Last night, 24 year old Rima Fakih, an Arab American of Lebanese descent, beat 50 other women in the 2010 Miss USA competition. She’s believed to be the first Arab American and Muslim to win the contest.
Fakih was born in Lebanon and was brought to the United States by her parents as a small child. She grew up in New York City, and moved to Dearborn, Michigan in 2003, which has a large Arab American community.
Her new title immediately engendered a heated debate online, running the gamut from Michigan pride to furious tirades about immigrants — particularly Arabs — not being fit to represent the U.S. in this spotlight. One commenter, who’s handle is “Rooster,” wrote the following addendum to a Yahoo news article about Fakih:
“Just great, we get an immigrant for Miss USA?????? What Reall American women aren’t good enough anymore. What a Freakin’ joke.”
AD: You are certainly navigating territory no Arab American has ever navigated before. Why do you think that is?
Rima: I think that’s most likely the case for a couple of reasons. I think many Arab Americans are skeptical considering things that happened in the country. They think that they don’t stand a chance of winning, and therefore it’s a waste of time to try. Another reason could be that they are embarrassed by what others will think about their daughter being in a beauty pageant. To me, people who think this way can’t be proud of who they are. And if you’re not proud of who you are, you won’t be able to achieve anything.
AD: How do you suppose your face being the face of Miss Michigan, and hopefully Miss USA, will affect the current image of Arab Americans?
Rima: Well, I think it would prove that Arabs don’t always try to separate themselves, but instead are integrated into American culture. It would show the world that yes, there are Arabs that are beautiful not only in looks, but also on the inside. There are Arabs that are caring, that are good people, and who love the country they live in. I think it would make the Arab image a more positive one.
Though Fakih’s Americanism was not questioned on stage, the national immigration debate did surface when runner-up Miss Oklahoma Morgan Elizabeth Woolard was asked her thoughts on Arizona’s controversial new law requiring police to verify a person’s immigration status if there’s “reasonable suspicion” they are in the country illegally. She did not shy away from the issue, clearly stating that she supports the law.
“I’m a huge believer in states’ rights. I think that’s what’s so wonderful about America. So I think it’s perfectly fine for Arizona to create that law.”
There was some speculation online afterward that Woolard’s answer didn’t jive with the political sensibility of the judges, who wanted to make a pro-immigrant rather than anti-immigrant statement, and that’s why she fell short of winning the crown.
At any rate, many in the audience were of the opinion that the beauty contest should be completely separate from politics—Judge Oscar Nunez was booed for posing the question.