Since Paromita Mitra was crowned Miss Mississippi USA last fall she’s represented her state at the Miss USA pageant in June, advocated for women in the sciences and started her senior year at Mississippi State University, where she is majoring in aerospace engineering with a minor in mathematics. The Bangladesh-born Mitra is a pageant veteran, having won the Miss Mississippi Teen USA pageant in 2009. We reached out to her via email to ask her for her thoughts on the Miss America pageant, Nina Davuluri’s big win and life as a South Asian on the pageant circuit.
What was your first thought when you heard that a South Asian American, Nina Davuluri, was the new Miss America?
I was excited to hear that someone else was striving for the same goals as myself. Along with Nina, Miss America had two Indian contestants this year including District of Columbia, Bindhu Pamarthi. That in itself is saying so much! It is such a beautiful thing that we as South Asians know and understand how to take advantage of our freedom in this country and give back as valued citizens.
Did you watch the pageant?
I certainly did.
What did you think of her Bollywood fusion dance?
As a Bengali folk/Bollywood dancer myself, I thought she did a terrific job! She portrayed our culture in such a beautiful and entertaining way.
Were you surprised at all of the racist tweets directed towards Miss America after her win?
I was shocked and embarrassed for those who did not even have enough sense to differentiate between religion and geography. I could not fathom that there is still so much ignorance in the world today. People with such petty opinions quite frankly should not even be acknowledged. I do however, understand racism still exists, but America’s history is based upon immigration. A naturalized U.S. citizen [like me] has every right to hold a national title and be an ambassador for our country. If anything, being from another country helps us to better appreciate how lucky we really are as Americans.
How does it feel when you hear Nina’s Americanness being questioned?
I find it sad. I feel bad for those who do not have enough of an open mind to appreciate the real beauty of our country: our diversity.
You and Nina are very similar in that you both have strong science backgrounds and want to encourage girls to enter those fields. What’s the biggest stereotype people have about the pageant scene?
Teaching children the importance of a higher education has been my entire motivating factor for the title of Miss Mississippi USA 2013. Both the Miss USA and Miss America organizations motivate women to work for a cause. As an aerospace engineering student, my passion to teach about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (S.T.E.M.) topics has granted me the opportunity to change the lives of children I came across during my reign. I was able to travel all over my state and the USA to speak on why education is important and it would not have been possible without my title. I know that when women in pageantry are very passionate about their personal causes, they can make a serious difference in the lives of others. Aside from the negative stereotypes we see on television about pageants being vapid and shallow (i.e., Toddlers and Tiaras), the sparkly crown only gives us an opportunity to go out into our communities and make a change using our own personal causes.
What have your experiences been like as a South Asian on the pageant circuit?
Fortunately I have received so much positive support from Mississippi, the USA and people in Bangladesh. I was recently able to travel Bangladesh for a press conference and was honored by the U.S. Embassy there. Of course there were a few naysayers opposing my reign and telling me that I “didn’t look like a Miss Mississippi,” but it was such a small percentage, I was able to ignore it. That is my exact advice for Nina — she has come such a long way and there are more people in this world that want to see her succeed rather than fail. The negativity is too small of a percentage to even acknowledge. Hurt people hurt people.