Immigrants Changing the Face of Miss USA Pageant

The Miss USA Pageant has been an annual tradition since 1952, and the competition is celebrated for its glamorous contestants, from all 50 states, wearing swimsuits and evening gowns on stage, and participating in a nerve wracking live interview to gauge their knowledge on current events and global issues. But five of the contestants in this year’s competition, which aired live from Las Vegas on May 14th, want to focus on encouraging immigrant girls and women to work hard and make their American dreams come true. That’s because the contestants are immigrants themselves, who came to the United States as young children with their families to build a new life.

Chhavi Verg, a 20-year-old student at Rutgers University, is Miss New Jersey and ended up being named the first runner-up in the Miss USA competition. She and her parents are also testaments to the American dream. Verg was only 4 years of age when she emigrated with her family from India. Her parents came to America with just $500. After necessities, there was not even enough to afford a coat for her first winter in America. “I want to show Americans that the definition of what it means to be American is changing,” Verg said in an interview with the Associated Press. “It’s not just one face. There are many different people who are Americans, and I feel like AsianAmericans often times are left out of the conversation.”

Linnette De Los Santos is Miss Florida and a proud immigrant who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was five years old. She was excited to share her accomplishments with the world while competing for the Miss USA crown because “As Miss USA, I would love to be able to be that inspiration for our immigrant community. If I would have stopped following my dreams and working hard towards what I wanted, I wouldn’t be sitting here as Miss Florida USA, or in law school ready to become an immigration attorney.”

Miss North Dakota is Raquel Wellentin, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines when she was two, echoed similar sentiments in an interview with The Associated Press. Despite feeling out of place and isolated in the small North Dakota town where her family first settled, Wellentin recalls her father telling her, “‘… you are very unique yourself. You have to be strong and really accept this negativity from other people and have it motivate you.'” Wellentin took her father’s advice to heart and is now pursuing a career as a teacher. She wants to use the Miss USA pageant as a platform to “tell people that they need to make sure that they should not allow anyone to tell them that they can’t do something because only you can determine your future.” [See 5 Immigrant Women Vie for Miss USA Pageant Title, by Regina Garcia Cano, Associated Press, 11.May.2017; and Government Scientist from DC Wins Miss USA Title, by Regina Garcia Cano, Associated Press, 15.May.2017.]

Olga Litvinenko is Miss Connecticut, and came to the United States from Ukraine at the age of three, after her mother was selected via lottery for a green card. Meanwhile, Julie Kuo is Miss Hawaii, and became the first TaiwaneseAmerican woman to compete in the Miss USA pageant. These remarkable women are all hard working, talented, and accomplished U.S. citizens, who came to our shores as immigrants. As they competed amidst the glitz and glamour of this year’s Miss USA pageant, their message to the millions watching was clear: Immigrants are part of our American story, and they are keeping the American dream alive and well.


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