We welcome this post written by Shikha Upadhyaya, a P.h.D student at the University of Wyoming.
The world witnessed the crowning of the “new face” of America on the night of September 15, 2013. People all over the world went to various social media outlets to express their views about the new Miss America. Although ethnolinguistic diversity is intuitively considered to be at the core of “American Life,” Americans and non-Americans within United States and all over the world were divided in their views on whether America is ready to be represented by an Indian-American face. This is particularly ironic given the fact that ethnolinguistic diversity is an observable reality of American life. Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014) aptly stressed this fact during her CNN interview, “…the girl next door is evolving, as the diversity of America evolves. She’s not who she was 10 years ago, and she’s not going to be the same person come 10 years down the road.” Diversity has always been an integral and a “normal” aspect of being an American. Hence, it is safe to state that the new face of Miss America basically legitimized the existence and importance of diversity in the United States.
While mainstream media in U.S. was cheering Miss America 2014 for her talent, beauty and her courage to represent ethnolinguistic diversity in America, many fans from India applauded her for becoming the first Indian-American to be Miss America. Soon thereafter the conversation shifted to derogatory racist commentaries based on the color of her skin. While such commentaries within the U.S. were racist in nature, Indian media personalities and past beauty queens were engaging in controversial conversations related to whether Davuluri was “white” enough (from an Indian perspective) to win the contest.
The beauty industry in India establishes and promotes the idea that women need to be white in order to be beautiful. A particular shade of the skin becomes the yardstick for assessing the sociocultural worth of a human being. This is particularly prevalent within Indian beauty pageants. While these pageants claim to provide an important toolkit for young women to be successful in their lives, the process of “grooming” these young women leaves a lasting scar in their personal lives as well as on millions of other aspiring young women in India. These grooming rituals particularly valorize white skin as the ideal skin color, therefrom associating it with higher social and economic status. Successful Bollywood actors and actresses are part of advertisements for skin whitening creams associated with big brand names. In a sociocultural context where movie actors and actresses become “heroes” and “heroines” of an ordinary citizen’s day to day life, endorsements of such products perpetuates this social stigma associated with darker skin. Furthermore, this constantly communicates the fact that you have to be of a particular skin color to be successful in your life. Hence, this gendered assertion pertaining to skin color and success tacitly pressurizes young women to be in continuous dangerous pursuit of the “unnatural” in the construction of the “natural.”
Critics of beauty pageants label it as a public event that objectifies women and distorts socioeconomic realties. While these oppositional arguments cannot be dismissed, it is also difficult to ignore the massive public appeal of these competitive contests. While beauty pageants may not accurately reflect social realities, they surely have the capacity to represent the fantasy wherefrom adverse sociocultural ideologies pertaining to genders are reinforced and legitimized. Hence, it is critical to reflect upon broad sociocultural and economic implications of beauty pageants in the day-to-day lives of common people, irrespective of where one comes from.
For more on this subject, read Susan Dewey’s Making Miss India Miss World.
Nothing fits a warm summer night better than a great old car show. Well the biggest and best old car show in Central New York takes place every day at the wonderful Northeast Classic Car Museum in Norwich (Chenango County).
When you first step in to one of their several large showrooms it is sensory overload. Cars are lined up as far as the eye can see: red, black, white, turquoise, brown, green. They look like Life Savers on wheels. It is positively dazzling!
There are more than 150 cars on display every day at this unknown museum in Norwich. From Model T and Model As, to big-finned classics from the 1950s, to the muscle cars of the 1960s they are all here. Of special note is the largest collection of Franklin Automobiles under one roof. These cars were made up until 1934 in Syracuse. Other local auto manufacturers are represented here as well.
Some of the surest head-turners are the giant, block-long cars of the 1920s and 1930s. There are several Dusenbergs, Packards and Cords here that are as long as boats and have every imaginable accessory to ferry around the rich and famous of the day.
The thing I like best about the Northeast Classic Car Museum is its multi-generational appeal. This is the perfect place for Grandpa to bring his grandson (or granddaughter) to and give them a lesson on yesteryear. Both generations will love it. Granddad will enjoy reminiscing about his first car and the kids will love all the fancy, colorful features that make almost every auto here look as if it sprang from one of today’s superhero movies.
This is a nice museum, a little off the beaten path, but certainly worth a couple of hours on a a warm sunny Saturday! It is also a chapter in my new book Unknown Museums of Upstate New York.
You may remember our Summer Road Trip series with author and radio personality Chuck D’Imperio. Over the course of the summer Chuck took our readers on a tour of the most fascinating monuments, statues, and memorials in Upstate New York, all found in his book Monumental New York! He shared stories about the famous and infamous personalities to ever tread the forests, fields, and city streets of the Empire State.
Fortunately, Chuck is back with a new book and whole new set of summer travel ideas. Unknown Museums of Upstate New York: A Guide to 50 Treasures will be out later this summer but you will get a sneak-peek every few weeks when Chuck drops in on the blog to highlight a museum in this year’s Summer Road Trip series….starting today!
One of my favorite stops along the “museum trail” is the Gomez Mill House in Marlboro (www.gomez.org). The community lies on the border of Ulster and Orange County on the west bank of the Hudson River. The Gomez Mill House is steeped in history. It is the oldest surviving Jewish home in the United States.
Its graceful stonewalls, lush gardens, and old wooden water wheel give it a peaceful and nostalgic air. Inside the walls you will find the stories of five different prominent New York families (and others) who have resided there. It is totally fascinating and clearly one of the best kept secrets in the Hudson Valley. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the home and events and celebrations are planned.
Why not mark it down on your “trip catalog” for this summer and get a first look at this incredible landmark? The docents are well versed and the stories they tell are really the stuff that legends are made of.
Original builder Luis Moses Gomez was a Sephardic Jewish merchant and trader who established the first synagogue of Sherarith Israel and in 1728 served as its first president. The congregation, still in existence in New York City, is the oldest one in the United States. The families who followed the Gomez family as residents (Acker, Armstrong, Hunter and Gruening) are equally important and touched every aspect of American culture over the centuries from politics to literature to craftsmanship to military.
I spent an entire afternoon here recently and can’t wait to go back. As you quietly walk from room to room to room you can actually sense the heft of history found in this home. You will love the Gomez Mill House….an unknown museum of upstate New York that I write about in my new book.