Reflections on the New Miss America

Full disclosure: I have never watched the full Miss America pageant. I actually didn’t even know it was still televised until this year. It’s been a few weeks now since Nina Davuluri made headlines as the first woman of Indian descent to be crowned Miss America. Honestly, I was a little torn between my urge to cheer her on as a fellow Asian-American and my urge to scoff at the existence of the pageant altogether.

Miss America has long been one of critics’ favorite examples of the ongoing objectification of women in American culture. I, myself, have never really thought of it as much more than a parade of bathing suits. Seriously, the only televised portion of the pageant that requires the women to speak lasts all of 6 minutes.

But winner Nina Davuluri has turned much of the discussion surrounding the pageant to a more positive note. Actually, not since Sandra Bullock as Miss Congeniality (in a thinly-veiled imitation, the Miss United States pageant) has a person helped the pageant world receive such good publicity. Almost everyone praised the Miss AmNina Davulurierica pageant for its pick of a winner that accurately represented this country’s diversity.

Something else that has been largely overshadowed by her descent is the fact that Nina Davuluri is also an aspiring medical school student. She also hopes to serve as a spokesperson for STEM education. As such, Nina Davuluri seemingly breaks the stereotype that Miss America is selected only on the basis of a pretty face and reminds the public that the Miss America pageant is technically a scholarship program, a fact also conveniently highlighted in Miss Congeniality (seriously, that movie was like a Miss America 101 course).

But since we can’t seem to have nice things, much of the reported controversy following Nina Davuluri’s win also came from the slew of racist comments about her descent. The racism that followed failed to show much beyond maybe the apparent need for more education in geography (c’mon guys, India and Iraq aren’t remotely the same place). Although the negative comments found its way to various corners of social media, the general response were words of encouragement and approval.

Personally, I’m starting to come around a little on Miss America. When I was living in Europe as a kid, my family was pretty consistently the only Asian one in the neighborhood. So when we first settled down in the States, I liked being able to see women who looked like me in movies and on TV. Watching Lucy Liu kick butt in Charlie’s Angels was actually pretty important to me and my feeling of belonging. In that sense, I think Nina Davuluri serves a similar purpose: she is someone who showcases the country’s cultural diversity, appropriately one of the issues she hopes to promote in the upcoming year. I, for one, look forward to Nina Davuluri’s reign as the new Miss America.


Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Tips from Across the Atlantic

I spent last month traveling around Europe, where I mostly frolicked around in art museums and cathedrals. Not a bad life. I also ate some pretty fantastic food, and each time the bill came, I automatically started doing my usual mental math: there’s the total, move the decimal point, multiply by two. Oh wait was that the amount before tax? Do we have more than six in our party? More than once, I was reminded that we were not expected to leave anywhere near the familiar 15-20% tip, and a service charge was sometimes already in place.

Here in the States, tipping has become standard in the service industry, especially in  restaurant culture. Eateries that offer alternatives to the tipping system are far and few. Studies have shown that Americans overwhelmingly prefer tipping to a service charge. Maybe we feel that a service charge deprives us of the power to stick it to bad waiters, but studies have shown that the correlation between tips and service is weak. Tips are based largely on the bill amount, and customers usually tip the same percentage regardless of service quality.


The U.S. is also one of the only countries to establish a separate minimum wage for tipped employees. While the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the minimum tipped wage is only $2.13. Minimum wage in the U.S. lags behind much of western Europe, but the situation is worse for tipped employees. While minimum wage was last raised in 2009, tipped minimum wage has remained stagnant for the last twenty-two years. To put that into perspective, twenty-two years ago, a loaf of bread cost an average of 70 cents.

It’s common to think of tips as a reward for good service or the lack of tips as punishment for bad, but as it currently stands, restaurant workers rely almost entirely on tips to make a living. As a result, many struggle to make ends meet. Are we too cynical for the argument that decently paid workers will deliver good service without the additional incentive? I hope not. Employers should not be able to pay their wait staff the same wages as they did in 1991, and I challenge anyone to find bread now for 70 cents. As the battle for higher pay wages on (pun a little bit intended), let’s extend the case to include the tipped workers, lest we make them eat cake.


Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.