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What does it mean to be beautiful and Taiwanese?
Publication Date : 22-09-2013
On September 15, New York state's contestant in the Miss America 2014 pageant, Nina Davuluri, became the first woman of Indian descent to wear the tiara that symbolises what it means to be the most beautiful American woman in the nation. Being the first American of Indian heritage to receive the Miss America title in the 92-year-old beauty pageant, Davuluri found she was subjected to much racism and hate predominantly from online social networks, accusing her of not being a true American. Many severely uninformed netizens even hurled insults at the 24-year-old, who graduated from the University of Michigan where she studied brain behaviour and cognitive science, associating her with Muslim extremists and terrorists.
With the spotlight of social media coverage focusing on the first Indian-American to take home the Miss America crown, not much was said of this year's Miss America runners-up. The racially diverse list included two of Asian-American heritage, with first runner-up Miss California Crystal Lee and fourth runner-up Miss Minnesota Rebecca Yeh.
National beauty pageants, although still controversial because of accusations of objectifying women, exist in almost every country. They define what it is to be of that nation, morphed with the highest form of beauty one can hold. It is the combination of the embodiment of the best that nation has to offer in terms of national spirit and beauty. With firsts like Davuluri's, definitions and conceptions of beauty and nationality are being challenged and altered.
With the US being a nation with a densely diverse racial background, the controversial issue of whether or not minorities conform to traditional “white” conceptions of beauty seems to still be prevalent. Reeling the issue back to Taiwan, where the ethnic makeup of the nation is predominantly Han, the same problems may very well emerge in the near future.
Racial discrimination in Taiwan against people from Southeast Asia is not uncommon. Currently there are 230,000 foreign laborers in the nation, mostly Indonesian and Vietnamese, according to the Foreign Workers News Agency. Discrimination against this labor force then manifests itself in a stereotype Taiwanese people associate with Southeast Asians. However, Taiwan has recently begun to accommodate many new immigrants, mostly from Southeast Asia, who have settled here and raised families.
A look into statistics from the Ministry of Education shows that 2012's academic year saw a 5.3-percent increase in new immigrant students enrolled in elementary schools, totaling some 203,000 students, of which 97,758 are girls. Children of new immigrants make up 9.2 per cent of the entire nation's elementary school student population. The largest percentage of parents from a foreign country was 39 per cent from Vietnam and 36.5 per cent from mainland China. In possibly less than a decade from now as these children grow up, the question of whether or not they be discriminated against and face accusations of not being “Taiwanese” enough will become a very real problem. Taiwan's maturing society will be put to the test of not just tolerance but acceptance.
Taiwan has yet to see a contestant from a non-Taiwanese racial background be crowned Miss Taiwan, but when it does will the nation be ready for it? Or if the spotlight is shifted onto the political stage, what would Taiwan have to say about a half-Vietnamese half-Taiwanese legislator or a powerful political figure? With countries such as the US encountering questions like these first, Taiwan should not simply dismiss them but should observe and learn how to (or how to not) answer them. Taiwan is undeniably well on its way to becoming a racially diverse nation; therefore the Taiwanese people need to open themselves up to challenging their own values, conceptions and definitions as traditional boundaries have already begun to blur.