Rima Fakih, the first Arab-American Miss USA, won last night after saying birth control should be covered by insurance. Asked how she felt about winning, she said, "Ask me after I've had a pizza."
Fakih was born in Lebanon, raised mostly in New York, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan. Her parents live in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the highest percentage of Arab-Americans in the United States, at 30 percent.
As an immigrant herself from a demographic subject to its own kind of racial profiling, she may have gotten lucky that someone else got asked about the Arizona immigration law. Instead, Fakih got a question about birth control, of which insurance coverage is determined by a complex set of state laws and private policies.
During the interview portion, Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should because it's costly.
"I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it's a controlled substance," Fakih said.
Fakih also narrowly escaped tripping on the train of her white dress.
She's also made it her mission to bridge the cultural conservatism of her community, anti-Arab prejudice, and pageantry. "A lot of [Arab American] girls might be applying for Miss Michigan next year," she told Arab American News. "If not, I'm going to feel like a failure."
A profile in the Detroit Free Press suggested that "some Arab Americans — in particular, Muslims — aren't keen on seeing their daughters and sisters participate in beauty pageants that feature public displays of the body." They pointed in particular to a photo shoot released by the Miss USA pageant organizers.
Coincidentally, the photos were shot by another Muslim, Fadil Berisha. "He defended the photos, saying that his interpretation of Islam and his culture would allow for such poses," according to the Free Press.
If there were indeed any reservations, they didn't prevent local Arab-American community organizations from financially supporting Fakih in her pageant ambitions. Her brother said, "This will show the good part of Arab Americans. A lot of people think this area of the world is only about people being covered." One celebrant compared her to Barack Obama and his "breaking all barriers."
And another said, "This is the real face of Arab Americans, not the stereotypes you hear about. We have culture. We have beauty. We have history, and today we made history. ... She believed in her dreams."
It took almost 40 years for the pageant to crown an African-American woman, in 1990.
In Miss USA Contest, A Novel Twist [NYT]
Arab-American From Michigan Crowned 2010 Miss USA [AP]
Metro Detroit Celebrates Miss USA's First Arab American Winner [Detroit Free Press]
Dearborn Woman Crowned Miss USA [Detroit News]
Miss Michigan Shows Arabs' Diversity [Detroit Free Press]
Miss USA Rima Fakih Goes Tripping [ABC News]