Tell us how you felt when you found out you’ve been selected as a contestant for MIA?

I was really excited when I found out I was going to be a contestant for “Made In America”! I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was a little nervous. I had never been in a beauty pageant before, nor did I ever imagine myself competing for one. I couldn’t wait to meet the girls and start this new journey.

What was your big personal goal when starting MIA? Were you able to achieve it by the end of the journey?

My big personal goal when starting MIA was to have fun and see what I was capable of, and learn as much as I possibly could. By the end of it, I did learn a lot about myself, so my journey of self-discovery throughout the entire process had progressed a lot.

How has your life changed since MIA?

I made some amazing new friends along the way. I think the competition brought out the best in me, and I was so happy to make lasting friendships with the girls who experienced the stresses of competing along with me. MIA made me realize what I wanted to do with my life.

What is one takeaway you’ve learned from being a contestant on the show and from Nina Davuluri?

I’ve learned that there is no one way to be beautiful. When you’re growing up as a South Asian girl in America, you face a unique set of challenges. You learn early on that you don’t fit the Eurocentric standards of beauty, whether it’s because your skin is too dark, or you’re too hairy, or your features don’t match with what’s normally accepted as “beautiful”. You learn this not only from outsiders, but also from your own family. We all have stories of our parents/grandparents telling us to stay out of the sun for the fear of getting darker. We all know how our light-skinned relatives are praised for being “prettier” while those who are dark-skinned are relentlessly harassed, simply because the sun chose to love them more. Colorism is a major issue that lies deep within our own community, and if we don’t work to address that problem, the road to progress will be slow. For many of our darker skinned brothers and sisters, the road to self-love is long, and sometimes that destination is never reached. I, myself, spent over two decades of my life absolutely hating my skin, and worked so hard to scrub off my brownness. I never saw myself as someone who is beautiful, and I always believed that I never will be unless my skin lightens up a LOT. Being the only dark skinned person in my family, as well as being a girl, the first thing my grandmother said when I was born was “oh my god she’s so dark, she will never get married”, and ever since then, it was an uphill battle with family members making unnecessary comments about the way I look, and shaming me for something I cannot control. And I know I am not the only South Asian to deal with this. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I finally realized that there was nothing wrong with my skin to begin with. When Nina Davuluri won the title of Miss America 2014, that was the very first time I saw myself being represented in the world of beauty. That was the very first time I could look at myself in the mirror and not be disgusted with the girl looking back at me. Not only is Nina the first Miss America of Indian-descent, but she is also a dark-skinned Indian woman, just like me. It was the first time I could tell myself that if someone who looked like me could win a beauty pageant, then maybe, just maybe, I am beautiful, just like her. Her winning that beauty pageant was such a big deal to so many South Asian women who faced similar battles growing up, and although colorism is still problematic within the South Asian community, we are, slowly but surely, headed in the right direction. Zee TV’s “Made In America” is the first of its kind, and I’m so glad I was chosen to be one of the first to be mentored by Nina Davuluri herself. This show will teach South Asian girls that they have what it takes to achieve their dreams, and that they are worthy, regardless of their appearance, and that their skin color is nothing to be ashamed of.

What is the one challenge you experienced during the show that made you a better contestant?

We went through a lot of challenges on the show, but I think the one that changed me the most was the bikini challenge. That was the second time I’ve worn a bikini in my entire life, so I was extremely nervous. I felt out of place because I’m so much taller than all the other girls, so I was very self-conscious of my body. I was suddenly so aware of how much space I was taking up. When you’re a girl, you grow up thinking you must look a certain way, especially to wear a bikini. And when you don’t fit society’s twisted idea of what a woman should look like, it can be nerve-wracking to put yourself out there in such little clothing. It’s easy to tell people to love themselves, but when you’re facing your biggest insecurity head-on, it’s impossible to run from it or hide behind baggy clothing.  That challenge was the hardest challenge I had to overcome, and I’ve changed so much since then. I’m glad Nina put us through that challenge. Not only did it make me a better contestant, but it made me a better person. I realized I can shamelessly take up space, and anyone who says otherwise is not worth listening to.

Share a special memory you will always cherish from the show

Being mentored by my idol will always be special to me. Never did I think I would get an opportunity like that, and it ended up happening to me. I felt like the winner from the very first day of the competition. One memory I will always cherish is when Nina told me that one day, people will look to me as a role model. Having my own role model say that to me was almost too good to be true, and it’s something I will remember for the rest of my life.

What is in store for the future? Will you continue to pursue modeling and/or acting?

I will pursue modeling and acting. I grew up never seeing myself represented in the media and I hope to change that for future South Asians in this industry. Although there are more South Asians in the media today, there still aren’t enough, considering we make up a population of like 2 billion people around the globe.

What is one difference you’d like to make for your community post MIA?

I hope this show will inspire more South Asian girls to go into fields that aren’t the traditional doctor, lawyer and engineering paths. If even one girl gets inspired by this show, then it will be worth it. I hope that it also opens communication in desi households, where kids can talk to their parents about pursuing fields they are interested in without the pressure of disappointing their families and without worrying about what other members in the desi community will think. I hope this show promotes self-love and the importance of believing in yourself, and I hope South Asian girls realize they are capable of anything, despite the odds.

Why do you think MIA is an important television show today in the current landscape of limited representation or stereotypical representation of South Asian-America?

I think it is very important for South Asian Americans to support each other, regardless of race, color, and religion. There is so much competition within the South Asian community and it can be a very toxic environment to grow up in. I think now, more than ever, it’s so important for us to come together and support one another in industries where there isn’t a prominent South Asian representation.

How do you handle straddling two cultures, especially in such an intense political climate?

I never really felt like I had to work hard at balancing two cultures, since I already have both cultures at home. My dad grew up in upstate New York and is a US Marine, and my mom grew up in a small rural town in India and came to America after getting married to my dad, so I had a mix of both a patriotic American father and traditional Indian mother raising me. They taught me right from wrong, and raised me to be independent and to have my own opinions on important matters. They taught me that being Indian doesn’t define you, since you can’t assign traits to a certain race. They taught me the importance of kindness and having an open heart. They taught me that happiness is the most important thing in life, and that you shouldn’t live your life based on how others think you should live it. I never had that fear that most South Asians have of “log kya kahenge” (“what will people say”). I was taught to live a life that made me happy, and to not listen to anyone who feels the need to make you feel like you’re not worthy. I grew up very privileged and I think it’s very important for me to use that and stand up for what is right, and to help give a voice to people who need help finding it.

How do you think you represented your culture? Were you nervous at perpetuating any stereotypes or were you aware of your participation as being pioneering?

There are so many cultures within the South Asian community, so I don’t feel like I represented anyone else but myself. I felt like it was important to stay true to who I am and to my beliefs, and I wanted to make sure I brought the very best version of me to the competition.

What was your highest high and lowest low during MIA?

I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say this: my lowest low was when someone made a very rude comment about the way I looked, and they said it in front of everyone, so I was so embarrassed, and it made me question myself. I was suddenly very aware of how I looked compared to the other girls and it was eating away at me for a while. My highest high was when we were taught how to have a positive body image. It was something I really needed to hear, and it completely changed my life. Since then, I’ve had a much more positive body image and I’ve felt much more confident in myself. I can’t say more so you’ll have to stay tuned!