May 21st, 2010
09:19 PM ET

Miss USA says 'American' is her preferred label

"Religion does not identify me," Miss USA Rima Fakih tells CNN.

Rima Fakih's beauty pageant sash declares that she is Miss USA, but journalists want to find other labels for her.

Questions about Fakih's ethnic and religious identity have been nearly as frequent as questions about photos of her dancing against a stripper's pole.

"I'd like to say I'm American first, and I am an Arab-American," Fakih said. "I am Lebanese-American, and I am Muslim-American."

Fakih, 24, was born in Lebanon, but her family moved to New York when she was 7 years old. She later moved to Michigan, where she went to college.

The rarity of a woman born in the Middle East representing the United States in the Miss Universe pageant spurred internet buzz. One rumor was that Fakih had family connections to Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite group that the U.S. designates as a terrorist organization.

"Absolutely not," Fakih told CNN's Octavia Nasr. "That is a stereotype and a prejudiced statement made by only one reporter who had made that title before I was crowned Miss USA."

The blogger's accusation "was completely made up out of her own prejudiced mind," she said.

Contrary to some reports, she said, her family did not live in Southern Lebanon, the hub of Hezbollah.

"We lived in the mountain area of Lebanon, which is predominantly Christian-based," she said. "The majority of my family is diverse. It's Muslim and Christian."

Fakih said religion should not be a question for Miss USA winners.

"Religion does not identify me, I would like to say that," she said. "My family is more of a spiritual family rather than religious. We've never been religious, we've been never known to be religious, and on top of everything, we celebrate Christmas."

Fakih attended a Catholic high school in New York, she said.

"We are Muslim," she said. "However, we appreciate and admire all faiths."

The reaction to Fakih's selection was cause for celebration for many in Lebanon, a country she visited just a few months ago.

"I want them to know that the United States is not what they see on TV," she said. "It is still a country of freedom and opportunity."

Fakih said she has been invited to visit Lebanon and meet with leaders there, including President Michel Suleiman.

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Filed under: Lebanon • Showbiz • U.S.
soundoff (450 Responses)
  1. arabian queen

    eat your heart out she is a thorn in your eyes
    be carefull donot take her out from your eye
    you might start bleeding

    May 22, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. morris2196

    I disapprove of beauty pageants for many of the reasons you usually hear. But I am glad to see my country become less hostile toward people of Arab decent. No, I am not of Arab decent, I am a wasp (white anglo-saxon protestant).

    May 22, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  3. henry

    SHe said she was an AMERICAN, end of subject. I am an American end of subject.

    May 22, 2010 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  4. anthony spilatro

    I just think there is any place for any dam muslims in this country.

    May 22, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • GET A LIFE


      May 23, 2010 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
    • American

      What is the difference between the extremists and you?

      May 23, 2010 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
  5. The real Joe the Plumber

    She was in a beauty contest ya'll and was not being interviewed for a job at NASA. So, please take her answers for what they are and he for what she is, i.e., a young lady who still has a lot to learn in life and like most of us a long way to go spiritually. Give the young lady a break.

    May 22, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. arabian queen

    hy jewish princess is that what is all about well dream on girl

    May 22, 2010 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Hanna Hanna

    she didn't preffer to be called "AMERICAN" on Lebanese TV today .... so what is are you American or Lebanese? or both... why don't you stick with one thing? whatever that may be.. no need to be ashamed of any.. just stay with what you say

    May 22, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Lost in the Promiised Land

    I think the controversy is really around the obvious politics of the pick. Otherwise, we can wonder why we cannot find a woman born in the US pretty and smart enough to be Miss USA. The judges are kissing Arabian/Muslim A$$, face it.

    In a world where nearly every successful man of any race looks for a wife in Sweden (or a woman who looks like she is from Scandinavia), the truth is in the race/people who are most often selected by others, not one highly manipulated, politically interested contest. That everyone seems to have a preferrence for lighter/lightest skin is not the fault of those who are born with it.

    May 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. patriot

    the problem i have is when people call themselves african-american, lebanese-american, italian-american, or muslim-american. Albeit I dont understand the immigrant mentality, as I am a 16th generation american, but you should be an AMERICAN before anything else. Once you come to this country you put this country above your heritage. pay homage to Uncle Sam not Uncle Mohammed or Uncle Kaiser.

    May 22, 2010 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • shaz

      exactly !

      May 22, 2010 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Homer S

      Let us all forget our heritage, ignore our background, and deny our religion. Why celebrate memorial and independe day, they are heritage!!! While at it, why not dress alike and eat the same food, and will be officially zombie robots.

      May 22, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JJ

    Who cares? People don't go around and say, "Hey, there's the German/English/Swiss American guy"! Why pick on what she is?

    May 22, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Durazac 15

    She's a beautiful young woman, an intelligent and witty American. There is something else worthy of mention?

    May 22, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Homer S

      Not really. Except people and media ask you about your religion and background, then they proceed to crucify you for answering honestly. Sadistic sick mentality.

      May 22, 2010 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ruth Promislow

    She is stunning, and so natually beautiful. Who cares what her origins are, as EVERY AMERICAN has origins – DUHH!! She is an American beauty.

    May 22, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Peter

    Its not just Journalist, its politicians that label people. We as Americans aren't proud that we are just Americans anymore, we want to be special and divided by race and ethnic creed – but yet are we supposed to be one America or is everyone different? So is it equal but different or be safe to be politically correct, ummm no screw that... We're Americans (white, black, Hispanic, Asian Purple or whatever) none of that feel good bull-crap...

    May 23, 2010 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ramesh Manghirmalani

    She is very charming and we should wish her the best

    May 23, 2010 at 12:25 am | Report abuse |
  15. Danny Sapp

    Rima, is a beautiful woman not because of her religion, schools or where she was born. If any doubts get to know her and you would find out that she is real, she has pain, she has happiness, she laughs, she gives caring and love just as most of us born in the US and probably more the most of us born in the US. The only difference is she is true to her hair color and not a bleach blond. Give this girl a break as the only true Americans are the American Indians...the rest of us came from somewhere else. So don't point fingers unless your family tree did not come over to America on a boat somehow.
    Rima, represent us well at Miss Universe.
    Danny Sapp
    Hallandale Beach, Fl

    May 23, 2010 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
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