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. E. Douglass Brown

    Many people in this country are obsessed with the myth called "human races." Clearly, some people need to keep this ridiculous notion alive because their self-worth and psychological security depend on it. Rima's religion and ethnicity have nothing to do with being selected as Miss USA. In time, more intelligent people will realize that people who are fixated on false divisions and creating tensions via "race" and religion have an agenda – maintain delusion of superiority and keep others doubting their self-worth.

    May 23, 2010 at 1:10 am | Report abuse |
  2. American

    She is obviously anti-white and a racist. She made a comment on Fox that the USA now has a chance to win the Miss Universe contest because Miss USA (meaning her Arab self) is ethnic. If a white Miss USA had made a similar comment showing white pride there would have been an uproar and she would be called a racist. Let us stop this racist double standard NOW!

    May 23, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
  3. bubbah

    No one calls me Irish/German/French and 1/32 American Indian-American.

    Umm, "Irish American" "Italian American" "Chinese American" "Mexcican American"and on and on... that's how it's said with respect to all of these groups. "American Indians" nowadays are "Native Americans"

    May 23, 2010 at 2:19 am | Report abuse |
  4. bubbah

    She is obviously anti-white and a racist.

    Since when are Lebanese not white? Lebanon was part of Greece before the Muslims conquered it (as was Turkey). If someone told me she was Israeli or Greek or Spanish (from Spain) I wouldn't think twice.

    May 23, 2010 at 2:22 am | Report abuse |
  5. American

    Her comments (that she is ethnic so she might win Miss Universe) were clearly a knock against the white European winners of the Miss USA contest over the years. This racism double standard should be called out for what it is.

    May 23, 2010 at 3:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. piet

    religion has to be kept out!! the USA is a secular state where religion shouldn't matter.
    the fact that this AGAIN is a matter od discussion makes the abyss even deeper.
    now I read that a muslim wants to use this pageant thing for a religious purpose. this cannot be the meaning of a contest as this one.

    May 23, 2010 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
  7. Al, Gig Harbor, WA

    As an American Muslim male, I applaud everything Rima has accomplished. More power to her and all the Rimas of the world. You live in America, do as the Americans do. Do not be apologize or be hesitant to let the world know how unique you are. I wish I had a daughter like you. This is a great country, glad to see you embrace it, embrace life, and embrace the moment. Most of all, ignore all the hateful posters regardless of who they are. Forgive them for the thorns that make them so. God Bless you, "Child of the Universe."

    May 23, 2010 at 3:56 am | Report abuse |
  8. iyamwhatiyam

    Do you people even hear what you are saying.American this,American that. Canada,Mexico, Panama Brizil, Peru
    and on,and on are all Americans.

    May 23, 2010 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
  9. Tammy

    Beautiful and smart!! Nice..Congrats!

    May 23, 2010 at 5:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. spiffy

    You Liberal media just don't get it.Wanting to be called American is normal. Wanting to be called African-American wierd.

    May 23, 2010 at 5:43 am | Report abuse |
    • rafael

      So, you think only lib'rul people choose to be called African-American?

      May 23, 2010 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jimeny

    American? That does not help, which American country is she from? It would be so much easier if the US gave their country a proper name otherwise i will have to stick to going the full blown United States Citizen.

    May 23, 2010 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
  12. nfkdfnsdkfsfknsfkndsf

    lulz ppl still debate heartedly bout race and ethnicity

    May 23, 2010 at 7:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. William

    I agree with Bill. She is stunning. She would look awesome without a drop of makeup. Congrats to her, and I hope this helps break down barriers in our country.

    May 23, 2010 at 7:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Big Al

    In nearly every country that practises her religion she'd be put to death for what she's done. Luckily, this drop dead beautiful woman lives in a civilised society. Sadly, it also makes me think of the sick father who killed his daughter for becoming too "westernized." Rima, you are a living doll.

    May 23, 2010 at 7:42 am | Report abuse |
    • In God We Trust

      Big Al, you have proven to be as ignorant as some others on this blog are. You might want to do a little reading about Lebanon before you make such a comment. I have no doubt you are one of those that have never stepped foot out of this great country.

      May 23, 2010 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Big Al, nearly every country that practices her religion (my religion), has many different sects of Islam. Unfortunately, the more radical, violence-bent segments of those countries, rule those countries, oppressing the meeker population with their "holier than thou" violent ways. That is what we get to see in the media and meet with, when dealing with those countries. Some of that radical and violence-bent population is bound to, and has, migrated to countries around the world. Those countries will never see progress as anyone who becomes educated, leaves due to intolerance.

      May 23, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Al

      Clarification: "Those countries" meaning the countries of their origin, not the ones they migrated to.

      May 23, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |

    She is stunningly beautiful. All Americans should be proud to have her representing the USA. She is proud of her heritage as I would hope everyone should be, but as she said, "I'm American first." Be proud America!

    May 23, 2010 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
    • In God We Trust

      Well said my friend. Made Longhorn nation proud..

      May 23, 2010 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
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