Miss Universe Singapore on xenophobia and that ‘Stop Asian Hate’ costume

Miss Universe Singapore 2021 Nandita Banna. Photo: Miss Universe Singapore
Miss Universe Singapore 2021 Nandita Banna. Photo: Miss Universe Singapore

Nandita Banna won pageant judges over with her grace, poise, and eloquence, which have been undiminished by a few haters displeased with her victory because of her background. 

The 21-year-old business management undergraduate will fly the Singaporean flag high come December when she joins dozens of other contestants from around the world to vie for the Miss Universe crown in Israel. She remembers being inundated with calls congratulating her on being crowned Miss Universe Singapore last month, before nasty comments started streaming in from benighted corners of the net (We see you, HardwareZone), where people labeled her a “new citizen” and doubted her Singaporean-ness.

“I think they don’t realize that even though I have immigrant heritage I’ve been here my entire life and I was born and brought up here and I cannot imagine living anywhere else other than Singapore,” she said in a recent interview.  

Her parents relocated from Andhra Pradesh, India, to Hong Kong, and then Singapore, in search of a better life. Most of her relatives have also found new homes in other parts of the world, but her elderly grandparents remain in India, she said.  

“I did go back there every year before the pandemic, of course. I have my grandparents there who are quite old and we’d like to take care of them a bit … we’re kind of the nearest family that they have,” she said, adding: “Hopefully, once the pandemic passes, we can pay them a visit.” 

She has relatives in countries including the United States. Her brother is a university student in Canada. 

For the next couple of months, Nandita’s schedule is packed. She will be juggling her education, pageant training, and most important of all, weighing in on the national costume. Is Nandita under pressure to outdo her predecessor? Last year’s title winner Bernadette Belle Ong made headlines with a cape printed with the phrase “Stop Asian Hate” at the height of anxiety over hate crimes against Asian-Americans.

Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong in her national costume at the Miss Universe 2020 pageant in the United States. Photo: Bernadette Belle Ong/Instagram

“In terms of whether my national costume will have a very strong political message, that’s something I’m still thinking about because I don’t want it to be a competition or like a one-up thing where Belle has done a very political statement in 2020,” she said. She thought last year’s costume was a “bold” move that was appropriate on a global scale, but when applied to Singapore, the phrase kind of becomes a “blanket statement.”

“I think that statement applies more on an international level because there are countries where Asians are the minorities, so there is a need to push the message of stopping Asian hate,” she said.

“I think we need to be a bit more understanding of the unique situation here and understand that we need to stop the hate or racism against specifically minority groups that are in Singapore, which are usually brown people,” she added. Singapore has experienced a rise in racist incidents during the past year, including an Indian woman who was kicked to the ground. 

Nandita hopes to eradicate racism one day and use her time as Miss Universe Singapore to pursue this cause, even though she might not show it on her costume, which she said might touch on Singapore’s roots and use “sustainable materials “

“We’re definitely playing with some ideas touching on Singapore’s history, especially before Sir Stamford Raffles and the whole British, Japanese colonization,” she said. 

Watch the full interview:

Other stories:

Miss Universe Singapore takes ‘Stop Asian Hate’ to pageant runway

Meet Singapore’s next Miss Universe contenders

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