On December 16, 2021, Emma Broyles became the first Korean American and Alaskan crowned Miss America in the competition’s 100-year history. She is the third Asian American to win the title, after Filipina American Angela Perez Baraquio of Hawai'i in 2001 and Indian American Nina Davuluri of New York in 2014.
Broyles, an Alaska native, is half Korean on her mother’s side. Her Korean grandparents settled in Anchorage over 50 years ago before having her mother, who was born and raised in Anchorage, making Broyles a third generation Korean American. As of 2019, there are approximately 6,800 Korean Americans living in Alaska.
In an interview with Alaska Public Media, Broyles said she did not see Korean women who looked like her in Miss America contests when she was growing up. Therefore, she hopes her victory will be an inspiration to girls who look like her. Relatedly, in an interview with Business Insider, she said: “I think the fact that I’m a Korean American who’s earned the title of Miss America is completely representative of the positive change that this organization has seen…I think that this is an organization that is incredibly progressive, and we’re progressive alongside changes that we see in society as well.”
Diverse winners are not the only way Miss America has been changing with the times. In recent years, the Miss America competition has evolved from emphasizing looks to focusing on leadership, talent, and communication skills, a move that Broyles has vocally supported. Likewise, rather than looks, Broyles was able to stand out to the judges by frankly discussing vulnerability on social media and being diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and dermatillomania, a skin picking disorder. She also emphasized her passion for the Special Olympics, which she chose as her social impact initiative. Her passion comes from her brother with Down syndrome who competes in Special Olympics Alaska.
After winning, Emma Broyles told the Miss America Organization: “As a Korean American, I am so grateful for the opportunity to compete alongside so many brilliant, talented women. I hope to live up to the legacy, serve as a positive role model for women of all ages and make the Miss America Organization proud. It’s been an honor to represent the great state of Alaska and I look forward to making a significant impact through my social impact initiative on the national stage.”
Broyles plans to use the $100,000 scholarship prize to attend medical school, something she previously did not think was possible for her. After medical school, she hopes to return to Alaska to work as a dermatologist. Her win highlights not only the increasing presence of Asian Americans in the United States overall, but also the importance of Asian Americans to Alaska.
Kimery Lynch is a Projects Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington. She recently graduated from the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa with her MA in Asian Studies.