Current Miss Michigan Rima Fakih is a non-traditional titleholder. She's an Arab American, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. She's maintained three jobs over the course of the last year on top of performing Miss Michigan duties,
and she's the farthest thing from a girly-girl.
Despite her unconventional background, this Sunday, Dearborn native Rima Fakih will have the chance to be the next face of Miss USA-possibly breaking the 17 year dry spell of Miss Michigan ascending to the highly coveted Miss USA spot. Arab Detroit caught up with the beauty queen just before she left for the preliminary competition in Las Vegas.
Arab Detroit: Rima, it's our true pleasure to be able to speak with you, especially when you are so busy gearing up for the big show. Thanks for taking the time.
Rima: Of course! Thanks for your patience with my busy schedule.
AD: So I'm curious to know, what were you doing just a year ago today? Did you ever think that just a year later you would be on your way to Vegas to compete for the national Miss USA title?
Rima: You know it's funny, just a year ago, I was actually looking for a second job. I was looking to pay off my loans from my undergraduate degree, and I was gearing up to apply for law school which also is quite expensive. So, basically, my only concern at that time was to make money to be able to continue my education. I never thought I would be here. I actually grew up a tom-boy. My Mom would beg me to wear dresses and make-up. So as a child, the thought of being in a pageant really never crossed my mind, but then I saw financial opportunity in it and decided to give it a try.
AD: Were your parents supportive of your wanting to enter the pageant?
Rima: Of course- I swear my parents are my biggest fans, and it gives me goose-bumps just thinking about how wonderful they have been throughout the whole process. But even so, I really wanted to financially support myself through it. For the entry fee, I ending up selling my 98' Ford Taurus for $900-I used $800 for the pageant, and with the leftover $100, I took my family out for sushi.
AD: Your life has changed quite a bit since your win in September. Describe for me what a typical day is like in Miss Michigan's shoes-or high heels shall I say.
Rima: Well, I am not sure this is a typical day for every Miss Michigan, but this is Rima Fakih's day in the life. To put it simply, I have to multi-task. On most days, I wake up 6 AM to take my younger brother to school. Then, I come back home, run on the treadmill for a bit, and get ready for work-which is usually an 8-10 hour work day. After work, I'll usually attend a Miss Michigan sponsored event such as a special board meeting or a community organization mixer. And if that ends early enough, I'll try to be at home for dinner. It's really the best part of my day because I get to have some good conversation with my parents.
AD: Now the question every one is eager to know-How does it feel to be the first Arab American to hold the Miss Michigan title? That is quite an accomplishment.
Rima: Honestly, It feels great! I have never been afraid to say who I am and where I come from, and this is where it has gotten me. I'm glad I could prove it to myself and to others that this achievement is possible.
AD: You are certainly navigating territory no Arab American has ever navigated before. Why do you think that is?
Rima: I think that's most likely the case for a couple of reasons. I think many Arab Americans are skeptical considering things that happened in the country. They think that they don't stand a chance of winning, and therefore it's a waste of time to try. Another reason could be that they are embarrassed by what others will think about their daughter being in a beauty pageant. To me, people who think this way can't be proud of who they are. And if you're not proud of who you are, you won't be able to achieve anything.
AD: How do you suppose your face being the face of Miss Michigan, and hopefully Miss USA, will affect the current image of Arab Americans?
Rima: Well, I think it would prove that Arabs don't always try to separate themselves, but instead are integrated into American culture. It would show the world that yes, there are Arabs that are beautiful not only in looks, but also on the inside. There are Arabs that are caring, that are good people, and who love the country they live in. I think it would make the Arab image a more positive one.
AD: So you are now on your way to preliminary judging for the Miss USA pageant. When you think about you what you want the judges to see you, what do you hope for?
Rima: Honestly, first and foremost, I want them to see that I am proud of who I am. But I also want them to see me for more than my background. I want them to see that I have beauty, that I have the brains to do this job well, but also that I am real, from inside out. My body is real- never been changed. My hair is real-never been dyed. I am as real as it gets!
AD: There are certainly many stereotypes and criticisms people have of beauty pageants. What do you say to people who are critical of you or the pageant process in general?
Rima: I would say that I was one of those skeptical people. I too had that negative image that all pageant girls were dumb or anorexic. And quite honestly, I didn't want people to stereotype me as such. But my entire perception of pageant life changed when I entered it. What I realized is that these women are all just package deals. They are glamorous, physically fit, and at the same time, they are smart, down to earth and patient. So, I tell people that it's not fair to harshly judge.
AD: Now for something more lighthearted. Tell me, what is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Rima: I am the best impersonator. I can impersonate pretty much anyone. I think in another life, I would have been a stand up comedian.
AD: And lastly, the million dollar question. If you were stranded on an island and could only take 3 items with you, what would you take?
Rima: Well first, my iPod. I just can't do anything without music. Second item would be my notes for a book I am hoping to publish one day. It's a "how to" or guide for surviving as a teenage girl. I started it 2 years ago, and maybe by being stranded on the island, I could actually finish it. And the third item I'd take is my younger brother. He's my best friend and sidekick.
AD: Rima, it's been wonderful talking to you. I know that your community is sincerely proud of you, and we will all be watching you come Sunday night. Best of luck!
Rima: Oh it was my pleasure, and yes, please do watch! Thank you for your support.
Global Arab Network
The Miss USA pageant will broadcast from Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas this Sunday, May 16th at 7 PM (ET) on NBC. Ameera David is a Web Content Producer and Writer based in Detroit writing for ArabDetroit.com, the largest Arab American online news source.