NISKAYUNA — In a celebration of cultures from around the world, Niskayuna teen Khushi Kumar was crowned Miss Festival of Nations at this year’s event earlier this month.
Albany’s annual Festival of Nations has been a celebration of cultural diversity for 51 years. This year’s event featured a variety of art, music, dances, food, crafts and entertainment from 28 countries around the world; a parade of nations; and the crowning of Miss Festival of Nations.
Kumar represented her culture as Miss India in this year’s competition.
A family friend with whom Kumar had performed Bollywood dance suggested she enter this year’s contest.
“I thought it could be a great opportunity to represent my culture and identity, and it’s also a great way to share culture with others,” Kumar said. “The festival itself is amazing. There’s a bunch of booths for ethnic foods and crafts, and it was an amazing opportunity. I’m so glad it paid off.”
Kumar said she was feeling a little anxious and nervous the day of the competition. Contestants were 14 to 19 years old. Two of the contestants who reached the final round of the competition were in college.
Judges asked contestants a final question onstage in front of the audience.
“We had no idea what the question was going to be,” Kumar said. “So I was preparing answers for a bunch of questions, but none of them were what I was asked onstage.”
Judges asked Kumar how she would describe the importance of cultural diversity if she were in front of her classmates.
“Cultural diversity is so important to unify us as a community,” Kumar told the judges. “Sharing ideas and acknowledging new perspectives is a great way to help us have a stronger society and a more unified community.”
Kumar did not expect to win. She said she was in shock when she won, describing the feeling as “amazing.” In addition to her holding the title of Miss Festival of Nations, Kumar’s victory came with a sash and crown.
“The title is a great honor and a great opportunity,” Kumar said. “Next year I will come back and crown the new Miss Festival of Nations. And next year I will be able to meet all of the other contestants, create a bond with them and learn more about other cultures.”
The festival is a way for people to learn about one another through food, traditions, clothing, geography and more, Kumar said.
“It’s a great way for everyone to learn a little bit about someone else and have an open mind, which is great and builds character as well,” she said.
Kumar is a sophomore at Niskayuna High School. In her free time, she loves to play soccer four days a week as a member of the Niskayuna Soccer Club, where she has been with her current team for roughly five years. She has been playing soccer for about a decade.
Miss Festival of Nations was the first pageant Kumar participated in. She said her friends and family are very supportive and proud of her.
Seeing the win and the confidence Kumar gained from participating in the event was the “best moment” and “unforgettable,” Kumar’s mother, Rakhi Kumar Tantuwaya, said.
The competition featured multiple rounds. To reach the finals, Kumar went through multiple interviews. Her mother described the competition as a great experience.
“It brought so much confidence to her. I can see the difference in how she walks down the street and how she presents herself,” said Rakhi Kumar Tantuwaya. “It was amazing to watch my daughter, and winning it, that was the cherry on top.”
Miss Festival of Nations is not just a beauty pageant. Rakhi Kumar Tantuwaya explained that she likes that the judges look at a number of factors, such as academic performance, extracurricular activities, how a contestant gives back to the community, presentability and the answers they give to questions.
“It’s like they look at the whole package. It’s not all about beauty,” Rakhi Kumar Tantuwaya said. “I think it’s a great opportunity, and we are so glad we participated.”
This year the festival returned to an in-person celebration after being a virtual event during the pandemic.