The Miss Arab USA Pageant is held once a year to celebrate Arab cultural heritage in America. It is managed by the Arab-American Festival Association as "a non-political platform for young ladies to achieve personal growth and development, take pride in their heritage, discover their inner beauty in achieving their humanitarian goals in life and laying a strong foundation as leaders of the future."
The pageant supports its winners as Ambassadors for Humanity, putting forward a message of peace and human rights.
Miss Arab USA 2014 Guinwa Zeineddine is 23 years old and of Lebanese origin. She was born in Canada and raised in the United Arab Emirates until she moved to America aged 16. When she won the title she said, "Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."
She graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about her life and her dreams for the future.
Clarion Project: After you won the title last year you said "I am committed to be the best representation of what a Miss Arab USA should be." What do you think Miss Arab USA should be?
Zeineddine: I believe that a Miss Arab USA should have the passion and ambition to work hard on developing her platform, inspiring those around her and educating others on the beauty of the Arab culture.
Clarion: Were your parents supportive of your participation in the Miss Arab USA Pageant?
Zeineddine: 100%, I am blessed to have such supportive parents. They helped me though my road to the crown and I owe my success to them.
Clarion: Why is it important to you that there is a Miss Arab USA competition?
Zeineddine: I see the Miss Arab USA pageant as a way to empower women and showcase our culture. Living in such a diverse country, it is important to feel connected to your community and unfortunately with the stereotypes that are out there, having a representative will serve as a positive reinforcement of what the Arab culture is all about.
Clarion: You lived in Canada and the UAE before moving to America. What do you miss most about living in the Arab world?
Zeineddine: There's so much that I miss about living in the Arab world but if there's one thing that I miss the most, it's the Arab world's hospitality and the value we put on the importance of family. It is more of a community-based culture . Unfortunately, living the USA, we tend to get so caught up with our work life neglecting those that we care about the most.
Clarion: What have you drawn from your Arab heritage that has empowered you in your life?
Zeineddine: Being proud, ambitious and always remembering where I came from. Arabs don't like to settle and that's something that taught me to always aim higher. I don't believe that there should be a limit to what you can achieve in life.
Clarion: You moved to the USA at the age of 16. How welcoming have you found America?
Zeineddine: Honestly, It was a lot better than I thought it would be. I was a little intimidated at first and expected the worst, but people were more eager to learn about my culture than I had anticipated.
Clarion: Do you have a message for the people of the MENA region at this difficult time?
Zeineddine: I can only imagine how hard it is not only for the children but the parents who witness the conditions that their children are being raised in, especially in the war zone and third world countries. It really breaks my heart but I know that there is a purpose for everything that is going on in the MENA region. God has a message for us and they, the parents are the real heroes. Just hang on tight and have a strong faith because it can only get better.
Clarion: What are your hopes and ambitions for after Miss Arab USA?
Zeineddine: I aspire to continue in my humanitarian work, continue bridging the gap between the East and the West, fulfill my career goals, and open my own non-profit organization.