The crown jewel, India

India LaRoda poses in front of a pond at the Commons at Calabasas on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 in Calabasas, Calif. LaRoda won Miss India America on Aug. 5, 2017 and was recognized as the first multi-racial winner in 25 years. Photo: Randi Love

The Miss India America Pageant hadn’t crowned a biracial winner for 25 years until Pierce student India LaRoda won the title this August at the LAX Renaissance Hotel, the first time she has participated in a pageant.

India, 22, is half African American and half East Indian. Focused on what her crown symbolizes, she wants to be an example far beyond the aspect of physical beauty. Because she is new to the pageant world, she is taking her role day by day, but is driven to be a successful woman and represent not only two countries, but two cultures.

India will be traveling to London to accept the Women’s Purpose Award on Oct. 7.

Often keeping herself on a straight educational path, India wanted a change of pace. After applying to be in the pageant, she worked her way through several rounds, a process that took about a year. India said she wanted an outlet that would allow her to enjoy her youth and have some fun.

According to India, the process was both emotionally and mentally draining and took a lot of hard work. She said that everyone is self-conscious. What she didn’t feel comfortable doing, the pageant made her do. She said she is grateful for the experience because it provided an opportunity for growth.

“I was able to face my insecurities, but also embrace them. It was definitely a transformative experience for me,” India said.

India has committed herself to more than pageantry. She spends her time focusing on her education, and is majoring in English and biology, with a minor in French.

Stephanie Aviles, India’s best friend, said in an email interview that she is one of the most patient and attentive people she knows, and she makes everyone feel comfortable.

“She is driven, and she wants to learn and succeed in what she wants to do in life,” Aviles said.

At 8, India said she already had a sense of what she wanted to do. She saw a documentary about a doctor who traveled to Cambodia and performed cleft lip surgery on young children. India knew from that point on that she wanted to help others.

“I was thinking, if I was a doctor, I could partner with that doctor from the documentary and help. I didn’t know the term was pediatrician,” India said.

What followed was a pathway dedicated to education. India, who has gone to school year-round since ninth grade, said she has been engaged in learning since day one. Now in her last semester at Pierce College, she hopes to attend Loyola Marymount University for her undergraduate degree, and continue onto University of California, Los Angeles, for medical school.

India is working with the organization Passport to Adaptive Living, which helps children with special needs. She specifically helps children age 4 to early adulthood, assisting them with everyday functioning skills. She thinks that this will aid her in the future as she goes on to help children with all types of special needs.

“I want to be a pediatrician, but I want to seperate myself in a way that shows that I am dynamic,” India said.

Following in her pediatric dreams, India is now an ambassador for Smile Train, an organization that funds cleft lip surgeries for young children. According to her, it has come full circle, and she couldn’t be happier.

Though her reign as Miss India America only lasts a year, India wants to focus on helping others through her platform. She hopes to always be an advocate for youth, specifically those who are of mixed race.

India said that there is more work to be done in the future. Her brother Barrett LaRoda does not doubt his sister’s capabilities for a second, he stated in an email.

“Obstacles are very far from her thoughts, and when they do finally confront her, she works through them strategically like a chess game,” Barrett said.

Barrett said that his sister is a natural born leader, and that she has a positive outlet and state of mind. He notes that his sister, who he manages professionally, does not wait for opportunities to be brought to her, but she is proactive and seeks out the things to be done.

“Any task she sets out to do, she does with commitment and to the best of her ability,” Barrett said.