Emma Broyles, the first Korean American Miss America

Miss America’s Emma Broyles: A Queen of Many Firsts

The first Korean American Miss America sits down and talks with Mixed Asian Media

Emma Broyles, the first Korean American Miss America

Lauren Nakao Winn

Words by Meeja Kinsey

Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!

If you hear “Miss America” come up in conversation, you probably immediately think of swimsuit contests and beauty pageants. However, that’s hardly the case anymore. Miss America is an annual competition focusing on talent and interview skills that provides scholarships for winners to pursue their dreams, which is exactly what Emma Broyles sought out to do for her education. Not only was she crowned Miss America 2022, but she set the tone for being the first (mixed) Korean American and first Alaskan winner, and she won it all on the 100th anniversary of the competition.

Family has had a big impact on Broyles’ life. You can see that in the work she does with various communities. She’s spent her life working with social impact initiatives, including the Special Olympics as an ode to her older brother, Brendan, who has Down syndrome. She’s also used her platform to share her experiences with ADHD and dermatillomania with others. These sources of inspiration not only prepared her for the Miss America competition, but also motivated her to attend university, studying both biomedical sciences and vocal performance, obtain her medical degree, and become a dermatologist.

Meeja Kinsey: Since becoming Miss America, what are some of the biggest changes that you experienced or things that were unexpected as you're starting to go through this year? 

Emma Broyles: It was really an insane day and night change, you know? I think, especially when you win Miss America, it's kind of that definition of overnight fame. Before I won, I was just a regular college student, and then the next thing I knew I was being shuttled off to the media and thrown into the public eye. That was something I didn't really plan or prepare for, not that I thought I was gonna win by any means. It was a difficult challenge getting used to being scrutinized by people who are keeping a constant watch on everything that you do and say.

It was kind of a challenge for me. I had always thought that I wanted to be famous. When I was younger, I thought that I wanted to live this fabulous, Kardashian lifestyle. I think it's so funny because, after this year, I realized I actually really like having my private life and not having anyone know what I'm doing or where I'm going.

I think it’s caused a lot of self-reflection in my own heart. Just understanding how I function and finding the best ways to maintain a routine and what works best for me when I'm on the road. So it's definitely been a crazy year with a lot of growth.

MK: What do you feel is the area that you grew the most? 

EB: I think I really had to learn how to be independent because, before I won, I had my friends and my family and everything was very consistent in my life. I had the same class schedule every week, I had certain tasks that I would do to kind of keep myself grounded. Now I’m in a new city every few days, constantly on the road, going on trips where I don't have a single person there that I've met before. So, getting used to relying on myself to find some consistency and finding ways to maintain my composure with such a chaotic lifestyle has been important. I also had always assumed that I was an extrovert because I really enjoyed talking to people, but after this year I realized, you know, I'm actually kind of an introvert, which is so funny. I think the best way that somebody described it was, extroverts feel energized after a day of socializing, whereas introverts feel drained. And I need to just sit here in my room with the lights off and not say a single word for the next 24 hours. I think that learning those little things about myself has made it much easier for me to know.

So if I've got a long day, and I'm doing a lot of socializing, I know that tonight I need to set up some time where I can journal or I can just watch Netflix and not have to talk to anybody. I think it's a realization that was important for me to have, and I probably wouldn't have had if I didn't become Miss America.

MK: That's really beautiful. I definitely appreciate that. You have so many areas that you are advocating in, and of course all of them are important, but which one is kind of shining through or being prioritized within your busy schedule?

EB: One of the biggest things that I've been doing during my year as Miss America has been my work with the Special Olympics and advocating for people with intellectual disabilities. 

Something that I didn't expect at all when I won Miss America was that a lot of my events were also going to be around my Korean heritage. I really didn't think about that. I mean, it wasn't until I was doing an interview the day after I won that somebody mentioned, “You're the first Korean American Miss America.” I was like, “Wait, no way. Really? I had no idea!” So that's been really cool, being able to do so many events with the Asian American communities and Korean American communities, and to share my story, especially as somebody who is half Korean, half white, and how that's impacted me. It's been really cool that I've been able to advocate for that side of myself, you know, as the Asian American representative that I wanted to see when I was growing up.

MK: I love hearing that because I'm half Korean, too. I wish I would've had somebody like you to look up to when I was younger. I understand that family is major for you, in that it motivates you and has impacted how you kind of prioritize your values. Can you elaborate more on how your Korean heritage influenced you and how it shows up in your life today?

EB: Yeah, I was very fortunate that I was able to be so connected to my Korean heritage growing up. My grandparents came over to America about 50 years ago, before my mother was born. My mom, who is full Korean, was actually born and raised in Alaska, so she doesn't actually speak that much Korean, which is really fascinating. When my grandparents came from Korea, all of their siblings came as well. So I have all of my great aunts and all of my great uncles who live in Anchorage with me. I'm very lucky that growing up, I was so connected to my Korean relatives. It wasn't that they were, you know, overseas in Korea. I was able to be immersed in my culture and learn about the Korean side of me.

It's been really cool to get to share that story now as Miss America, because I think that so many people can relate to it. You know, seeing family members who were immigrants and witnessing the struggles and sacrifices they had to make. My grandparents didn't speak very much English when they first came over. My grandpa worked as a custodian. My grandma was lucky enough to get a job as a nurse, but it was hard with the language barrier. You know, my grandma faced so much racism. She had patients who refused to have her be their nurse because she was Korean. I guess her colleagues couldn’t pronounce her Korean name, so they just called her Sarah. It's so interesting getting to hear those stories, and I feel very fortunate that they've been able to watch my journey and my successes throughout life. I'm sure that it makes them feel like theirs were worth it.

Emma Broyles is the first Alaskan winner of Miss America.

Lauren Nakao Winn

MK: If you don't mind me asking, do you have a Korean middle name or Korean name that you kind of get called by anybody in your family? 

EB: I actually don't. I remember there was one point, I was like, “Grandma, why don't I have a Korean name?” She sat down with all of her friends at her Korean church and they came up with a list she gave me. I was like, that's too many. I dunno if I can remember all of those.

MK: That's very sweet. Have you noticed shifts in your interactions from your fans or supporters? Have you seen more Koreans or Asian Americans supporting you? 

EB: Yeah, it's been really neat that the news actually spread to Korea. People were sending my grandparents and their siblings screenshots of the news they were watching, and my picture was up on the screen. Throughout my travels this year, there have been multiple instances where somebody has been visiting from Korea and they're like, “Oh my gosh, you're the Korean Miss America!” It actually seemed like it was more important in Korea than it was in America, which is so funny. I know that my grandparents love bragging about it. They'll stand out on their lawn and their neighbors will walk by and they'll be like, “By the way, my granddaughter's Miss America.” It's been really, really neat to get to attend so many Korean events, Korean American events, and Asian American events, getting to connect with that population as well. 

MK: I love that. Okay, knowing that one of your talents was singing, can we expect any musical projects in the future or is that gonna keep to the side as something you love to do? 

EB: I think it'll probably end up being something that I do on the side. I had grown up wanting to be a Broadway star, and I always thought I was going to study musical theatre in college. It wasn't until high school I really found my love for medicine. So then I decided, you know what, I'll still study voice in college, but I’m definitely gonna end up going into medicine. As much as I would've loved to be Broadway star by night and dermatologist by day, I think I'll still perform here and there.

MK: So, no K-pop dreams? 

EB: Oh my gosh. I actually just texted my parents the other day…I really love the K-pop band, New Jeans. One of my favorite songs of theirs is “Attention.” One of them is half Korean, and I was like, “Mom, Dad, why didn’t you guys ship me off to Korea so I could live out my K-pop dreams when I was young?” 

MK: Maybe in the future. We'll see! Well, I’ll close it up with the last question. While you're here, what are your plans for being in New York and what do you have coming up next after this?

EB: I will say that a lot of the other Asian American events I've done, I always feel kind of like—and I'm sure that every half Asian person has experienced this at some point in their life—but I always feel like I'm kind of an imposter, especially because I'm definitely more white passing. I think a lot of people are often like, “What is this random girl doing here?” Then once they find out, they're like, “Oh my gosh, you're half. Great!” It's kind of an awkward thing, right? This (MAM Fest) is a really cool event to be able to celebrate other half Asians and all of the incredible work that we do, and to have that community. All of us have, at one point or another, probably had some sort of an identity crisis. Am I Asian, or am I white? Like, what's going on here? So it's really, really cool to be able to connect with other half Asian Americans.

After New York I’m headed to Chicago, then Houston, and then Salt Lake City. Then I go back home to Alaska for a little bit.

MK: Just boppin’ around then.

EB: Exactly. You know how it goes!

Published on October 31, 2022

Words by Meeja Kinsey

Meeja Kinsey is a culture and media enthusiast who works in soccer. She is a fanatic of contrasting images and concepts, coming from a background blended with Korean roots and Deaf parents. As a result of moving frequently, she relies heavily on her social media network to build a sense of community. You can always initiate a convo with a good dad joke or follow her on Instagram at @nicetomeeja.

Photography by Lauren Nakao Winn

Lauren Winn is a pop culture whackjob who works in fashion. She is a sucker for genre-meshed aesthetics, a textbook workaholic, a bonafide digital media queen, and the sum of many rotating hyperfixations. If you want to get on her good side, greet her with a LaCroix or follow her on insta @laurennakaowinn.