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Diversity triumph in 2010 Rose of Tralee

Dr Zelie Asava considers the contest’s celebration of the ‘new Irish’

2010 marks the year that the Rose of Tralee was won by a woman of Irish and Indian heritage. Clare Kambamettu, a mixed-race psychologist, took the title as the London rose, making it the 2nd year a London Rose has won the competition. There have been few mixed-race Roses to date. Luzveminda O'Sullivan was the 1998 rose of Tralee (whose name is mysteriously misspelt or replaced by another on many websites listing the history of the Roses). Though O’Sullivan hails from Mayo she was the Phillippines Rose, reflecting her Irish-Filipino identity. 2004’s Philadelphia Rose, Sinead De Roiste, was the first Irish-African American contestant in the history of the Rose of Tralee.

The fact that a mixed-race Rose can now be included in the competition, and even go on to win it, as a representative of Irish women and culture, is a wonderful example of diversity working in this country. Interestingly though, Kambamettu’s heritage has not been mentioned by much of the national media, with journalists preferring to describe her as “stunning” or refer to her father’s mildly exotic name, Ravi, as a signifier of her Otherness, rather than state her as mixed-race.

The notable silence regarding Kambamettu’s mixed heritage may be due to the way that the 1998 mixed-race London Rose was treated. Belinda Brown, whose father is Jamaican and whose mother is from Antrim, moved to Ireland when she was 3. Kambamettu was also born abroad (in Leeds, which has a large Asian population) and moved back to her mother’s county with her family aged 8. However, while Kambamettu was just another Rose in this year’s competition, in 2008, Brown faced racist abuse two months before the event even started. White supremacist groups started an on-line hate campaign against her, and UK police became involved. Refusing to be intimidated Brown said at the time: “I have a mixed heritage and am equally proud of both parts of it”.

Anyone watching that year’s Rose of Tralee will remember that it was overshadowed by these sad circumstances, and that host Ray D’arcy spent more time talking about Brown’s reaction to racism at home and abroad than allowing her to woo the crowd and just be another Rose. Designer Paul Costelloe was moved to offer Brown one of his dresses as an act of solidarity, but it wasn’t enough. While D’arcy encouraged Brown to educate the crowd

5 September 2010   

 

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