Part One: Pageant
“Salaam Alaykum. Namaste. Hola. Ni hao.”
She composes herself as she prepares to give her speech to a ballroom filled with hundreds.
The nerves build, her adrenaline is pumping.
She flashes back to the moment she pulled up the application and her friends urged her to sign up for the Mister and Miss Asian American Student Union Pageant, this is her moment.
The most important thing is to have no regrets, she reminds herself.
She pushes her shoulders back, raises her head and adjusts her microphone. She is about to share her story, a story of four different cultures.
Part Two: Origins
Umbar Malik was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. She came from a traditional home where her family sat down for dinner almost every night. However, there was one major difference that separates them from the typical American household. The stories that they shared. The stories arose from three different continents and encompassed the historical roots of her family.
Malik’s mother, Sunita Malik, was born in Colón, Panama and moved to Panama City at a young age.
Sunita’s father, of Chinese-Indian descent, moved to Jamaica after the partition of India and Pakistan and then eventually migrated to Panama where he met his Panamanian wife, Umbar’s grandmother.
“If you see family pictures of all the grandparents I have, I have an Indian grandfather and grandmother, a completely Chinese great grandfather, and a Colombian great grandmother. And then my grandparents are a mix of all of that.”
Fayyaz Malik, Umbar’s father, was raised in one of Pakistan’s wealthiest families with predominantly Islamic ideals. Extremely intelligent and hardworking, he moved to the United States seeking a higher education.
He was as surprised as his relatives when he found himself falling in love with Chinese-Indian Sunita. His family didn’t approve. He braved the excommunication.
They married and raised two daughters, Umbar and Hanna.
Audentes Fortuna Iuvat, in English, fortune favors the bold,” said Malik. “But who are they? Let me tell you. The bold are those that dive deep, headfirst, into the unknown. Those who abandon what they know for what they have no information about. And those who do all of this for those that they love. Bold are my parents, who against all odds, simultaneously worked full-time, attend school full-time, struggled full-time and amongst all else, loved each other full-time.”
Part Three: The Crown
After hours of dance practice and team meetings, the moment has arrived. The pageant hosts walk onto the stage with two silver crowns that glimmer under the stage lights and sashes which read Mister and Miss AASU in elegant calligraphy.
Clutching the hand of her fellow contestant, Jan Dela Cruz, Umbar flashes back to the moment that her boyfriend saw her looking over the application.
He peered over her shoulder and quickly commented, “You should do it.”
She looked over at him in confusion.
He repeated enthusiastically, “You should do it”.
She was happy that she did.
The tension builds. Umbar peers around the room finding familiar faces in the crowd.
“Ladies and Gentlemen of the University of Florida,” announces Jason Feliciano, former Mister AASU and pageant host. “Your next Miss AASU is UMBAR MALIK!”
The crowd bursts into applause, Umbar quickly steps to the front of the stage overcome by happiness.
But as the crown is being placed on her head, it hits her there are two faces missing in the crowd.
During every dance performance and any event she attends, the absence of her parents lingers on Umbar’s mind.
“I was a little disappointed I didn’t tell my parents I was doing it, my mom knows now after I won because I told her all about it,” she said. “But my dad doesn’t know, which is a little disappointing because my speech was about them. The reason he doesn’t know is because I don’t think he would approve, if I spend time doing anything besides studying in my dads opinion its a waste of time, no matter what it is.”
Part Four: Identities
Growing up with a multiracial identity is one of the best and worst elements in Umbar’s life.
“It’s a blessing to say I can understand more cultures and languages then most people around, and that gives me a great advantage in communication and my cultural awareness.”
Malik is multilingual and is still hoping to learn more languages. Urdu is the first language she learned from her childhood nanny, she picked up English in school, and she learned Spanish through her mother’s family.
Umbar was raised as a Muslim, attending Sunday school and learning Arabic in order to read the Quran, the Islamic holy book. While religion was never imposed on her, it was highly encouraged.
“I have always felt it is a good thing to be spiritual, but there are things that are taught in the religion I don’t necessarily agree with and I’m okay with voicing that,” said Malik. “We all know that there are people in the world that take it to the opposite end.”
In Jacksonville, she spends most of her time at the mosque. In high school, she would visit once a week and volunteered there with Project Downtown, an organization which feeds the needy.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Umbar fasts every day alongside her father. Waking up before the sunrise, they would prepare to spend the day without food and water in order to see how the poor live.
Having family across the globe has also given Umbar the opportunity to visit some breathtaking places.
This includes extravagant weddings in Lahore and grandiose Hindu temples for the ceremonies of her Indian cousins.
In Panama City, Umbar has also attended church with her grandmother who practices Catholicism.
Umbar recollects that her family took a car from Panama City to northward, passing through all the Panamanian provinces, each known for a different thing. One would be filled with farmlands and another built for American billionaires who have retired.
She attributes distinct parts of her personalities to the different cultures she has been exposed to.
“Growing up in the United States, I have no trouble approaching people, no matter who they are or what it’s about,” she said. “From my mom’s side, my Hispanic side, what I identify most with is my loudness, because that’s who we are, we are loud people! From my Pakistani-Indian culture, I’m such a huge dancer and I’m so into Bollywood, clothing and glamour.”
On the other hand, Malik also recognizes certain issues that accompany her multiracial background.
“The cultures I do have in my background are from different ends of the spectrum, often opposite cultures as well,” she said. “So it’s a struggle to balance that, since I have family in two parts of the world that my parents came from. Those two families are very different in their customs and values.”
She acknowledges that she is an extremely friendly person, but she finds that it can be a conflict with her father’s side of the family because they are expected to be more conservative and reserved.
“When I’m with my father I kind of have to look over my shoulder,” she says. “I love to dance, I love to dress up, I love to entertain and have a good time. It comes from my dad’s side, from Bollywood. It’s ironic, because at the end of high school my dad told me he wouldn’t allow it anymore. He’s not aware that I still do it, but that’s something I won’t let go of.”
Part Five: Onwards
By day, Umbar Malik is a typical college student. Waking up an hour before class and following Arrow on Netflix, she makes time for the gym and studying as often as she can.
But by night, she is true to the award she won through the Freshman Leadership Experience last year, “Most Likely to be a Bollywood Star”. She finds herself at dance practice up to seven days a week during competition time.
This year she is a co-captain of Gator Raas, a traditional folk dance form that originates in Gujarat, India which incorporates sticks called dandiyas. The team has won almost every competition they have taken part in since she joined the team.
Umbar has been approached to compete in the Miss University of Florida Pageant which takes place in February.
“For many of you, including myself, your biggest fear is failing, especially in front of others, you know who you are,” said Malik. “But being brave means getting back up, coming back for more, every single time. I am who I am, I am where I am because I have persevered through every failure, every rejection from the time I was young through my young adult career. So just remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Don’t let the nerves stop you from any goal you set.”
*Information last updated Spring 2015*