Miss USA has apologized after comments she made about two fellow Miss Universe contestants’ English-language abilities sparked backlash online.
In a live Instagram video posted on Wednesday, 24-year-old contestant Sarah Rose Summers said that Miss Vietnam H’Hen Nie is “so cute and she pretends to know so much English and then you ask her a question after having a whole conversation with her and she (nods and smiles).”
Summers, who was joined in the video by Miss Colombia, Valeria Morales and Miss Australia, Francesca Hung, was attending the Miss Universe pageant in Thailand, which is scheduled to begin on Sunday in Bangkok.
Later on in the video Summers appeared to express sympathy for Miss Cambodia, Rern Sinat, who she said, “doesn’t speak any English and not a single other person speaks her language.”
“Can you imagine? Francesca (Miss Australia) said that would be so isolating and I said yes and just confusing all the time,” Summers said. “Poor Cambodia.”
The comments have sparked criticism online, with some calling Summers’ words “xenophobic” and “condescending.”
Responding to the backlash in an Instagram post on Friday, Summers said that Miss Universe was “an opportunity for women from around the world to learn about each other’s cultures, life experiences, and views.”
“In a moment where I intended to admire the courage of a few of my sisters, I said something that I now realize can be perceived as not respectful, and I apologize,” Summers said, alongside a photo of her embracing her fellow contestants.
“My life, friendships, and career revolve around me being a compassionate and empathetic woman. I would never intend to hurt another,” she added. “I am grateful for opportunities to speak with Nat, Miss Cambodia, and H’Hen, Miss Vietnam, directly about this experience. These are the moments that matter most to me.”
Speaking to CNN on Friday, Miss Vietnam H’Hen Nie said Summers “didn’t mean anything” by it.
“Everyone in this competition, myself included, loves and respects one another,” she said, adding that Summers had been particularly supportive and helpful to her.
“When she knew about my difficulties with (the English) language, she took an interest and showed me love. That’s why she knows about that. Thank you Miss USA for taking care of me, showing me love and helping me recently,” H’Hen Nie said.
In another sign that all was well between the contestants, Miss Cambodia posted the same Instagram photo as Summers with the caption, “I speak the language of love, respect and understanding.”
“My friendship and sisterhood in Miss Universe will forever be kept in my heart,” she said. “Our experience have given us the opportunity to show and learn different cultures.”