On Monday night, a new Miss USA was crowned in Mississippi’s Asya Branch, and it didn’t take long for people to start digging into her affiliations, namely with Donald Trump.
The 22-year-old beauty became the first Black woman to be Miss Mississippi USA and the first woman from that state to to win Miss USA. And while all that was cause for celebration, things quickly turned into some disappointment and backlash after it was revealed that Branch performed at a Trump rally in 2018. She shared the performance on her Instagram page, though it’s since been deleted. The caption at the time read, “Incredible honor to sing the national anthem tonight in Southaven for the President Trump rally.” She posted it with an American flag emoji and “potus” hashtag.
That same year, Branch was also a part of a criminal justice reform roundtable with Trump and others. Her father was incarcerated when she was young, so the cause is near and dear to her heart. Nevertheless, people saw her associations with 45 and immediately either shunned her or embraced her. Breitbart, of course, is a fan, what with her love of the second amendment and all. On the flipside, The Daily Beast, not so much: New Miss USA Asya Branch Loves Guns and Performed at a Trump Rally.
The same split consensus has played out on Twitter. In just days, Branch has become something of a polarizing figure.
In a new interview with PEOPLE, she attempted to explain why she shouldn’t be. Branch never clarified what her politics are, as she doesn’t have to, but she did say she did work for and with Trump because she had to. For one, the performance was a contractual obligation, though it makes no sense that Miss Mississippi Corp would politicize her post. But hey, that’s Mississippi for you. They’re just getting rid of their Confederate state flag imagery.
“Regardless of political beliefs, I find it an honor to be able to sing the national anthem anywhere and it just so happened to be at a Trump rally,” she told the publication. “And I know I caught a lot of backlash for that. But no one knows if that has anything to do with my political beliefs or not. I did have a duty as an employee of the Miss Mississippi Corp. as well as a representative of the state of Mississippi.”
As for her work with the criminal justice reform roundtable, she said, “If you can’t get a seat at the table, you can’t make a difference. I found that to be an inspiring and moving moment for me because it shows that I can accomplish things and I can accomplish my goals and really make a difference in the world.”
“So yes, I caught backlash for it, but I feel like it was a meeting that gave me an opportunity to speak up on a cause that was very important to me,” she added.
Despite her now lukewarm reception at the moment, Branch, who is also a business owner of a beauty brand, is glad to be making some history at the same time when Democrat Kamala Harris just became vice president elect.
“It’s truly inspiring and it’s great to have these examples,” she said. “Growing up, if I were to look at these powerful positions in the White House, there weren’t women taking up space. There weren’t minorities taking up space. It serves as a great example for our youth to know that it doesn’t matter what color you are, doesn’t matter what gender you are — you can accomplish your wildest dreams.”
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