Dena Mekawi isn’t going to wear a hijab at the 4th annual Miss Arab USA pageant, but some of the other contestants will. Women of Saudi Arabian, Iraqi, Syrian, Palestinian and Algerian roots, competing for the title on August 31 in Scottsdale, Arizona wear whatever attire they choose to represent their cultural heritage. There is also no swimsuit competition. All this makes for one non-traditional beauty pageant.

Mekawi is still very much in touch with her Egyptian roots. We met up in an Astoria hookah bar and traded stories of growing up Arab-American. She talked very positively about the upcoming pageant. The US-born 23-year-old is currently working on a masters degree in publishing at Pace University and is on a mission to spread her fashion inspirations to a wide variety of girls.

See our interview above with a bit of footage I shot at the 2012 Miss Arab-USA pageant above. (Video: Yossera Bouchtia/ANIMALNewYork)