"A lot of people have reached out to me, both extremely negatively and positively," Miss Michigan Arianna Quan tells PEOPLE

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September 08, 2016 12:55 PM

Arianna Quan made history when she became the first Asian-American and naturalized citizen to be named Miss Michigan – but not everyone was happy about it.

“A lot of people have reached out to me, both extremely negatively and positively,” Quan, 23, tells PEOPLE. “It’s been a very polarizing response. It’s been really interesting to see the discussions that have been erupting from just me being crowned, and it’s been an extremely humbling experience to be a part of those conversations.”

Quan’s crowning received media attention domestically as well as abroad in her native China.

“All this negativity came out, especially about my appearance and how I’m apparently unfit to represent the Chinese population because I’m ‘ugly,’ ” she says.

Miss Michigan Arianna Quan
The Miss America Organization

But she isn’t letting the harsh criticism bring her down.

“I see it as a part of my job as a state title-holder and potential Miss America,” says Quan. “My goal is to just drive the conversation in an important direction, because there are so many things we have to discuss about immigration and diversity in this country right now.”

To that end, Quan’s platform issue is “Being American: Immigration & Citizenship Education.”

“It’s something that started this past year when I started competing because of what I saw throughout the selection year,” she says. “Immigrants and first-generation Americans are deeply underrepresented. My platform is about engaging minorities in this country, and about prompting Americans that have been here for generations to celebrate their culture.”

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The automotive design student hopes to bring pride to underrepresented groups as she competes for the Miss America crown.

“[Winning] would mean being able to represent a population of people in this country that are underrepresented right now: the immigrant population, the first-generation American population, Asian-Americans,” she says. “I think it would mean exponentially more to them than it would to me.”

The 2017 Miss America competition airs Sunday, September 11 at 9/8c on ABC.

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