FIRST FILIPINO AMERICAN Miss USA title holder R'Bonney Gabriel after winning the Miss Texas crown. She will be in the Philippines, the original country of his father, this December.
By Claire Morales True
Special to Philippine News Today
RENO, Nevada – Yes, Maria Clara. A Filipino American beauty queen has been crowned Miss USA 2022.
The FilAm beauty queen is Miss Texas R’Bonney Gabriel, 28, a model and fashion designer who hails from Friendswood City in the outskirts of Houston, Texas. She made history as the first FilAm to be crowned Miss USA 2022 on October 4 (Monday night, October 3 in the US) in ceremonies in Reno, Nevada.
Gabriel, who also made history when she was crowned the first Asian American as Miss Texas last July 2 at the Hilton Houston Post Oak, bested 49 other candidates, including two other Filipino Americans, in the competition to succeed Miss USA 2021 Elle Smith. The two other candidates with Filipino ancestry are Kiana Yamat of Hawaii who formerly resided in San Francisco, California and Suzanne Perez of New Mexico. Perez made it to the Top 12.
Gabriel was impressive with her dresses during the competition. One of her dresses featured a traditional Maria Clara collar shape.
“I hand painted the same flower design from my mothers wedding dress onto my sleeves and tied in a traditional Maria Clara Filipina collar shape,” she said.
“I have immense gratitude for the opportunities my parents provided me and wanted to express my love to them through this,” she added.
During the interview round, Gabriel, wearing a Maria Clara-inspired outfit, was asked how she will address climate change, according to a CNN Philippines report.
“I am a fashion designer, I actually made the outfit I’m wearing in, I upcycle pieces and recycle different clothing to be more sustainable in my industry because I feel it’s like my duty,” she answered. “So, I think that’s something you can look for ways in our certain industries or in our homes to be sustainable as well.”
According to published reports, Gabriel, a graduate of University of North Texas in Denton whose mother is from Beaumont, Texas and her father is from the Philippines and were married in Manila, is also a model and owner of her eco-friendly fashion label R’ Bonney Nola which offers handmade t-shirts, dresses and other clothings made from sustainable materials.
Interviewed by ABC News, Gabriel said that she considers it a “big responsibility” to share her multicultural background and inspire others to be confident in their identities. “I’m a very proud Filipina Texan,” she declared in the interview.
“My dad moved to America from the Philippines on a college scholarship with about $20 in his pocket. He wanted to pave a new life for himself. He met my mom in Texas, who is a country woman from Beaumont,” she added in the interview with ABC News.
Following her Miss USA win, Gabriel will represent the US in the 71st Miss Universe pageant set on January 14, 2023 in New Orleans, Lousiana. She will be competing against Miss Universe Philippines 2022 Celeste Cortesi, 24, a Filipino-Italian beauty.
Gabriel said she was ecstatic and thankful for winning the Miss USA crown, admitting that she learned that immediately after her win Filipinos were congratulating her.
“I’m getting messages on Instagram and just social media of Filipina girls and women telling me they’re so excited, they’re so happy,” Gabriel told Houston Life.
“They’re crying tears of joy because they are inspired to go after pageantry or something. Like I’m paving the way for them to just go after whatever they want no matter what it is,” she added.