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 and Jo Erlinda Maufit
LOS ANGELES – The first Filipino American beauty queen to be crowned Miss USA, R’Bonney Gabriel, is visiting the Philippines, the country of her father.
Ms. Gabriel made the announcement herself, saying she is excited to visit the country again, admitting that she has been in the Philippines several times while growing up.
The FilAm beauty said she grew up on chicken adobo, ensaymadas and sinigang and has spent a lot of time in Manila.
“I’ve been to El Nido. I want to explore more. It’s so beautiful,” she added in published reports.
Ms. Gabriel, a graduate of University of North Texas in Denton, said she will be in Manila in December as part of a series of charity engagements for the Smile Train event of the Miss Universe organization.
While in Manila, the FilAm beauty queen is expected to meet Miss Universe Philippines 2022 Celeste Cortesi, 24, a Filipino-Italian beauty, who will also compete for the world title.
After her Manila trip, she will compete at the 71st Miss Universe Pageant in New Orleans, Louisiana on January 14, 2023.
She revealed that she feels proud to represent her heritage on the pageant stage.
“Miss USA, me, as well as Miss Teen USA, Miss America and Miss Universe are all Asian and that just makes me so proud of who I am, to share the story with the world, our culture, and let people know what we do, what we’re all about,” she said.
The beauty queen also said that she feels thankful to her Filipino supporters for joining her in her journey.
“Maraming, maraming salamat sa lahat ng tulong ninyo. I will be working very, very hard to not only represent Filipinos but Filipino Americans at the Miss Universe stage,” she stated.
“I’m really looking forward to going back (to Manila) in December with Smile Train with the Miss USA Organization,” Ms. Gabriel said in an interview.
“Smile Train is a cleft-based organization, and we’ll be doing work there by the end of the year,” said Gabriel.
“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. I’m a very proud Filipina Texan,” she said..
“My mom and dad were actually married in the Philippines,” Gabriel disclosed after winning the crown.
” And those flower designs were the same flower designs that were on my mother’s wedding dress and I have the Maria Clara color just to champion not only my love for my Filipino roots and how proud to be a Texan and I just want to show my best self as a designer at the Miss USA stage,” the 25-year-old beauty queen said.
Gabriel has advice to aspiring beauty pageant contestants.
“My advice is to tap into what makes you special, and what makes you unique, and fully embrace that. As the first Filipina-American Miss USA, I embrace that wholeheartedly, and I think it’s what makes me strong,” she said.
“So I encourage girls to look into what makes them unique and special and not compare themselves to anybody, else.
“I was first runner-up three times in a row before I finally won Miss Texas USA and then went on to win Miss USA. So never, never, never let rejection make you give up.
“I think rejection just offers you ways to analyze in ways that you can get better. So never give up, keep going, and embrace what makes you special,” she added.
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.
Smile Train is an international children’s charity with a sustainable approach to a single, solveable problem: cleft lip and palate.
Many children with clefts around the world live in isolation, but more importantly, have difficulty eating, breathing, and speaking. Cleft repair surgery is simple, and the transformation is immediate. Our sustainable model provides training, funding, and resources to empower local doctors in 90+ countries to provide 100 percent-free cleft repair surgery and comprehensive cleft care in their own communities.
“We use the “teach a man to fish” model, focusing on training local doctors to perform cleft repairs in their own communities. Those doctors then go on to train other doctors, creating a long-term, sustainable system.
“Patients see their smile for the first time, parents cry tears of joy, lives and communities are changed forever.
“As a result of our efficiency and with the support of our donors and partners around the world, Smile Train has transformed the lives of more than 1.5 million children by giving them the power of a smile.”
Smile Train Philippines is located at 3/F Annex Bldg., 22 East Ave. Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines +63-917-52-TRAIN (0917-52-87246)