NEWSFLASH: Filipino American R-Bonney of Texas crowned Miss Universe
By Claire Morales True
NEW ORLEANS/SAN FRANCISCO – Filipino American beauty queen R’Bonney Gabriel of the United States won the Miss Universe crown during the colourful pageant final ceremonies at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana on January 14.
Gabriel, 28, a fashion designer and model who was Miss Texas when she won Miss USA title, is a proud FilAm as she wore dresses partly designed by Filipinos during the pageant.
Aside from becoming the first Miss Texas to be Miss Universe, R’Bonney was also the first Filipino-American to win Miss USA.
Gabriel’s winning the title put to rest protests made by some candidates in the Miss USA pageant who claimed that organizers were reportedly bias in her favor.
Gabriel, whose father Remigio Bonzon Gabriel was born in Manila and migrated to the US at 25, was supposed to visit the Philippines last December to launch a Miss Universe-supported project but her trip had to be postponed due to the Miss USA controversy. Gabriel’s mother Dana Walker hails from Beaumont, Texas.
Gabriel was proclaimed “the most beautiful woman” in the Universe during the 71st edition of the pageant in New Orleans January 14 in US (January 15 in the Philippines).
She succeeds Harnaaz Sandhu of India, and is the first to wear the “Force for Good” crown made by Mouawad in partnership with the Miss Universe Organization under its new owner, Anne Jakrajutatip.
During the first round of question-and-answer portion of the pageant, Gabriel was asked what change she’d like to see in Miss Universe and why.
She answered: “For me, I would like to see an age increase, because I am 28 years old and that is the oldest age to compete. I think it’s a beautiful thing. My favorite quote is ‘If not now, then when?’ As a woman, I believe that age does not define us. It’s not tomorrow, it’s yesterday but it’s now. The time is now that you can go after what you want.”
In the final Q&A, all the Top 3 contestants were asked how they would work to demonstrate that the Miss Universe is an empowering and progressive organization should they win the competition.
“Well, I would use it to be a transformational leader. As a very passionate designer, I’ve been sewing for 13 years, I use fashion as a force for good. In my industry, I’m cutting down on pollution through recycled materials when I make my clothing. I teach sewing classes to women who survived from human trafficking and domestic violence and I say that because it is so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference. We all have something special and when we plant those seeds to other people in our life, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change,” she said.
Gabriel’s first and second runners-up were Amanda Dudamel of Venezuela and Andreína Martínez of Dominican Republic, respectively.
The Philippines’ representative to the pageant, Filipino-Italian Celeste Cortesi, ended her Miss Universe quest early on, as she failed to land in the Top 16, the first time the Philippines missed a semi-final placement in the Miss Universe since the stint of Venus Raj in 2010.
R’Bonney loved fashion as early as age 15. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design in 2018.