Filipino-American Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned Miss Universe during the finals of the 71st edition of the pageant held at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in Louisiana on Sunday (Manila time).
The beauty queen, who was named after her Filipino father– Remigio Bonzon “R.Bon” Gabriel – said she feels she has a “big responsibility” owing to her mixed heritage to share her multicultural background while empowering others to embrace their identities.
“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,” Gabriel shared with ABC News’ local affiliate in Houston.
“Growing up with two different cultures has made me the person I am because the family dynamic is so different on my mom and dad’s side.
And it’s really just made me a very open-minded person,” she added.
The 28-year-old Gabriel was the first multicultural participant to win the titles of Miss Texas USA and Miss USA.
“As the first Filipino-American Miss Universe, I can now be a voice, a larger voice for other girls and just show them that you need to embrace who you are. It’s so important. Embrace what makes you different,” she said.
“The Filipino blood is so strong. We are hardworking, we are fun, and we are determined. I am so proud to be a half-Filipina,” she added.
Gabriel graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in fashion design and now works as a fashion designer creating eco-friendly clothing.
A dead ringer for Miss Asia Pacific 1993 Michelle Aldana, Gabriel received the crown from outgoing Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu.
She bested 82 contestants across the globe, including Miss Philippines Celeste Cortesi, who did not make the Top 16 semi-finalists’ list, ending a 12-year streak for the Philippines.
When asked the Top 3 final question, “If you win Miss Universe, how would you work to demonstrate this as an empowering and progressive organization?” Gabriel proudly voiced her advocacies which she pushes for through her passion for fashion.
“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’ve been cutting down on pollution through recycled materials when I make my clothing. I choose sewing classes for women that have survived 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,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel said she hopes to visit the Philippines soon and bring her advocacy with her.
“My world just got turned upside down, but I absolutely would love to visit the Philippines. I was speaking with a friend a couple of months ago who’s in the Philippines – he’s a designer. I told him I would love to set up some sewing workshops and teach little girls how to sew.”
“It’s all about planting the seeds and giving them the creative opportunity. I really look forward to that and I hope I have the opportunity to do that in the Philippines hopefully within the next few months,” she added.
Miss Venezuela Amanda Dudamel, a fashion designer, and Miss Dominican Republic Andreina Martinez, a model and graduate with a degree in psychology, were named first and second runners-up, respectively.
Miss Puerto Rico Ashley Carino and Miss Curacao Gabriela Dos Santos rounded up the Top 5.