R’Bonney Gabriel, first Filipina American Miss USA, crowned Miss Universe
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R’Bonney Gabriel, the first Filipina American to win Miss USA, beat out 83 other contestants to be crowned Miss Universe Saturday night in New Orleans.
The Miss Universe website called Gabriel “a voice for Asian Americans” who “opens the door for more diversity and representation in society.”
Gabrieli has spoken before about her immigrant roots. “My father moved to America from the Philippines on a college scholarship with about $20 in his pocket,” she said last year when she was crowned Miss USA. “I am a very proud Filipino American.”
The news caused an uproar in her father’s hometown. The Philippine Star wrote about her background, while the Manila Times said Filipinos were “rooting” for her after the country’s own contestant failed to reach the finals.
At the age of 28, Gabriel is at the top of the age limit set by the competition. “Delegates must be at least 18 years old and under 28 years of age on the start date of the national competition,” the official website states.
Asked during the pageant what change she would make to the pageant, she said she would raise the age limit. “I am 28 years old. And this is the oldest age to compete. And I think that’s a beautiful thing,” she said, according to CNN.
This year’s Miss Universe pageant allowed married women and mothers to compete for the first time in its 70-year history.
Gabriel, a Houston native, is the CEO of a sustainable clothing line, R’Bonney Nola. She received her bachelor’s degree in fashion design from the University of North Texas.
Last week, Gabriel took to the stage at the pageant’s costume show wearing a NASA-inspired outfit that featured thigh-high metallic boots, a moon-like head and wings made of silver stars. It was created by Filipino designer Patrick Isorena, according to Philippine media.
Isorena wrote on Instagram that the costume weighed about 14 kilograms.
The costume show is a chance for candidates to show their cultural heritage and honor their countries of origin. But Gabriel’s ensemble drew backlash on social media, with some saying it suggested the United States was laying claim to the moon.
“You know what’s American? Hena!” one Twitter user said in response to the outfit. “The United States of America, a country known for restraint and modesty,” said another.
Explaining her choice of costume on Instagram, Gabriel said that as a native of Houston, home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, she was “proud to be from a city that is working to send the first woman to the moon.”
“On July 20, 1969, two American astronauts became the first men to set foot on the Moon, achieving one of the most remarkable achievements in human history,” she wrote. “Fast forward to today and women are more involved than ever in the Artemis program that aims to return the US to the moon.”
NASA is several years into the Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon on a series of missions, the first since Apollo in the 1960s and 1970s. The program has promised to include a black astronaut and a woman on its missions this time around .
In New Orleans on Saturday, the first runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant was Miss Venezuela Amanda Dudamel, and the second runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic Andreína Martínez.