Newly crowned Miss Universe 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel shared her pride to have Filipino heritage when she spoke during a press conference Sunday (Manila time) shortly after winning the coveted title.
Gabriel, who represented the USA in 71st edition of the pageant, was named the new Miss Universe after a 3-hour finals night held in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“Filipinos love pageantry. To be half-Filipino, I feel like that helped me feel the energy in the crowd. The support is everything. I feel blessed. 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.
Gabriel, whose father is Filipino, is also optimistic that her win can positively impact the plight of the Filipino-American communities in the United States.
“I think this will make Filipinos even more proud to be a Filipino. Whenever you see someone similar to you, whether that’s a culture or somebody that is in the same sports as you or has the same interest as you, you get excited and you want to embrace more of who you are. So, I am so excited for Filipinos to be shown in that light and continue to celebrate that,” she explained.
Describing how she felt after clinching the coveted crown, Gabriel said: “It is the best feeling the world. The journey was not easy. I won Miss USA in October. I had three months to prepare. It was very challenging. There were ups and downs and times where I doubted myself but I always felt like I have a purpose.”
“I always go back to my purpose as to why I am doing this. I realized that your purpose is something people can’t take away from you. No one can take away a strong foundation or core that you have. I always go back to that. It’s such an amazing feeling to be standing here now as Miss Universe.”
Gabriel recalled going through a three-year journey of finishing first runner-up in various pageants, before winning the Miss Universe crown. She hopes her story can be an inspiration for others.
“Your failure can actually be an opportunity to come back stronger. If not now, then when? That was on my swimsuit cape. That is my favorite saying that I was talking about. My father would always say that because now more than ever is the time to do things that you want to do, whatever that is,” she said.
Meanwhile, Gabriel shared that she hopes to visit the Philippines in the very near future.
“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 that’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.”
Dedicating a message to her fellow Filipinos, Gabriel said: “Mabuhay Philippines, mabuhay Filipino fans. Maraming maraming salamat sa lahat ng tulong ninyo.”
“The support is everything. I feel it in my heart. I heard it in the room. It was an amazing energy. 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.”
Gabriel 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.
The Philippines' Celeste Cortesi, meanwhile, fell short of placing in the Top 16, snapping the 12-year streak of the country as a semifinalist in the pageant.