R’Bonney Gabriel, the first Filipina American to win Miss USA, beat out 83 other contestants to be crowned Miss Universe on 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.”
Gabriel has spoken before about her immigrant roots. “My dad 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’m a very proud Filipina American.”
The news made a splash in her father’s home country. The Philippine Star wrote about her background, while the Manila Times said Filipinos had been “rooting” for her after the nation’s own contestant did not make the finals.
At 28, Gabriel is at the top of the age limit set by the competition. “Delegates must be at least 18 years of age and under 28 years of age on the date the National competition commenced,” the official website reads.
When asked during the pageant what change she would make to the contest, she said she would raise the age limit. “I am 28 years old. And that is the oldest age to compete. And I think it’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 chief executive of a sustainable clothing line, R’Bonney Nola. She earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion design from the University of North Texas.
Last week, Gabriel walked onstage at the competition’s costume show wearing a NASA-inspired outfit, which featured thigh-high metallic boots, a moon-like headpiece 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 pounds.
R’bonney Gabriel during the Miss Universe costume show in New Orleans last week. (Josh Brasted/Getty Images)
The costume show is a chance for candidates to show off their cultural heritage and honor their home countries. But Gabriel’s ensemble drew backlash on social media, where some said it suggested that the United States was laying claim to the moon.
“You know what’s American? the moon!” one Twitter user said in response to the outfit. “The United States of America, a country known for restraint and modesty,” another said.
Explaining her costume choice on Instagram, Gabriel said that as a native of Houston, where NASA’s Johnson Space Center is located, she was “proud to be from a city working to send the first female to the moon.”
“On July 20, 1969 two US astronauts became the first humans to step foot on the moon accomplishing one of the most remarkable achievements in human history,” she wrote. “Fast forward to today and women are involved more than ever in the Artemis program aiming to send the US back to the moon.”
NASA is several years into the Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon in a series of missions, the first since Apollo in the 1960s and ’70s. The program has promised to include an astronaut of color and a woman on its missions this time around.
In New Orleans on Saturday, the first runner-up in the Miss Universe competition was Miss Venezuela Amanda Dudamel, and the second runner-up was Miss Dominican Republic Andreína Martínez.
The Washington news