R’Bonney Gabriel, First Filipino American Miss Universe

Back in October, R’Bonney Gabriel made history as the first Filipino American to win Miss USA. And over the weekend, she was crowned Miss Universe — making her the first Filipino American to win the title!

The 28-year-old is mixed: Filipino on her father’s side and white on her mother’s. She told ABC station KTRK, “I feel like I have a very big responsibility to not only share my culture as a Filipina and a Texan, but I really want to show people the importance of embracing who you are. 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.”

During the Miss Universe pageant, R’ Bonney combined her talents as a fashion designer with her heritage. She created this beautiful interview outfit to “pay tribute” to her parents.

In the caption of an Instagram video sharing the design process, she wrote,[My parents] got married in Manila, Philippines. I hand-painted the same flower design from my mother’s wedding dress onto my sleeves and tied in a traditional Maria Clara Filipina collar shape. I have immense gratitude for the opportunities my parents provided me and wanted to express my love to them through this.”

rbonneynola / instagram.com

I also loved the swimsuit cape R’Bonney designed. On Instagram, she wrote that it was “inspired by the story of the Phoenix Rising, who emerged from adversity to become stronger, smarter, and more powerful. I’ve kept this in mind during my journey through pageantry. Setbacks will always happen in life, but we can choose whether to let them bring us down or use them as fuel to rise.”

Plus, the cape was “sustainably dyed and designed using plastic bottles. I gathered and transformed this cape to showcase how art can be made out of what we perceive as trash. It also embodies my favorite message of ‘If Not Now, Then When? ‘”

rbonneynola / instagram.com

And the way she tied fashion into her response during the final question round? Powerful! “As a very passionate designer — I’ve been sewing for 13 years — I use fashion as a force for good,” she said. “In my industry, I’m cutting down on pollution through recycled materials when I make my clothing. I teach sewing classes to women who have survived from human trafficking and domestic violence.”

“And I say that because it is so important to invest in others,” she continued. “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 lives, we transform them, and we use that as a vehicle for change.”

After her coronation, she told JKN18 how grateful she is for her Filipino fans. “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’re fun, and we’re determined. And I’m so proud to be half-Filipina.”

Congratulations, R’Bonney!

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