Filipina Texan is 71st Miss Universe 

Beauty pageants can be a ‘force for good.’ Photo by Troi Santos

By Lindy Rosales

Eighty-four women from different countries vied for the title of Miss Universe 2022, two of them biracial Filipinas. In the final tally, Texas beauty R’Bonney Gabriel, whose father is Filipino, went home with the crown of blue sapphires and white diamonds.

“In shock…but happy,” said her mother Dana when The FilAm asked for her reaction. Bon was overcome with joy and almost couldn’t find the words. Remigio ‘Bon’ Gabriel and  Dana Walker were married in Manila. 

R’Bonney, 28, is the younger of two children. She has an elder brother who is 6 foot and 4 inches tall. Height is a family asset. Said Bon, “People ask me why my son is so tall, I tell them, if you don’t have it, you give it to your kids.”

Happy Filipinos

It was important to R’Bonney that Filipinos are happy. She told Good Morning America, “Filipinos are so happy. They are just over the moon about it. It’s a huge win for the community and just representation. It’s an honor.”

The other biracial Filipina who was an early favorite was Celeste Cortesi, a Filipina-Italian who was initially raised in Pasay City but grew up for the most part in Parma, Italy. She did not make the Top 16 and, it’s been reported, she went home feeling like she let Filipinos down. 

R’Bonney  is a fashion designer and runs her own clothing brand. According to its website, R’BONNEY NOLA “is an independent label from Houston practicing sustainable design methods and using repurposed/natural fabrics.” She holds sewing classes for women who are victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. She had previously interned as a fashion designer in New York.

Parents Bon and Dana Gabriel: Very thrilled. Photo by Lindy Rosales

During the pageant’s Q-A segment, she explained how she would use fashion to be a  “force for good.”

“As a very passionate designer, I’ve been sewing for 13 years, I use fashion as a force for good. In my industry, I’m cutting down on pollution through recycling materials when I make my clothing. I teach sewing classes to women that have survived from 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.”

Pageants were not R’Bonney’s  thing until they saw an advertisement for a local pageant, and people encouraged her to join.  One of them was Sharron Melton, news anchor for Channel 39. She urged R’Bonney to “run, just for fun.”

She did and won first runner-up for Miss Houston. She surprised even herself when she was crowned Miss Texas shortly after. It led her to aspire to a higher goal until she became  Miss USA. Her parents thought that was the end of it.

“Then she started looking into (Miss Universe). She saw that, you know, a lot of the women are very smart and strong. And she said she’d give it a try,” said Dana. “That was in 2020, she was 26, when she started.  It’s like a whirlwind.”

Beauty pageants can be a ‘force for good.’ Photo by Troi Santos

Very thrilled

Dana said she really “showed dedication for it so we are supporting her.” Bon said the family was “very thrilled.”  

In New Orleans where Miss Universe became a lure for tourists, Dana and Bon stayed two weeks before the actual competition “just to be around for whatever she needs.” 

“Maybe just help pack her bags, she brought a lot of stuff,” said Bon. “Some of her items we hand carried.”

Dana said her daughter did not have a team to do her hair and makeup. “She’s done quite a bit of it on her own. She’s done so much of it. I know for the Miss USA, she had to do her own hair and make-up, that was a rule.”

As Miss USA, she was provided with an apartment and a Porsche to drive.

“She’s very determined,” said Dana, “and I take pride in saying, I believe it’s true that she got it from her dad.”

Much to Bon’s chagrin, he confessed R’Bonney speaks no Tagalog. 

“Unfortunately just ‘Salamat’ and ‘Kumusta.’ She smacked  me in the head for not teaching her,” he said proudly.

© The FilAm 2023 

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