Representation Where It Matters: First Filipina Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel crowned Miss Universe 2023

Sally Panis, Features Editor

Called a “voice for Asian-Americans” by the Miss Universe website, senior Janella Corpin and Junior Ben Balino feel Filipino-American representation is key with Miss Universe winner R’Bonney Gabriel as she is the first Filipina American to win the competition. 

According to a Culture Trip article, the Philippines is known as the “powerhouse of beauty pageants” with won four Miss Universe titles and consistent placement in the top ten. According to Gabriel, her father immigrated to the U.S. on a college scholarship and with $20 in his pocket. With Filipina pride, Gabriel was introduced to the culture of pageantry through her culture and received support from the Philippines once the own nation’s contestant failed to make the finals. 

“I watched Miss Universe because as a family we have always watched Miss Universe to root on the Philippines,” Balino said. “I would say the Philippines is known for this type of thing.” 

Every year, Filipinos the world over gather to watch the glitz and sparkle of the Miss Universe competition. In an annual countdown, the three other major international pageants (Miss Earth, Miss International and Miss World) precede the main event – the Golden Globes to the Oscars.

Corpin’s family also shares a love for coming together to root for Miss Philippines in the competition. 

I was super happy when I heard that a Filipina won,” Corpin said. “I was rooting for the Philippines, but I think it is always super cool to see some representation. I’ve watched Miss Universe since I was younger with my mom, grandma and sisters and we always loved being able to see people who like us and represented our culture.”

As the chief executive of R’Bonney Nola, a sustainable clothing line with design methods with recycled and natural materials, Gabriel cares deeply for the environment with her own flair.  

Teaching sewing classes to women that have survived human trafficking and domestic violence, Gabriel believes it is important to invest in others, in the community and use each individual’s unique talent to make a difference.

“While it might not seem like a big deal to most people, I think it is super important for all Asian-American girls out there,” Corpin said. “Growing up Asian in America there can be a divide of which culture we belong to and having someone, like a U.S. Filipina as Miss Universe, shows that there are people like us out there who can embrace both cultures.” 

Last week, Gabriel walked onstage at the Miss Universe competition’s costume show wearing a NASA-inspired outfit, which featured thigh-high metallic boots, a moonlike headpiece and wings made of silver stars. It was created by Filipino designer Patrick Isorena. According to Corpin, having the design embody American culture and be made by a Filipino designer makes a difference. 

“She didn’t have to have a Filipino designer make the costume but she chose to, which I think really makes a difference not only for Filipinos but also for all Asian-American artists out there. It’s so important to have representation and to see it on a national stage for the whole world to see.” 

Being able to be represented by both her culture and country Balino and Corpin found that representation is key in building confidence in youth today and for generations of Filipino-Americans to come. 

“Knowing that she’s from the United States and knowing that she’s Filipino, I feel like a lot of Filipino-Americans will feel more connected because she has the nationality but her roots are from the Philippines,” Balino said. “She represents the country which is a beautiful place.” 

Corpin believes that with this win, a surge of Asian American youth will feel empowered to seek out opportunities and spaces where they have yet to be seen. When someone who likes you succeeds, the ability to believe in yourself grows, especially for minorities according to a P.B.S. article. 

“Because she is Filipina, she can give insight and advocate especially for Asian Americans,” Corpin said. “It will encourage a lot of little kids of color to want to try something new like pageants because they see someone who looks like them. I think if I had something like that growing it would definitely encourage me to try something new.”