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She Slays: How Kataluna Enriquez's Kapampangan roots helped her journey as the first Miss USA trans woman candidate

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Mar 30, 2022 8:09 pm

From making her own clothes in the Philippines to walking the runway of Miss USA, Kataluna Enriquez's story is one born of struggle, triumph, and the importance of simply being seen.

Born in Angeles, Pampanga, Kataluna shared in an exclusive interview with PhilSTAR L!fe how growing up "different" eventually made her want to stand out.

"Ever since I was really young, I was very different," she said. "So different that I spent a lot of my time alone because I was more comfortable that way."

"But in that process, parts of my entertainment was making my own things. It taught me to be highly creative like sewing and making my own toys. Basically doing things my own way." 

When her family finally moved to America when she was 10 years old, a familiar Filipina queen piqued Kat's interest and eventually changed her mind about the wild and wide world of pageantry.

An empowered woman is to be undefinable.

"At first I saw pageantry as very superficial. But when I moved to the United States and I was watching Miss Universe, I saw Venus Raj. I heard her story and it was so impactful and powerful."

Venus herself was born in Qatar and migrated to the Philippines, a story opposite of Kataluna's. Growing up, Venus joined in beauty contests to provide for her family.

"It made me realize that what you see on the beauty pageant stage is not what you see in real life," Kat said. "In real life, these are women who are strong and empowered."

From then on, Kat saw in an "empowered woman sense, rather than just a beauty lens."

When she turned 22, Kat joined in her very first pageant in Los Angeles. There, she experienced her fair share of bloopers and challnges.

"I couldn't afford clothes so I had sewn my own dress. At the time I wasn't the best at sewing so when I went on my first stage, my dress was falling apart and I was just holding it!" the queen shared, laughing and putting her hands in front of her body to recall the moment.

Through the years, Kat has gone on to hone her craft of making clothes and being an empowered woman, until she eventually became the first trans Asian American candidate of Miss USA after winning Miss Silver State USA in March of 2021.

'Not just the glamorous side' of being trans

As an Asian American and trans woman, Kataluna has gone not only through the wringer to represent not just her state, but the LGBTQ+ community as well. But she wants to make it clear: being trans is not a one-size-fits-all descriptor for the diverse community.

"Oftentimes, people would focus on the idea that you have to have surgery to be trans. They say it's about the sexuality, that we all think alike," Kat shared, "but the trans community is just as diverse as the human race."

Nevertheless, she goes above and beyond to uphold the visibility that the trans youth need in order to see that they can be anything they want to be: "I think we have a long way to go, still, but the visibility is very important."

True enough, her Instagram bio openly state: "Transproud #Bevisible" and she regularly shared trans visibilty advice and sentiments for her followers.

The trans community is just as diverse as the human race.

Breaking into the pageant bubble may be hard enough, but it's proved to be a bigger challenge for trans women. After all, Miss USA only opened the competition for trans women like Kataluna very recently.

While Philippine beauty pageants are still on the fence about allowing trans women to participate, Kat says that it's only a matter of time before the tides turn. "I've always respected pageants that don't allow trans women to join, and I've always respected ones that accept us."

"I've received a lot of comments saying that I shouldn't be a part of [Miss USA], but the policy has been changed and I was only following the policy — there's nothing wrong with that, I'm simply following the rules."

The reality of Asian hate

As for embracing her Asian roots, Kataluna has been transparent in talking about racism and the unfortunate wave of Asian hate that has been plaguing America since the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When I first moved to the US, I felt lots of racist experience. My neighbor was telling me to go back where I came from," Kat lamented. She also owns up to the sad fact that sometimes being silent is the safest choice for others.

"The sad part is when you're a minority, oftentimes you don't think about your rights," the beauty queen said. "You just think about surviving."

Nevertheless, she knows that she's in a position of power with her 82,000+ Instagram followers and adoring fans: "For those people that have the power and platform like myself, then we should always speak up for those that can't speak up."

An empowered woman is...

Throughout our conversation, Kataluna regularly opened up about the importance of giving people the space to be seen, as she herself understands the importance of being vulnerable in a closed-minded world.

"For me, I always encourage people around me to give love, be open-minded, and be vulnerable."

She also affirms that it's important for all women to learn how not just to be kind to themselves, but be empowered enough to give their light to other girls.

"There's enough space for everybody, so we don't need to put down other people, we don't need to compete with each other. We need to focus on ourselves and help others around us."

When I tell people my truth and when I open up, they see the human in me.

Kataluna wants to remind all women to "Celebrate you and what makes you divine. An empowered woman is to be undefinable."

With her strong advocacy, fierce sense of self, and divine femininity, it's clear that beauty isn't the only thing shining through from this beauty queen.