R'Bonney Gabriel may be representing the United States in this year's Miss Universe pageant, but the Filipino-American beauty queen stays grounded in her Southeast Asian roots.
Born to a Filipino father and Texan mother, Gabriel represented Miss Texas in Miss USA 2022 held last Oct. 4. She was crowned queen, making her the second Fil-Am to hold the title and represent the Western country in the 71st Miss Universe competition this year.
While the 28-year-old model and fashion designer was born and raised in the US, she recently revealed in an interview with ABS-CBN sports reporter Dyan Castillejo that she was planning to live in the Philippines before the world was locked down by COVID-19.
"I have always wanted to move to Asia or live in Asia," the beauty queen said, noting that she dreams of going to Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines.
She continued, "Actually before COVID, I had plans to move to Manila. COVID kind of happened, and the plans changed so I still dream of doing that one day."
While the pandemic and her recent feat in pageantry kept her from venturing out into her father's homeland, Gabriel's parents still make sure to stay in close touch with their relatives in the country.
"My parents just went to the Philippines last month and they had a celebration dinner for all my friends and family there," Gabriel said.
"I couldn't make it because I was training for Miss Universe, but everybody has been supportive. It means so much. It really just helped me propel and feel good going through the competition."
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Apart from her own family, Gabriel said she has been receiving support from the Filipino community in the form of messages on Instagram and texts. This in addition to the Filipino audience's loud cheer people are expecting to witness during Miss Universe's coronation night on Jan. 15
And for that, Gabriel is greatly thankful. She said, "Well to hear all the cheering and all the support just warms my heart. It really just gets me energized on stage... The energy is just the best. I really feel all of it and I'm so grateful."
As the Fil-Am beauty queen took the stage in today's preliminary competition, she carried with her not only her Filipino roots but her support for local talent.
In the pageant's Evening Gown segment, Gabriel sashayed down the runway in a masterpiece by Pinoy designer Rian Fernandez. "I just wanna stick to people that I trust and I love working with," she added.
And despite becoming Miss USA 2022 and reaching this far in the biggest beauty competition in the world, the beauty queen continues to carry with her the humility Filipinos instilled into their being.
"The competition is so tough as you can see," Gabriel told Castillejo. "These are some of the most well-rounded beautiful women from all over the world but we are all special in our own way and I think whoever wins, it's meant to be that winner."