Catriona Gray Nods to Philippine Heritage and Poverty Plight in Miss Universe Bid

Published on February 19, 2019
I don’t watch pageants anymore but being born and raised in the Philippines, I grew up watching all of them. It’s a huge deal in a country of 105 million.

I saw the compiled interviews, walks and poses of the current winner of Miss Universe, Catriona Gray — yes, Miss Philippines.

What struck me first is her lack of Filipino accent. Her father is Scottish origin whilst her mother is Filipino, but Catriona was born in Australia. Some are now claiming she’s Australian. Since the Philippines accepts dual citizenships she has the right to represent one of the citizenships. She choose to represent her mother’s side.

Second, there was so much emphasis on her winning red dress. That she wore it because she was inspired by the eruption of Mayon Volcano — famous for its perfect cone. The eruption caused displacement. Thereby referencing it, she’s subtly reminding the audience about the devastation of the locals and what it means to their future, especially with little support from the government.

But third, I saw this video, which caught my attention in many ways. Why? Because she came from a privileged family, yet she chose to use the country’s poverty as a background. She could have used iconic Mindanao’s pink beaches, Palawan’s waterfalls, Banawe’s Rice Terraces, The Chocolate Hills or some 400-year-old brick churches and houses built by the Spaniards.

Yet she chose the infamous Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila, the biggest slum in the country, where the city’s garbage is collectively thrown to be incinerated.

When Oprah mentioned over a decade ago that there’s a garbage island forming naturally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, this wasn’t a surprise to me as I immediately thought of the Smokey Mountain.

The Smokey Mountain symbolises the social issues that poverty breeds and promotes: Drug trafficking and abuse, prostitution, diseases, gangsterism, petty crimes, and homicides.

But it also symbolises hope. Some residents in the slum make a living by scavenging materials and turning them into rugs, bags, and other useful house items.

What I saw is an activist. A real Miss Universe even before she was announced as the winner.

The main platform of the pageant is to promote culture and raise issues with the hope to fix them as no one would in the global arena.

For the first time, I saw the true ambassador of the Miss Universe. Of course, I cannot say past winners didn’t. But Catriona has already done more than the minimum tasks that the Miss Universe Organisation required to fulfill the crown.

Rhunah Soriano is a former contributor at Grit Daily. She is an event organiser based in Montreal and Toronto (Canada). She holds a BA in Political Science and a Certificate in Community Service from Concordia University, and started a Graduate Diploma in Management: PR and Communications from McGill University.

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