HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- For the first time since she was crowned Miss Universe in New Orleans two months ago, R'Bonney Gabriel is finally back home in Houston.
Since then, she's hit the ground running and shared that she doesn't get much sleep. She began with a tour across Southeast Asia and made stops in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam.
"People tend to always look at the glamorous photo shoots, the travel, and the exciting, fun things I get to do. But I think people forget Miss Universe is a job. I have a year to be a spokesperson for the organization and their whole message is women empowerment. They have charities that they've worked with for a long time that I get to work with now, like Best Buddies and Smile Train," she told ABC13.
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It wasn't until now that she's been able to come home to where she was born and raised.
"It feels good to be home. I have a sense of everything being familiar and familiar faces, all the roads and stores and everything. I've missed home," she told ABC13. "I'm in New York now, and it's cold. I miss the ensaymadas at Godo's, my favorite Filipino restaurant, and walking to Segundo, my favorite coffee shop."
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In only a span of seven months, Gabriel became the first Asian American woman to win Miss Texas USA, the first Filipina America to win Miss USA, and ultimately Miss Universe in January.
Gabriel is known for her platform of environmental sustainability and fighting pollution in the fashion industry. Many of the outfits she makes, designs, and wears during her competitions and appearances are upcycled from used and unwanted fabric.
Before she won Miss Universe, she was the lead sewing instructor at Magpies and Peacocks in the EaDo district, teaching sewing classes to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. The nonprofit design house is dedicated to using "fashion as a force for good" through sustainability and community impact.
She attributes a big part of her passion and success to how her parents raised her.
"My dad is kind of the firecracker, the go-getter. He's really spunky, and he migrated from the Philippines. He's a very hard worker and built his American dream, so he taught me how to build anything you want from nothing," she shared.
"My mother is the one who I always went vintage thrift store shopping with, and that's where I would find really cool, unique clothing. We would take it home and she showed me how to use a sewing machine and alter clothing."
Gabriel's pageant journey hasn't always been easy. It took her three tries before she won her state title during the final year she was eligible to compete. Most recently, she overcame accusations of favoritism following her Miss USA win, which were found to be unsubstantiated. As she fulfills her year of service, she hopes to empower others to believe in themselves no matter what other people say.
"Never let anyone make you feel like you're not good enough for anything or you're not enough. I'm learning that as Miss Universe and being in the limelight that there's a lot of supporters, but there's also a lot of negativity. You define who you are, and don't let anybody take that away from you," she said. "I really want to elaborate on that as children are on social media all the time."
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During the rare moments when she gets to rest and relax, she said her favorite way to unwind is to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry's cookie dough ice cream in her pajamas, put some jazz music on, and throw a bath bomb in the tub.
Gabriel's homecoming party will take place Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Hilton Houston Post Oak. At last check, tickets were sold out.
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