What Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray Has To Say About Poverty And The Slums Of Manila
It was another win for the Philippines in the recently concluded Miss Universe 2018, as our Catriona Gray took home the crown and bagged the Miss Universe 2018 title.
Other than her exuding half-Filipino half-Scottish beauty, her iconic catwalk dubbed as the “lava walk”, and her charming personality that turned her into a crowd favorite, what sealed her fate was her answer to the final Q&A.
Steve Harvey asked her what the most important lesson she learned in her life and how she would apply it to her reign as Miss Universe. With much eloquence and ingenuity she answered:
I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila, and the life there is very poor and very sad. I’ve always taught myself to look for the beauty in it, to look for the beauty in the faces of the children, and to be grateful. I would bring this aspect as a Miss Universe to see situations with a silver lining, and to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson. If I could teach also people to be grateful, we could have an amazing world where negativity could not grow and foster, and children would have a smile on their face. Thank you.
While this answer awed most of the audience and the judges, it’s drawn flak from some critics who are saying that it’s romanticizing poverty.
But is this really the case?
Social media has been flooded with all things Catriona Gray since her victory became an early Christmas present for all Filipinos who are usually preoccupied with festive preparations this time of the year. Stories about her less well-known accomplishments as a talented painter, songwriter and martial arts black belt holder have since come to light while her success has also shone the spotlight on the sensitive issue of poverty and the millions of Filipinos living in slum-like conditions.
Before we go ahead and jump on the hate wagon, it is important to get a full picture of who really is Catriona Gray.
1. She championed the notion of empowering children by supporting them to reach their dreams.
Working in some of the poorest areas of my country, I found that it was a lack of child support, not poverty that killed their dreams. A child once told me, “Cat, that’s just not my life, and those dreams aren’t made for me.” But I stand here today because someone believed in me and we owe it to our children to believe in them.
This couldn’t be any further from the truth especially for Filipinos who grew up in the slums. An impoverished (traditional) Filipino family would usually just shrug off even the slightest hint of hope for a better life as they deem themselves as unworthy and the feat as an impossible dream – a view of life often described as slave mentality attributed to our colonial masters.
While this isn’t exactly true (anymore) to the middle class and upper-class Filipinos, this is, however, prevalent in the poorest societies in the country. And, it limits their capability to desire for more than just to put food on the table three times a day.
This mentality and practice have continued to thrive in the impoverished populace in the Philippines, and it seems like Catriona understood this more than her critics do. With that, it is safe to say that it’s the aspect of poverty that Catriona chose to fight through education and child support.
2. Her actions came first before her answers
Catriona’s pre-Miss Universe life wasn’t all about glitz and glamour. She meant business with her advocacy in supporting children in the slums of Tondo. In her blog cat-elle.com, she’s documented some of her charity work which focused on helping children through education.
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It’s a pleasure working with such beautiful souls today! Some of these local volunteers are parents of children within the program so it’s wonderful to see the community supporting #YoungFocus’s efforts. 🙏💙 Wishing you all a productive and heartwarming Friday!!!! #ParaisoBrightBeginningsProject #EmpowerChange
In her “Paraiso: The Bright Beginnings Project,” she partnered with a foundation called Young Focus to actually raise funds to help the poor children of Smokey Mountain. In fact, she even did some fund raising herself to build preschools in some poverty-stricken communities in the country after she was crowned as Miss World 2016.
If it isn’t too obvious yet, her advocacy is about alleviating poverty by supporting and empowering children.
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“Progress is a choice, job creation is a choice. Whether we give our children a future of more or a future of less – this too, is a choice.” – Martin O’Malley Children deserve the chance to be children. Let’s help give them a brighter beginning. #ParaisoBrightBeginningsProject #ComingSoon #EmpowerChange
3. Despite the odds, Filipinos are among the happiest people
Take note that we Filipinos are known to be the third happiest people in the world. And, true enough, we always showcase positivity despite facing difficult circumstances. That truth couldn’t be farther for the people from poverty-stricken areas like Tondo.
This might be a little bit of a stretch but bear with me. Catriona grew up and spent a lot of time overseas in a first world country. While she is indeed a Filipina as evidenced by her fluency in the local Tagalog dialect, her flamboyant personality, social awareness on our country’s current events, and etc. (I could go on and on), having lived in highly progressive countries where she thrived in her younger years placed her in a unique position where she can see both sides of the fence.
On one side where the grass is greener yet people sulk with their first world problems, while on the other is Tondo, where people are expected to grieve in agony because of poverty, but they didn’t.
Our innate optimism might still be a concept that’s ambiguous to her. Yet, her immersion in the impoverished parts of our community might have shed some light on this. It’s a trait that’s deeply rooted in our religion, culture, and Filipino psychology. Even the poorest in our country can manage to smile despite extreme poverty, and she’s seen the beauty of how the poor (especially the children) coped with their situation.
Her notion about finding the silver lining in the worst scenarios greatly resonated to most Filipinos because it is the truth about our culture. We smile despite the odds, we were taught by our elders to look at the brighter side of life and be grateful. Most Filipinos applauded her because it hits close to home.
Her words may have fallen short for some and conveyed a different meaning, but if we piece together the message that she was conveying since the beginning of (and even before) the pageant, it would say otherwise.
Apparently, there’s more to her iconic lava walk and “romanticized views on poverty” than what her critics are saying. She’s an advocate in action as much as she’s the queen of the Universe in this year’s pageant.
Congratulations again Catriona Gray!