For the first time in state history, Texas is represented by Asian American women at two of the most prestigious pageants in the country.
Averie Bishop from Dallas, made history in June when she became the first Asian American woman to be crowned Miss Texas America. She will compete for the title of Miss America, the long-running national scholarship pageant, on Dec. 15 in Connecticut.
Just one week after Bishop’s win, R'Bonney Gabriel from Houston became the first Asian American woman to earn the Miss Texas USA title, marking another historic milestone. Gabriel competed in the Miss USA beauty pageant Monday, also winning the national title. She will go on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant in January next year, representing the U.S.
The Miss America and Miss USA competitions have long welcomed state titleholders to their stages. But for decades, women of color were banned from participating.
“I never saw anybody as Miss Texas who looked like me, so I was very scared to take up space in an organization that is historically meant for white women,” Bishop told ABC News.
Bishop’s mother immigrated from the Philippines in the 90s. Her father, who is white and Cherokee, is a fourth-generation Texan. For years, Bishop said her family lived in "extreme poverty," experiencing housing insecurity and relying on food assistance programs. She grew up attending a Title I school in Prosper, Texas.
“I was quite literally the only student that looks like the way that I did for almost, I'd say, a decade,” Bishop said. “I convinced myself that I wasn't allowed to speak my voice, that I wasn't allowed to dream or pursue the things I wanted to pursue.”
Gabriel, who is also Filipina, said she now feels a “big responsibility” to share her multicultural background and empower others to embrace their identities.
"My dad moved to America from the Philippines on a college scholarship with about $20 in his pocket. He wanted to pave a new life for himself. He met my mom in Texas, who is a country woman from Beaumont,” Gabriel told ABC News’ local affiliate in Houston. “I'm a very proud Filipina Texan."
Texas is the second most diverse state in the U.S., with minority groups together constituting more than 50 percent of the state population. But in recent years, Texas has also been at the epicenter of national political debates and culture wars over the state’s controversial abortion restrictions, book bans, gun laws, and crackdown on border immigration.
For Bishop and Gabriel, representing the ‘Lone Star State’ means using their platforms to speak out about the pressing issues affecting their communities, including anti-Asian hate, environmentalism, and women’s rights.
“I am very strong in my beliefs and what I believe are important to my generation,” Bishop said. “But as a statewide representative, as Miss Texas, I will, as my first initiative, listen to any perspective and all perspectives.”
Bishop’s Miss Texas platform is “Y'all Means All,” which emphasizes diversity and inclusion. Bishop and her mother manage a nonprofit called the Tulong Foundation that provides scholarships and mentorship to girls in Southeast Asia to help them pursue an education.
After going viral on TikTok, Bishop, a law school graduate, is also an online influencer running her own social media consulting business.
Gabriel, a model and designer, currently owns her own fashion label R’Bonney Nola, using sustainable practices and even designing her own looks for the pageants she enters.
She also works with the Houston nonprofit Magpies and Peacocks, teaching sewing to women in under-served communities as well as survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.
“I foresee myself in really dreaming about having a bigger brand that is focused on sustainability and being a leading voice in the industry that's helping the industry push to a more environmentally friendly practice," Gabriel said.
After competing in Miss America, Bishop said she is considering pursuing a career in academia, hoping to continue serving as a mentor and role model to students who look like her.
“Now that I have become the thing that I dreamed of becoming, other young girls, other women from the Filipino community, from the AAPI community can look at me, look at R’Bonney, and think to themselves, I can do it too,” Bishop said.