How Fil-Am Miss USA contestants overcame criticism
As participants bravely step across the stage and express their truth in front of an international audience, pageantry is a source of splendor and inspiration. This kind of publicity exposes participants to greater scrutiny than the majority of individuals will ever encounter.
Suzanne Perez and Kataluna Enriquez, both Filipina-American beauty pageant winners, have encountered this reality at separate periods in their careers. In frank conversations with FilAm media pioneer Jannelle So Perkins, both sat down to explore the struggles and accomplishments of a life in the spotlight.
It took seven years for Perez, who recently placed in the top 12 at the Miss USA pageant, to realize her dream, but she never lost up. During her preparations for the Miss New Mexico competition, she had prayed about her ambitions and visualized the occasion in minute detail. She was aware of the numbers she desired to be assigned when she reached the top 13 and top 5, as well as the questions she desired to be asked during the question and answer part.
On June 5, she became the first Filipina-American to be elected Miss New Mexico, earning her a place in the Miss USA competition in Reno, Nevada. Before she could excel in competitions, however, she had to conquer the nervousness that stopped her from speaking in front of cameras and people. The criticism she experienced from others contributed to her insecurity.
“I suffered a great deal of hostility and bullying from my own community.” Perez revealed as much in an interview with So Perkins on So Jannelle TV, which airs nation-wide on cable networks The Filipino Channel (TFC) and ANC; and locally in Southern California on KNET 25.1. “I began to pay attention to my weight and all of my insecurities, and I allowed this to fully impact me.”
This year, Perez was determined to have self-confidence. She attributes her increased confidence to having a great support system and accepting herself as she is.
Perez stated, “It also helps me to look at former Suzanne and myself five years ago, knowing that Suzanne five years ago would be in amazement of who I am now.”
Ms. Kataluna Enriquez of Nevada in the year 2021 had encountered her own hardships. Enriquez, who was born in Pampanga, was the first openly transgender woman to win the Miss Nevada USA title, but she faced scathing criticism in the public eye.
“It’s a life-altering experience, but if I’m being really honest, it was also one of my most difficult or challenging ones. When I won Miss Nevada, the news was everywhere,” Enriquez recalled of the right-wing backlash. “Because I was in the public glare, everyone had the opportunity to criticize on whatever flaw they disapproved of in my character. I have heard it everything.”
Enriquez would hand her phone over to her pals and request that they erase the remarks so she wouldn’t have to see them. Enriquez would put up a brave front, but there were times when she could do nothing but cry. Acceptance of the grieving process as a phase on the path to health helped her get through those difficult times.
Enriquez stated, “One of the things I’ve learnt is the need of daily affirmations, telling yourself who you are, what your mission is, what you want to achieve, that you’re good, that you’re enough, and that it’s okay to not be okay.”
Miss USA 2021 contestant Enriquez has shifted her focus to her own clothing business, Kataluna Kouture, and continues to be an outspoken advocate for transgender rights.
Perez reached the top 12 of this year’s Miss USA competition, but R’Bonney Gabriel of Texas was the first winner of Filipino heritage since 1962.
Perez’s effort never ceases, however. She still has hopes and aspirations, including advocating for disability rights and raising awareness.
Perez stated, “My current ultimate ambition outside of pageantry is to build my own pediatric clinic for those in need of speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.”