Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Gemma Cruz Araneta- First Filipina Miss International


picture of Gemma_Cruz_Araneta

Gemma Teresa Guerrero Cruz Araneta is the first Philippine delegate to win the Miss International title in the pageant's fifth edition in Long Beach, California in 1964. She is the first Filipina to win an international beauty pageant tilt.

Araneta received "Outstanding Manileña" and also, was awarded by President Diosdado Macapagal the "Golden Heart" Presidential decoration.

Araneta's paternal great-grandmother was Doña Maria Rizal, the sister of Philippine's national hero, Jose P. Rizal.

She earned the right to represent the country by winning the Miss Philippines pageant, sponsored by the City of Manila in 1964. Araneta donated the US$10,000 prize money she won as Miss International to Boys Town and Girls Home , a place where indigent and out of school youth are housed in Marikina City in the Philippines. This led the Congress to pass a resolution to exempt her from paying taxes.

Article about Gemma Cruz Araneta:

Gemma Cruz Araneta on Miss International

Did you have a feeling you were going to win? People still ask me that question. Perhaps it is because I am best remembered as the first Filipina who brought home an international beauty title.

That was in 1964 and the official title was "International Beauty Queen", 1965-- Miss International, for short. To avoid being misunderstood, I always say that I did not expect to win but, in fact, since the 1960's, I have had a theory about international beauty contests which I had never shared with the public. Last 5 May 2002, it occurred to me that "Points of View", a TV talk show co- hosted by humorist/ writer Jessica Zafra and publisher/Congressman Teodoro Locsin,Jr, would be the ideal forum for my ideas. They had invited several beauty queens, a local contest organizer and a gay talent scout to discuss why the Philippines has not won a major beauty title in the last two decades or so.

I did not attempt to answer that question and embarked on my theory instead: After the Second World War, international beauty contests were organized ostensibly to promote goodwill among nations. Miss Finland, Armi Kuusela, won the first Miss Universe title in Long Beach, California. Was it a mere coincidence that Finland happened to be the first country to pay the USA its war debts? Interesting, isn't it?

There were years when Latin American candidates all but monopolized the international beauty arena even as that region seethed with political and socioeconomic dissent, endangering vast North American investments in the agricultural and mining sectors. Then the focus shifted to Western Europe. A blonde Miss Germany was crowned Miss Universe shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected. Coincidentally, she was a beautiful refugee from the communist East.

Perhaps, I am over-extending the efficacy of political analysis but at the inception of the Cold War and during its peak, global beauty contests were not as blatantly commercial nor as vulgar and frivolous as they are now. Goodwill, the avowed objective, was a diplomatic persuasive device and an elegant euphemism for a savage hunt for new markets and huge profits.

Be that as it may, I have always maintained that due to a certain confluence of events in 1964, the atmosphere in Asia made it conducive for a Miss Philippines to win the Miss International pageant which was held yearly in the USA. My having won convinced me that my political hypothesis, though somewhat imaginative, was indeed valid. It can be argued, therefore, that there is more than meets the eye in those international beauty extravaganzas.

For those too young to know, the Vietnam war was raging across the China Sea by the time I had won the Miss Philippines crown. The USA was already neck- deep in the quagmire. Its allies in the SEATO (later ASEAN) were being pressured to send troops to Vietnam. The Philippine President, Diosdado Macapagal, was very reluctant to send our boys to fight somebody else's war. Only medical missions and engineering battalions were committed for civic action programs. Aha, I mused, the USA will have to promote goodwill to soften him up. America bombed Hanoi and Haiphong, a bellicose maneuver that threatened to engulf the whole of Southeast Asia in the war. Upon arrival at Long Beach , I said in an interview that I was worried about not being allowed to leave home because of the Vietnam War.

All the Asian candidates-except Miss Taiwan-made it to the semi-finals. As we jumped with joy, she was livid but I was too busy analyzing my case to figure out if the "one-China policy" had affected her chances. Evidently, Asia had become the center of American attention and interest.

However, a domestic issue that gnawed at the heart of American society-racial discrimination-- suddenly sprang at the horizon. Civil Rights groups were demonstrating in front of Lafayette Hotel, where we were billeted and the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium where the pageant was being held. At that point, local newspapers were already saying that it was " touch- and -go" between Miss USA and Miss Philippines. Suddenly, Miss Brazil, a gorgeous mulata from Rio de Janeiro, suddenly grabbed center stage because of the racism issue. She was the real threat, I concluded, not Miss USA. On the other hand, since we were both "colored", maybe a morena might be just a bit more acceptable to a general public that was not quite ready for a dark mulata beauty queen. Besides, if a morena Miss Philippines should win the title, that would neutralize accusations of racial discrimination.

When Miss Brazil was named Second Runner- Up (third place), she was visibly devastated. She must have thought the racism issue would work in her favor. Then, Miss USA was named First Runner- Up (second place). She beamed and looked as if she understood why. I began to panic- Oh, my God, did I miss someone in the political spectrum or is my theory really valid? I guess it was because just as I vaguely suspected and sincerely hoped, I became the first Filipina to win an international beauty title. So, what do you think? Do political concerns wag international beauty pageants?



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