It must be hard being a beauty queen. You have to juggle fitting into pageantry beauty standards while speaking about how women’s voices should be heard regardless of their looks. Then you have to simultaneously learn about pageant walks and political issues—and discuss these in 30 seconds or less.
On top of all that, Filipina beauty queens in particular seem to face the pressure of speaking solely in English—whether or not they’re fluent in it. Newly crowned Miss Intercontinental 2021 Cinderella Faye Obeñita shared her thoughts on the topic. But is her winning answer actually realistic?
On Oct. 30, Cagayan De Oro’s Obeñita was crowned as Miss Intercontinental 2021. During the Q&A, she drew praise for her answer to the question “As an international ambassador, do you believe that speaking English is important for Miss Intercontinental? Why or why not?” (Interestingly, it’s the same question that Janine Tugonon answered during the Miss Universe 2012 Q&A.)
“As an ambassador, I don’t think that speaking a specific language is very important here in Miss Intercontinental or any pageant at all. As long as that woman is a woman of power and grace, commitment and intelligence, no matter what language she speaks, and that woman is actually a woman of style and substance, then she can win any pageant or any endeavor she is into,” answered Obeñita. “We are living in a world wherein it’s very hard to survive, and as Miss Intercontinental, I would like to be that source of hope, that source of inspiration, on the true power of beauty and that is felt in the kindness of hearts and the sincerity of our loving actions.”
It’s an important sentiment to make, but one that doesn’t really address the existing language-based stigma in the Philippines and how there are opportunities that aren’t afforded to people who aren’t fluent in English. In the third world, English proficiency is a status symbol that increases respectability. With the Philippines considered as one of the largest and most proficient English speaking countries, there’s an expectation for our country’s representatives to master the language and there are those who continue to mock those who speak in “Carabao English” or even the internationally recognized Philippine English. Obeñita isn’t wrong, but one can’t help but wish that she mentioned how English fluency is wrongly being used as a metric for intelligence and substance.
Some of the queens who were criticized for their use of English during Q&As are Janina San Miguel, Venus Raj, and Maxine Medina. The discourse on employing an interpreter like other non-native English speakers has plagued Philippine pageantry for years. And yet when Medina was given the chance to answer in Filipino during the Miss Universe finale in 2017, she still gave her answer in English. It was a mysterious decision. Was it due to nerves or does she, like many bilinguals, struggle to fully express herself in just one language?
It is impossible as a Filipino to skirt around the fact that English is the current lingua franca. So, we have to take it upon ourselves to understand its socioeconomic effects (such as limiting job opportunities) and unlearn prejudices against “badly spoken” English. Maybe we can start by speaking our local languages with pride on international stages and recognizing that varieties like Taglish ay pwedeng maging mga alternatibo. We can even take a cue from Miss Manila Alexandra Abdon, who charmed pageant fans with her candid Q&A in Taglish last year. Enough with the disdain.