On Sunday night in Hollywood, Florida, Miss Mexico Andrea Meza was crowned Miss Universe. This was particularly exciting for pageant stans who’d been waiting a year since the show was delayed due to COVID-19. But what was arguably even more exciting for the rest of the world was witnessing Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong, Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin, and Miss Uruguay Lola de los Santos make powerful statements during the “national costume” segment last Thursday.
Ong walked down the catwalk in a red sequined bodysuit, red thigh-high boots, and a red-and-white cape with voluminous sleeves — a riff on Singapore’s national flag. But the surprise came when she turned around. Her red-and-white cape was hand-painted by Filipino artist Paulo Espinosa with the message: “Stop Asian Hate.”
“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence!” Ong wrote on Instagram. Arwin Meriales, the Filipino designer who created the cape, echoed her, saying, “It’s not just a national costume. It’s a statement and protest to stop Asian hate. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of such a cause?”
In an unexpected turn of events, Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin arrived in Florida only to learn that her luggage, which contained her costume, had gone missing. Some people from Myanmar who now live in America gave her a replacement look, and she ended up winning the national costume competition in her country’s traditional clothing, while raising a sign that read, “Pray for Myanmar.”
Thuzar used the global platform to speak out against the military junta in Myanmar, where mass protests have been suppressed with deadly force. At least 800 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and over 5,000 have been arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group. “Myanmar deserves democracy,” she said in an autobiographical video leading up to the competition. “We will keep fighting and I also hope that international communities will give us help that we desperately need.”
Lastly, Miss Uruguay Lola de los Santos, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, wore a rainbow gown in support of the community. The gown’s skirt read, “No more hate, violence, rejection, discrimination.”