Angeline Pua: A Filipina Belgian beauty queen, a linguist, and a pilot

by Ricky Rillera

NEW YORK  – Angeline Flor Pua, 22, born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium by Filipino parents, was recently crowned Miss Belgium 2018 at the Plopsaland Theater in De Panne, Belgium. She won against 29 contestants from all over the country and is the fifth Flemish in a row to win the title.

She was crowned by her predecessor, Romanie Schotte, Miss World Belgium 2017. The first runner-up was Zoe Bruent, 17, from Jemeppe-sur-Sambre; and the second was Dhenia Covens, 24, from Vremde.

“I was not expecting this at all and I still cannot quite believe it,” she told reporters after she was crowned. “It was as if I was dreaming. I am delighted.”

She will be representing her Western European country at the Miss World later this year. However, Brussels Times reports that her participation in the Miss Universe has not yet been decided.

Pua said that being one of the finalists was already an achievement for her. “It took me eight months of work to win the title,” she said.

Before being adjudged Miss Belgium, she was not even considered in the top favorites.  Anglopedia listed its top candidates to win, namely: Cassi Belavia, Els Save, Gaelle Debruyne, Julia Ceriffi and Kimberly Hallaert. None of them was selected a runner-up.

Pua, who cites Nelson Madella as her hero, is proud to have Filipino roots, which made her a unique 2018 Miss Belgium. She is the first Belgian of Filipino descent to win the national pageant’s crown. She believes that growing up in two different cultures is what made her exceptional. She speaks Dutch, English, French, and Tagalog.

She first captured the Miss Filipina Europe in 2016 and won the regional title of Miss Antwerp in September 2017 which had 35 candidates. This was her springboard to compete for the national title.

Pua’s family

Her mother, Adela, 55, works in an ironing shop; and, her dad, Florentino Y. Pua. Jr., 55, who studied at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy Class 1985, is Chinese-Filipino. Her brother, Florentino III, is 13 years-old and her half-sister, Kimberly Trappeniers, from her mother’s earlier marriage, is 28.

Angeline’s mother, the eldest of eight children, arrived in Belgium more than 20 years ago. She married a Belgian and had a daughter with him, Kimberly. She was divorced after several years when she met Angeline’s father, who frequently visited Antwerp, as a “sailor”. Her father now works in a tax-free shop in the port.

At an early age, Angeline’s parents taught their children the value of hard work, modest living and shared with them some nuggets of inspiration to accomplish their dreams.

Not only is Pua a beauty queen, she is also studying to become a pilot – the only woman in a class of eight – at the BAFA Flight Academy. She expects to finish her course this March and fly a commercial plane soon. Her studies cost her 100,000 euros which she borrowed from a bank payable in 10 years.

Trappaniers, Pua’s half-sister, said in an interview with the Belgian language Website HLN, that Angeline had to combine seven jobs in the past years to bring her studies to a successful conclusion.

“From working in the decathlon and catering jobs to an administrative job in the airport, you name it. She absolutely wanted to be a pilot and since we are not really a rich family, a loan was indispensable. Thanks to her efforts, she managed that for herself, ” Trappaniers said.

Pua dreams of becoming a captain on a big plane. “Intercontinental flights with A380 from airline Emirates, why not?” she was quoted as saying in the interview with HLN.

She also said that since childhood she has been “fascinated by airplanes.” She wanted to be a fighter pilot but she did not make the cut at the Royal Military School. “I dropped and then switched to civil aviation,” she said.

In terms of priority, Pua does not consider her studies in conflict with her pageant duties. “I can combine the two perfectly. I am in sight of graduation: I still need two months to make flying hours for my commercial license and I have to take one more exam. But Miss Belgium gets priority right now. I can still be a pilot afterward. Rest assured, I will not just throw my diploma overboard,” she said.

Reaction in social media

After a day of her reign, social media was filled with racist comments about her. It hurt her and prompted her to respond in an interview with local radio stations, MNM and Radio-1: “Why do we have to judge people on the basis of their appearance?” the Filipina Belgian beauty asked the hosts of both stations.

Critics questioned how someone with an Asian heritage had won the pageant. They said that a blond with blue eyes should have won the crown. Many similar negative comments were posted in the social media.

“I call this Miss Philippines, not Miss Belgium,” a critic commented in Dutch. “Hopefully, it’s not a ladyboy,” a Twitter user wrote.

But in a story in the Brussels Times, it quoted the organizer of the pageant, Darline Devos, as saying that “she had four favourites, of whom three ended up on the podium. All three genuinely deserved to win. Moreover, Angeline is a hard worker. She really wanted to win. This is the case with the others as well, but Angeline stood out.”

It added that Devos confirmed that “[t]he points system used in the competition is fair to all candidates.”

Judges of the pageant were Monica Devos, Stéphane Pauwels, Laure Beyne, Gilles Van Bouwl, Annelien Campbell, Pascal Saidin, Isabelle A and Gilles De Bilde. “You have so little time to make your decision,” said Dave Devos, President of the National Committee Miss Belgium, just before the winner was announced.

“I’ve heard about negative comments,” Pua said in an interview with BBC news. “Of course, it hurts a lot to read those things about myself because I know those things are not true. I can show my ID, my birth certificate to prove that I am a Belgian.”

Pua said she never encountered any form of racism when she was growing up. “Never, that’s why I’m very shocked by the news happening these few days because I’ve never been confronted with those topics,” Pua said. ” I’ve always been accepted by the people at work, at school, everywhere.”

In response to racist comments because of her Filipino roots, she said: “This will not stop me”. She also reasoned out that she is not the first Miss Belgium with roots to other countries. “We already have Laura Beyne (Congolese roots), Tatiana Silva (Cape Verde roots) and Zeynep Sever (Turkish roots),” the Filipina-Belgian beauty said.

Not all the comments about Pua were bad. Many have expressed their support for her as well. Although there were suggestions of legal action, she has not yet considered it. “I have not thought about this for now, but I am someone who quickly forgives people,” Pua said.

Words of inspiration

Pua’s advice to victims of racism: “You should not feel sorry because you should be proud of who you are, or what you are and where you come from.”

Through the pageant’s main sponsor, Curasano, Pua received two works of art from artist Jacques Tange, a car and a unique handbag.

The original version of the painting showed a woman with blonde hair. However, Vande Velde, Curasano’s top person, said the artist will immediately update it to reflect Pua’s black hair. The works of Tange found in galleries command a price of up to 10,000 euro.

As for the handbag, only two copies of it exist, according to Velde. “One of them is owned by the artist’s wife, the second was specially made for Angeline. It is difficult to put an exact price on it.” Because of its uniqueness, Velde said that its price “will be somewhere around 12,000 euros.”

The Belgian beauty queen loves traveling, sports and baking. She wants to be a role model for young people and believes that “you can achieve a lot if you keep going forward in life”.

Although her family lives in a neighborhood where people consider the place as having fewer opportunities, Angeline Flor Pua proved them wrong with her being a confident and determined woman who won the coveted title of Miss Belgium 2018, a linguist and a pilot at that.

Her words of wisdom say what she has achieved in life thus far: “You can reach your dreams regardless of your ancestry if you work hard enough and believe very hard in yourself.”

Filipino community

According to the Belgian National Institute of Statistics, there are 3,067 Filipinos officially registered as migrants from the Philippines and their descendants living in Belgium. The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated that there are 12,224 Filipino in Belgium as of December 2013.

Wikipedia reports that Filipinos in Belgium primarily work as tradesmen, a worker who specializes in a particular occupation that requires work experience, on the job training, and often formal vocational education, but often not a bachelor’s degree. Some also work in the hospitality industry, as domestic workers, or as seamen on Belgian-flagged ships. Most Filipinos living in Belgium are female, estimated at 60% of the population.

About 7 Filipino associations in Belgium serve different needs of the Filipino-Belgian community which are either part of the Council of Filipino Associations in Belgium (CoFAB) or the Council of Filipino Associations in Flanders. Among which are the 4 chapters of the Knights of Rizal in Belgium (KOR-Belgium). Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, once lived there where he published El Filibusterismo, one of his famous books.

The Philippine Embassy in Brussels organizes events around major Filipino holidays, including the Philippine Independence Day and Christmas, that attract thousands of Filipinos from Belgium and neighboring nations such as Luxembourg.

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