08 April 2009

Fil-Am beauty queen gains dual citizenship

A prominent beauty queen and model from the Philippines who has been in the US for over seven years recently gained her citizenship at an official naturalization ceremony of the US Citizen and Immigration Services in Sacramento.

Only minutes after getting naturalized as an American citizen, an experience that included taking the oath and reciting the pledge of allegiance with over 800 people at the Memorial Auditorium, Filipina-American Michelle De Leon admitted that although she was a bit nervous from her performance, the 5-foot-10 model was overjoyed at the chance to finally call herself a dual citizen.
“It’s the best of both worlds, definitely,” De Leon said to FilAm Star at the March 18 naturalization ceremony. “You have the American citizenship, you have the American privileges, and at the same time I still have my roots, my Filipina home, and my citizenship there as well. It feels good to belong to two awesome countries.”

As a dual citizen, De Leon will now enjoy certain benefits after being sworn in by US Magistrate Judge, the Honorable Dale Drozd. Some of the privileges that De Leon looks forward to are being able to vote (which she said she will do in the next general election), jury duty service, the right to apply for family members to become citizens, and the added security protection De Leon would receive when she is traveling overseas.

“The United States always fights for their people,” said De Leon. “They always take care of you and I personally like to travel. There have been a few times when I was in a certain country and I was not so sure about my security. Just knowing that I have this certificate, I know I’ll be OK wherever I go.”

De Leon’s Filipina mother was at the ceremony, as was her 13-year-old brother, who even missed a day of school to witness the occasion. De Leon said that they were both very excited for her, and that much had happened for her to reach this point in her life.

“I’ve been here for almost eight years now,” said De Leon, who was born in her mother’s hometown of Balanga, Bataan and went to grade school and high school in Olongapo City.

“I’ve been through some obstacles, (like) losing my dad… But throughout the journey, I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of traveling because of my title…And then after that, I just figured it’s time to finally get my citizenship, and be a part of America.”

The 25-year-old De Leon, who won the title Top Model of the World 2006 after the original winner had to forfeit her crown, lives outside of Sacramento-in Elk Grove but has plans of moving to Los Angeles. She thinks she would have a much better chance at to improving her job situation there.

“I am doing mostly doing runway fashion shows,” said De Leon. “I’m coming in and out of LA for the past three months now. It’s been Fashion Week so it’s starting to get busy. I’m trying to relocate, actually to LA, because of a bigger market because usually I was in San Francisco working.”

As for her professional career, the 2008 year was incredible for De Leon, who thanks the World Beauty Organization (WBO) for the opportunity to travel to faraway places such as Egypt, which she called “an amazing country with warm people and weather.”

De Leon said she is thinking about returning to beauty pageant competition, but did say that although she is now a new US citizen, she would continue to represent her native country.

She told FilAm Star she’s been asked to compete in the 2009 Mutya ng Pilipinas, an established beauty contest based in the Philippines.

“I’m seriously considering it,” said De Leon. “If there aren’t any restrictions, I would love to take advantage of that opportunity because after that, if I win—or when I win, that will give me another opportunity to go to another international pageant and represent my country, the Philippines, again as an ambassador.”

It should be interesting to see what the future has in store for De Leon, who as fate would have it, was discovered by a top Filipina fashion designer at a fashion show in San Francisco.

In September of 2006, Renee Salud “found” De Leon, and Salud referred De Leon to those involved on the Philippine side at the Top Model of the World contest.

Less than a year after, De Leon placed first runner-up in the 2006 event. The winner, Brazil’s Natalia Guimaraes, was forced to resign from her title because of her participation in the Miss Universe 2007.

In fact, De Leon nearly won the 2006 Top Model of the Year contest, as Guimaraes edged her out by only .2 points. The competition, which took place in the village resort town of Kunming, China, featured pageant contestants from over 50 different countries.

Perhaps now, there is a greater sense of urgency for many United States residents to expedite their becoming legal citizens of the country. Even as the recession is affecting almost all sectors of society, optimism still abounds for many recent immigrants, particularly Filipino-Americans who have come to America in search of a better life for themselves and their families.