#PinayCrush: Margarita 'Maita' Gomez
Though Maita was not Filipino-American (she lived her entire life in the Philippines), her legacy should be known to Pinays all over the world, and for that, we celebrate her for Filipino-American history month.
When you think of a beauty pageant queen, you don’t always align that image with that of a revolutionary. But that’s exactly who the late Margarita ‘Maita’ Gomez was. Crowned Miss World in 1967 and born into a high-society family, she was poised for celebrity status and a jet-set life. But during the height of the Marcos regime, Maita left her privileged life and chose to live the rest her life as an activist.
During her youth, Maita was handpicked by celebrity designer Pitoy Moreno to be his model, and later went to modeling school in Australia. At 20 years old, she represented (and took the crown) at the Miss World contest in London.
She came back to Manila during the First Quarter Storm in 1970, a period of civic unrest and explosive protests in the Philippines. She joined various student groups, and became a member of the New People’s Army in 1972. Eventually, she left her husband to go into the mountains with her daughter, where she became a freedom fighter.
In 1984, she became a co-founder of GABRIELA, an organization advocating for women’s issues, and the first grassroots movement for Filipino women. She founded GABRIELA along with her close friend, Indai Sajor, and fellow activists Nelia Sancho, Judy Taguiwalo, and Lidy Nacpil. According to Indai, Maita’s Master’s Degree in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines, made her a “great strategist”. Her voice made her known to many as a warrior for women’s liberation.
Photos from her youth reveal how elegant and beautiful she was. Her blue-blood roots and upbringing in proper schools made her an unlikely candidate for a revolutionary, challenging us to rethink what a freedom fighter might look like or come from. Around the time of her death, Maita’s activism had remained largely directed at mining and what she believed was the industry’s potential for human rights abuses.
When I came across Maita's story during the announcement of her passing in 2012, I was enamored. Though my own involvement in activism is different from hers, she inspired me to see that elegance has a place in a social movement. When I was coming into my own social consciousness in my undergraduate days, being ‘woke’ was the antithesis of any sort of ‘glamour’. So much so that I was sometimes afraid that dressing up and revealing my fascination for fashion would mean that my commitment to social change would be questioned. Today, thanks to publications like Teen Vogue, ‘woke’ has become accessible, inspiring, and dare I say it: sexy. Conversations about social awareness are found in the unlikeliest of places, like the runways of Paris Fashion Week.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that activism should be reduced to a fashion trend. I don’t deny the fact that its status as a ‘trending’ topic threatens to water down the potency of true civic engagement and social change. Slacktivism is real, after all. But I have to say, the fact that young actresses like Zendaya and Yara Shahidi are among this generation’s faces of activism, means that it has become an aspirational trait - being ‘woke’ is considered a beautiful way of becoming, and young women are being more and more encouraged to stand for a cause they believe in. After all, the desire to create and contribute to change should indeed, be a mainstream ambition.
But before all of this came to public consciousness, learning the story of Maita Gomez inspired me to understand that true elegance comes from a woman’s conviction and strength to use her gifts in service of her mission, and to do so with dignity, grace, intellect, and above all, compassion.
Ruby Veridiano is a fashion changemaker. She is a writer, fashion correspondent and speaker whose work focuses on connecting the dots between women's empowerment and socially-conscious fashion, as well as promoting diversity & inclusion in the fashion industry. She is a contributing correspondent for NBC News, NYLON Magazine, and Mic.com, and has interviewed designers Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, and Prabal Gurung, among other multicultural designers in the fashion industry. Ruby has worked on the social responsibility team of the Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH) Group in Paris, where she worked on global diversity initiatives. She is a proud Filipina-American from California now living in Paris, sharing her ‘glamour for good’ approach to life & style.