CELESTE Cortesi stared at the Mouawad diamond-sapphire crown, with a nonchalant face, only yogis can muster. She was not in awe. She was simply manifesting, summoning the universe. I am you.
The 25-year old knockout is the Philippine bet to the Miss Universe 2022.
Raised by mom singlehandedly
Her Filipina mom calls her Che, short for Celeste (pronounced as Che-lè-ste).
She is among the thousands of second-generation Filipino-Italian youth who were raised in biracial environment in Parma, a cultural city north of Italy. Like most children of Filipino migrants who grew up in Italy, she speaks fluent Italian.
Her mother, Maria Luisa Rabimbi, was from Camarines Sur. She was working at a restaurant in Parma and fell in love with Venezuela Cortesi, the owner of the restaurant.
Venezuela loved the Philippines that both of them decided to move to Pasay with their eldest daughter, Monica. In December 1997, their second daughter, Silvia Celeste, was born.
However, his father was struck with a serious illness. With better insurance coverage and health care facility in Italy, the Cortesis returned back to Parma. Celeste was then seven months old.
Luisa had to struggle working again in Italy, taking care of sick husband, and her two children.
In 2008, Venezuela Cortesi died. Celeste was then 9 years old.
Luisa said she just kept on, fought her grief while she had to care of her two children by herself. Until now, the pain lingers.
“Kailangan malakas ang loob. Di ako kailangan magpabaya. Hindi pwede, hindi pwede. Kasi ako lang dito eh. Ako lang talaga. Walang pwedeng tumulong sa kin, kahit sa parte ng asawa ko,” Luisa told Empire Philippines in an interview.
Pia Wurtzbach wins. Cortesi tells mom: I want to be Miss Universe PHL
When Pia Wurtzbach won Miss Universe in 2015, Luisa was so ecstatic and hugged Celeste. “The Philippines won!”
Then 18 years old, Luisa admitted she doesn’t know where the Philippines is.
“So I started watching Miss Universe and I was so amazed,” Cortesi said in an interview with Filipino-American television host Jannelle So.
She admired the determination of Wurtzbach, who is also like her a half-Filipino and half-European.
After watching more beauty pageants, she got hooked and started dreaming about going to the Philippines to become a beauty queen.
“I remember that was the first time I told my mom, I want to go to the Philippines to represent Philippines in the Miss Universe stage. And at that time, it was a random thought. I don’t know how to speak English at that time. It just came to my mind and I wanted to do it so badly,” Cortesi said.
But Luisa said her daughter was already exposed to joining beauty pageants in Bologna as early as age 15.
“Uuwi na lang yan may dala-dalang sash, maliliit na crown. Pinapabayaan ko lang naman sya, basta nag-aaral lang naman sya,” she said.
‘You can’t speak English at all!’
Celeste’s sister, Monica, was her first Thomas: “She was laughing because she was like, ‘How are you gonna be Miss Universe you don’t even know how to speak English?”
But her number one cheerleader is her Italian best friend since age 5, Francesca.
“I remember she was one of the first who told me, ‘No you have to do this year because this is your chance. Don’t think about it too much. Then when I won, she called me and said, ‘Who told you first? It was me. I told you first.'”
Luisa said she was confident to allow her youngest daughter to go the Philippines by herself because she is very determined and already independent.
“Whatever she puts her mind into, she will go for it,” Luisa said.
So leaving behind the only family she knew, Cortesi faced her battle in the Philippines alone.
Thanks to Google Translate and a lot of training, Cortesi started learning to speak English.
Miss Earth Philippines 2018, Miss Universe Philippines 2022
A Filipina in Parma, Daisy Del Valle, encouraged her to join Miss Earth. At that time, she was already 5’8″.
In 2018, she joined Miss Earth Philippines, representing the Filipino community Rome. She won the Miss Earth Philippines-Italy. She also bagged five other awards including the swimsuit, and long gown competitions.
For 2018 Miss Earth tilt, she placed 8th. Looking back, she said, Miss Earth grounded her and gave her a lot of lessons. She was then struggling in almost all facets of being a FIlipina, and representing the country in international pageants.
She continued pursuing her dreams. She trained for Miss Universe.
But then the pandemic happened.
For more than two years, she could not return to Italy to see her family and friends.
She has grown taller, at 5’91⁄2” and has become fluent in English and Filipino.
In April 6, 2022, she represented Pasay for the Miss Universe Philippines crown. She took the crown and six other awards including Miss Photogenic, Best in Swimsuit. But what was foremost in her mind, during the competition, was her mom and her family in Italy.
Her idol, Pia Wurtzbach, asked a very apropos question to her state of mind then: “If you could stop time for a day, how would you spend it?”
“”If I could stop time, I would spend it with my family, especially my mother. It’s been two years since I haven’t spent time with my family because they live in Italy, and I came here in the Philippines just by myself. If I had a chance to spend one day, I would definitely be with my mom, and I would just tell her how much I love her and I miss her.”