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Miss Universe Justine Pasek interviewed by Chet Cooper
Building HIV/AIDS Awareness
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, weve been told our entire lives, a rather subjective view at the very least. What about, True beauty lies within? Have we now addressed our subjective ideologies with a more, perhaps, objective approach? Okay, we may not always believe it, but we accept it. Despite this acceptance of proverbial fact, how many times have we inwardly grappled with the preponderance of what truly defines beauty? We anoint ourselves the eye of the beholder and have banded together to define what qualities exemplify beauty, but are we being honest with ourselves? If what some say is true, and you can see a persons character through their eyes, then can true beauty even be seen through the lens of a camera?
Ultimately, each one of us cultivates our own opinion as to what constitutes beauty, and our answers are as unique as a Shakespearian sunset. However, in an effort to answer the timeless question and identify beauty in its most exquisite form, we hold pageantsthe rubrics of todays competitions being as diverse as the contestants themselves. Score cards aside, one thing was sure during the 2002 Miss Universe competition, Justine Pasek was the crowd favorite from the beginningthey saw beauty. With a glimpse into Justines history of compassionate volunteerism, one may realize that Justine is not only the most beautiful in the eyes of the beholders, but that she truly possesses an inward beauty worthy of the crown.
The Miss Universe website describes the contestants as savvy,
goal-oriented and aware, and Justine Pasek, the former Miss Panama
and new Miss Universe 2002, unabashedly personifies these traits. During
her reign as Miss Panama, she has worked with Casa Esperanza, which is
an organization that helps street kids get off the street and into schools.
She has also set up fashion shows for charitable organizations such as
the Red Cross, FANLIC (Fundacion Amigos Ninos Con Leucemia Y Cancer),
and Fundacion Son Felipe, among others.
A 22-year-old native of Panama City, Panama, Justine is the daughter
of a software engineer for the Panama Canal Authority and a homemaker,
and big sister to her two brothers ages 12 and 14. Her grandfather was
a marine in World War II and a pilot for the Panama Canal Commission.
Before ascending to the crown, Justine modeled, worked in production for
television specials, charity events, theater musicals and fashion shows.
She has had her familys support as a competitor in swimming, basketball
and volleyball, and has enjoyed drawing, ballet, tap, salsa and gourmet
cooking lessons throughout her childhood.
Chet Cooper, ABILITY Magazines editor-in-chief, had the opportunity to sit down with Justine during one of her recent visits to Los Angeles. The following day he was invited to join her for a tour of one of a home for children sponsored by Caring for Children & Families with AIDS. He witnessed first-hand her grace and poise both on-camera and in the presence of the children. As she sat in a rocking chair, cradling an infant to sleep in her arms, it became apparent that the fight against AIDS and HIV could choose no better a woman to have on its side.
Interview with Miss Universe
CC: What prompted you to take the leap from modeling to the Miss Panama
JP: The modeling agency I was with in Panama worked with the pageants
production department and trained the contestants. I had always seen girls
training at the agency but I wasnt really into it. Last year, I
thought it would be a very challenging experience, so I took it and...
CC: What happened? (laughs)
JP: (laughs) ...and here I am.
CC: Have you gone to college?
JP: I havent been through college yet, although I definitely plan
to attend in the future.
CC: It was probably not long after you graduated from high school that
the issues and conflicts surrounding Noriega were becoming more widely
known. What were your experiences during that time?
JP: I was 20 years old when the United States launched Operation Just
Cause to get him out of there. The whole country was in a huge depression.
He did a lot of harm and he endlessly violated human rights. I think we
agreed that he needed to be out, but we werent going to have the
power to do it ourselves.
CC: How did the citizens of Panama feel about Operation Just Cause?
JP: Even though there were no economic and human losses, it was a process.
It is part of Panamas history that we had to go through as a nation.
CC: Today does Panama have regulated elections?
JP: Oh, there were elections before too. It was just that they would
put whomever was to their convenience in the presidential position and
you never found out who really won. The voting was manipulated.
CC: And things are better today?
JP: Oh, sure! God only knows what would have happened if you hadnt
CC: You enter the pageant and are crowned Miss Panama. Next, youre
in the Miss Universe contest where you make it all the way to first runner-up.
What then, packyour bags and go home?
JP: I did go back home, but I also did some traveling in those four months.
CC: With the modeling?
JP: I was either modeling or doing pageant work. In fact, I was here
in Los Angeles last month. They invited me to the Grand Marshals
Central American Independence Day. It was nice because at the time, I
thought Panama was just going to be happy that I got so far in the pageant.
Then I started getting calls from other Latin American countries telling
me they felt they shared the pride. It was really, really nice to know
that you are backed by the whole Latin community and not just by your
CC: As first runner-up, did you wonder about the possibilities of what
you could have done with the crown?
JP: Something happened... when we were down to the five semi-finalists
of the Miss Universe pageant, we were standing together on stage and right
before they started calling out the positions, one of the girls said,
Best of luck to all of you. But its not about luck,
its about one girls destiny... this time, it ended up being
about two girls destinies. I was really happy with the whole experience.
It was fulfilling in many ways and I enjoyed itto my own surprise.
There was a lot of activity and I had such a good time getting to meet...
being in such a rich environment to me was awesome. I got a lot of love
from the Puerto Rican community where the pageant was, and I enjoyed sharing
our similarities. That was something that was really nice. On top of that,
on the night of the pageant my main focus was to do my best and represent
my country. When you work hard for something, it should have some kind
of result; even if you dont end up with the crown. If you do a good
job and you represent your country the best you can, you should feel satisfied.
Being up there on the stage... that night I was just really happy to be
there because I didnt have any pressure to win... so getting first
runner-up was pretty good for me. You know, I laughed that I was even
in the show! (laughs) So I was happy with that. Of course, my plate was
pretty full the whole time.
CC: So you ate a lot? (laughs)
JP: (laughs) ...with activities! As first runner-up, I received a strong
response from the population in Panama,, from the government and from
private companies. That attention gave me power to help certain organizations,
which I started doing. Now we almost have to squeeze them into the schedule.
CC: Talk about destinynow you have this second chance, what you
are going to do with it?
JP: To be honest, locally I was pretty powerful at the time, so I think
I was able to achieve what I wanted with just how far I had gotten. It
was good enough and I felt that way... but for instance, before this happened,
I was talking to some of the staff from the Miss Universe organization
about supporting PROBIDSIDA, a foundation in Panama that is confronting
the issue of AIDS. I noticed in my work during the year at the agency
that we do benefits all the time: shows for Red Cross, cancer organizations
and all kinds of charities. Through it all, I never heard of us doing
anything regarding AIDS and HIV. I had a meeting with the person from
the foundation and discovered they need a lot of support. I suggested
seeing if we could get back-up from Miss Universe and now that Ive
become Miss Universe Im using that even more. It is important to
understand somethingI never thought I didnt have the ability
to make a difference just because I wasnt Miss Universe.
CC: You returned to Panama after winning first runner-up. When did you
find out you were going to ascend to Miss Universe?
JP: About a month before it happened I was flown to New York for a photo
shoot. They told me a modeling agency was interested in me and wanted
to have pictures. I agreed because it was a free trip to New York! (laughs)
I went to New York and had the photos done; the photos taken were the
ones they used on the website and for the press when they crowned me a
few weeks later. Then they invited me to Japan and China as first runner-up,
and I agreed to go. When Paula Shugart, whos President of the Miss
Universe organization, personally showed up at the airport to pick me
up, I knew that something was going on. She told me straight up what was
happening and as soon as I accepted, the photos taken a month earlier
appeared on the website.
CC: Was this the first time that Donald Trump crowned a Miss Universe?
JP: I think so.
CC: Can you describe the experience?
JP: Everything was very exciting. I had a few hours going from the airport
to the press conference to fully absorb what was happening. The press
was very warm. I was just enjoying the moment and not really paying that
much attention to what was going on around me. When they put the crown
on my head... that was the moment... thats when it really sunk in.
I was happy. I got a kick out of it.
CC: What transpired this year was unprecedented. Do you have any thoughts
on what happened with the former Miss Universe?
JP: I really dont have many thoughts of Oxana (Miss Russia). I
just think that her situation wasnt optimal for her to do this job,
which is very, very demanding. It was just bad timing for her.
CC: Youve had the chance to do so much in such a relatively short
period of time. What has been the most rewarding experience so far?
JP: Its been very rewarding when I think about how much media attention Ive received regarding the issues we care about in Panama. Having the power to bring those issues out into the openespecially HIVits very rewarding. I visited a couple hospitals. Seeing the kids who are sick smile... and their heartbroken parents... to brighten their day is very rewarding.
CONTINUED IN ABILITY MAGAZINE...... subscribe!
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