Miss Universe Malaysia 2020: Francisca Luhong James on representing Sarawak and women empowerment
Get to know Francisca Luhong James
ICYMI: Our Miss Universe Malaysia 2020 is none other than Francisca Luhong James! As the first Dayak to win the title, heavy is the head that wears the crown for the 24-year-old Sarawak native, who sees this as both a huge responsibility as well as hope for many women with a similar background.
“In a way, I am opening a large door for other indigenous girls out there who has ever doubted themselves being capable of winning the title. Now, I hope they realise that they too have an equal chance to win and represent Malaysia.”
— Francisca Luhong James
Hi Francisca! Congratulations on winning the title of Miss Universe Malaysia! How was that experience for you and what does this mean for you going forward?
"It has been amazing! I am beyond grateful for the experience and it has made me believe that nothing can stop me if I do things wholeheartedly—slowly but surely, one step at a time. From hereon, I want to achieve something greater."
What spurred you to join the pageant at the beginning?
"To be honest, I've never really thought about it before but then I had this feeling of wanting to get out of my comfort zone. I was a very boyish girl back then but I got scouted to be a model before being suggested to join the pageant industry. I personally feel that I don't meet the average pageant 'criteria' but I had people who believed that I am uniquely different and that's what makes me stand out. So I decided to join Miss Universe Malaysia 2020 on my own. No one knew about it except my mother. I almost gave up on pageants before this competition but this year, my inner voice told me to give it a go. My mother even said, 'If you're joining it this time, make sure to do it wholeheartedly, all out, and so, whatever the results may be, you'll know you've done your best and will be happy about it regardless'."
We're sure the pageant was pretty stressful, especially in the midst of a pandemic. How did you cope and what advice would you give to others looking for stress relief tips?
"I just believe that it's normal to feel down, to have stress, and to be vulnerable at times. When that happened [during the pageant], I just think back as to why I decided to join it in the first place. To anyone reading this, my advice is to trust the process. If you feel down, take a short time to de-stress and turn it into strength. For me, I would go for a swim, relax in the pool or just go for a run. Have faith because you'll come back stronger."
As someone with your heritage from Sarawak (winning the title as a representative is huge!), what do you think needs to be improved on spreading awareness about Sarawakian culture and how do you plan to achieve that?
"Being the first Dayak to actually win the title is an honour, and also a huge responsibility. In a way, I am opening a large door for other indigenous girls out there who has ever doubted themselves being capable of winning the title. Now, I hope they realise that they too have an equal chance to win and represent Malaysia.
"There are a lot of ways I would love to channel this part of me on a global stage. Of course, we are looking forward to pageant week where we'll be able to showcase parts of Sarawak in my outfits as well as in the national costume segment. We'll just have to wait and see.
"I do have my own plans—with this title, there are a lot of initiatives where I intend to spread awareness about my culture with the people I'll be working with. My dad is an Orang Ulu and my mum is Iban, and so I'll be proudly showing my heritage on social media for now as it's the most powerful platform for people to reach out during a pandemic."