Pamela Uba, a 26-year-old medical scientist, has made history by becoming the first Black woman to be crowned Miss Ireland on Sunday, Sep. 5.
Uba moved to Ireland from South Africa as an asylum seeker with her mother and three siblings when she was seven.
“I remember thinking it was strange that I couldn’t hear gunshots when I arrived,” Uba told the Irish Times.
She and her family lived in a direct provision center, an Irish government system of asylum seeker accommodation, where her mother was given only €9 (US$10) for each child every week, before moving to County Mayo in the west of the country.
She later went on to become an Irish citizen, studying medical sciences at university, and now works as a medical scientist at University Hospital Galway.
She has since raised money to support education for children in direct provision, a system that has been criticized by human rights organizations as illegal and inhumane.
Uba said she got into pageants by accident. She had been working at the bar at the Miss Galway competition when a judge thought she was a contestant and encouraged her to take part. As a woman with no previous modeling experience, Uba went on to win Miss Galway 2020 in March last year.
However, after her win, she became the target of racist abuse and trolling on social media.
“I’ve experienced racism, and it’s horrible to hear people telling me to go back to my country when I’ve worked so hard to make Ireland my home,” she told the Irish Times.
On Sunday, Sep. 5, Uba was named the first Black Miss Ireland in the competition’s 74-year history.
It’s “crazy to imagine that 74 years went by before anyone different won this,” Uba said. “It means so much to me, I am so grateful I can show girls that color is not something that holds you back and it doesn’t matter where you come from, the world is your oyster.”
“It feels amazing to be that face that young Black girls can look at and say, ‘yes she did that, so we can as well.'” Uba told the BBC.
“You are good enough, and your authenticity makes you unique,” she added. “Don’t put yourself in a box, please break those stereotypes and show them what we’re made of.”
She said she hopes to use her win to show a more diverse Ireland and will go on to represent the country at the 2022 Miss World competition in Puerto Rico.