The reigning Miss Universe made a triumphant return to her native Puerto Rico on Monday, kneeling to kiss a red carpet rolled out at the airport for her first visit to the island since she was crowned in July.
Zuleyka Rivera Mendoza, wearing a short green dress and waving a Puerto Rican flag, was greeted by the governor of the U.S. territory as she stepped off the flight from New York. Since the contest, she has been touring countries including Japan and Indonesia.
“I’m proud to be Puerto Rican, to represent Puerto Rican women and to represent the Puerto Rican people,” the 18-year-old aspiring actress said.
Events set for her homecoming included a parade and performances by Puerto Rican artists including Gilberto Santa Rosa and Black Guayaba.
“Your triumph is the triumph of Puerto Rico because you represent the best of Puerto Rico,” said Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, who invited the beauty queen to dine with his family.
Rivera, whose parents and two younger brothers also greeted her at the airport, planned to return Tuesday to her hometown of Salinas on the southern coast.
She was the fifth Puerto Rican winner in the pageant’s 55-year history.