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Miss Universe makes triumphant return to native Puerto Rico

Miss Universe makes triumphant return to native Puerto Rico

The reigning Miss Universe made a triumphant return to her native Puerto Rico, 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 and first lady of the U.S. Caribbean territory on Monday 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 at a news conference, her voice halting with emotion.
Rivera blew kisses to thousands of admirers along the route of a homecoming parade through the capital, stopping traffic as she traveled from San Juan's international airport on a float the shape of a tiara.
The procession ended with an outdoor concert where Rivera _ wearing a yellow suit, the day's third wardrobe change _ danced onstage with Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila and well-known Puerto Rican artists performed, including salsa band El Gran Combo.
Rivera, the fifth winner from Puerto Rico in the pageant's 55-year history, edged out first runner-up Kurara Chibana of Japan to claim the title July 23 in Los Angeles. She is the first winner from the island since Denise Quinones in 2001.
"Your triumph is the triumph of Puerto Rico because you represent the best of Puerto Rico," said Acevedo, who invited the beauty queen to dine with his family and spend Monday night at the governor's colonial mansion.
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.