Dubai: A 6-foot muscular man with Middle Eastern looks strides confidently in front of a crowd of Filipino journalists and bloggers at Ortegos Grill in Satwa.
"Meet candidate number six," the emcee announces to the crowd as the man in an all-black ensemble walks centrestage.
He looks like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, only he's sporting a French crop. And when he talks in Filipino, a few in the audience look stunned.
"Magandang gabi po sa lahat (Good evening, everyone). I'm Mohammad Espinosa... Taga San Fernando, Pampanga po ako (I am from San Fernando, Pampanga)," the 24-year-old candidate of Man of the Philippines-Dubai tells the crowd.
Espinosa is one of four mixed-race candidates in the Filipino male pageant that culminates in September with 13 men competing for the title.
The Filipino-Lebanese Espinosa, who works as a marketing analyst in the UAE, said he is just as comfortable embracing his mother's Filipino traditions as he is in adopting his father's Lebanese culture.
Growing up in a biracial household was never an issue, he says. In fact, "it's very exciting."
"My dad was always supporting my mum in the Filipino way," he says.
Even his name is a mixture of both worlds. This means he can eat adobo at home and then hit the streets in his Nissan Z, with an upbeat Arabic music turned on.
We are also introduced to 20-year-old Ahmed Yousuf El Sharif, a Filipino-Sudanese student from Sharjah.
Ahmed Yousuf El Sharif (second from left) with candidates of Man of the Philippines-Dubai.
Tall, dark and handsome, El Sharif says being biracial has made him "proud of who I am and what I can be".
He hopes to be one of two men to win titles in the UAE leg of the pageant to compete in three international titles in December's grand finals in Manila.
"I have always embraced my Filipino culture," El Sharif says.
He shares that he grew up surrounded by Filipino classmates and friends because he attended a Philippine school in Sharjah.
"I love Filipinos," he declares.
What does he love about them?
"I can see that Filipinos are always happy," he says.
For Filipino-Vietnamese John Aris Garcia, growing up with an "extended family" helped him become more open to his biracial roots.
John Aris Garcia (second from left) with other pageant finalists
"I only saw my father once, just for the sake of seeing him and knowing his name," he tells Gulf News #Pinoy, but admits he was able to immerse himself in both Filipino and Vietnamese cultures through food.
"My mum and dad are both good cooks. I was oriented in Oriental, Vietnamese and Filipino food. I learnt to cook some dishes and had the interest in developing my culinary side," says the 26-year-old HR practitioner.
Garcia says that although he grew up living in a "compound community", this didn't stop his mother from exposing him to his dual heritage.
"I am very proud to be raised well by a single mother, having both influence of the Vietnamese and Filipino cultures," he said. Garcia says he can speak "a little" Vietnamese, but is a "pure Tagalog and Bulakenyo at heart". A Bulakenyo is a person from the Philippines' Bulacan province.
"Since I have lived in the province my entire life, I still hold traditional [Filipino] family values such as close family ties," he says, adding that at the same time he still practices "oriental traditions like incense rituals, temple prayers and respect for elders".