On October 14, 2000, Hawaii-born Filipina, Angela Perez Baraquio, made history as the first Asian-American and teacher ever to be crowned Miss America in the prestigious Scholarship Program’s now 93-year existence. Today, she remains the first Asian and only Filipina woman to hold the title. As Miss America 2001, Angela traveled more than 20,000 miles a month on a national speaking tour promoting “Character in the Classroom: Teaching Values, Valuing Teachers.” Her year of service allowed her to meet with students, teachers, legislators, governors, organizations, and thought leaders across the country.
When I was the Grand Marshall of a parade in Washington, DC, there were all these Caucasian cheerleaders from California. Here I am on the float and all these white girls are saying ‘Aloha, Miss America!’ It was surreal.”
Angela has had the honor of meeting U.S. President George W. Bush, and Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, each on three occasions, as a representative of both the education and Asian community at large.
Angela’s message of hope and inspiration reached wider audiences through media campaigns such as USA Today’s “Make A Difference Day,” and the “5 Minutes with Miss America Tour.” She has appeared on shows such as “Good Morning America,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” and “Hollywood Squares.” At the completion of her year, she co-hosted on live broadcast to millions on ABC at the 2002 Miss America Pageant with actor Tony Danza.
With the aid of over $100,000 in grants and in-kind scholarships earned through the Miss America Organization, she completed her Master’s degree in Educational Administration at the University of Hawaii-Manoa in December 2004 and paid off her Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. She also used her winnings to pay for her teaching credential in CA.
The former K-3 Physical Educator/Athletic Director now resides in Southern CA, continuing her career as a motivational speaker, TV Host, and Emcee. In 2001, she founded the Angela Perez Baraquio Education Foundation, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization in Hawaii, which celebrates and supports students and teachers who exemplify character in their communities. Angela has taught in Catholic school for five years and hopes to teach at the university level in the future.
From 2002-2005 Angela was the spokesperson for First Hawaiian Bank, a community-minded financial institution with branches in Hawaii, Saipan and Guam. She was seen in various PSA television campaigns for both the Hawaii Foodbank and Catholic Charities. She is the recipient of the 2003 “Women Helping Women” Award from the Soroptomist International Club. Her award-winning inspirational story of achieving dreams is published in “Chicken Soup From the Soul of Hawaii.” Since 2004, she has joined her sisters as one of the hosts of the Telly Award-winning, Hawaii-based television series, “Living Local with the Baraquios.”
ASIANCE: When you ran for Miss America, 3 of the finalists were minorities?
Angela: The first runner up was African American. The second runner up was the first Asian Miss California. She was the favored one: a Stanford graduate. Valedictorian, concert pianist. She’s a doctor now. I thought she was going to win. I actually thought the first runner up was going to win when it was just the two of us. It was an unforgettable experience and I felt how amazing it was to see 3 minorities in the top 5. The same thing happened this year. I just don’t think there was a lot of coverage about that fact back then.
Miss America 2001- Top 10 Announcement
ASIANCE: Was your year the first year that many minorities got into the top five?
Angela: I believe so. There were a lot of Asians that had run in the past, in local pageants. They just hadn’t made it into the top ten or the top five, for whatever reason.
ASIANCE: How did you feel? You’re the one making history?
Angela: Extremely proud for my family and my heritage. At the time, I knew there had never been an Asian Miss America. When I was Miss Hawaii, people would interview me and ask me, “Why you?” There has never been a Filipina, “Why you?” I would say, “There is always room for a first!” I think just because it hasn’t been done before, people tend to get scared off. When you want to be a trailblazer in anything, you have to think bigger and have a vision. Anything is possible.
As a teacher, I was actually trying to inspire my students. That was the first motivator. The second was that I could actually make history, if I win. I was literally competing against 12,000 girls that year, at the local, state, and national levels.
I always thought of myself as Filipina so when they said I was the first Asian, I didn’t immediately identify with that label. I had folks come up to me who were Thai, Japanese, Korean or Chinese saying they were proud of me. I would say, “Why are you proud of me?” (laughs). It didn’t really hit me until someone would say my winning validated them. A lot of people really identified. So I was really proud of that.
ASIANCE: You won in October 2000 and gave up your title in September 2001, right after September 11th. I wonder if they would have criticized Nina if she became Miss America BEFORE September 11th?
Angela: It’s plain ignorance. They’re uneducated people saying these things because obviously they don’t know Nina’s American. She was born here and is every bit American as you and me.
Some of the tweets were: “Four days after September 11th and they crown a terrorist as Miss America?” “Miss 7-11?” That was so degrading but she’s handled herself in such a positive way with so much grace and dignity.
ASIANCE: With social media, there is no filter and the comments and backlash are immediate. Did you receive anything like that?
Angela: No I didn’t. If anything I received, “Why did this contestant win when I was favoring this contestant?” It had nothing to do with my ethnicity. I think people were more accepting of me because I come from the melting pot of Hawaii. They expect multiculturalism there. People don’t understand that Hawaiian is actually a race. When the headlines read, “The Hawaiian Wins”, I said, “Hold up. I’m not Hawaiian. I grew up in Hawaii but I don’t have Hawaiian blood running through my veins”. People thought I was trying to say I was Hawaiian and not proud of my race, which is completely false. The media coined me Hawaiian. First and foremost, I’m an American but I’m Filipina and born and raised in Hawaii. I was brought up with the Hawaiian culture, which is why I danced hula during the competition.
The difference between Nina and me is that she is Indian and she focused on being Indian American in her whole presentation at Miss America, which I thought was commendable.
She did a Bollywood dance for her talent. Whereas, I wasn’t focusing on being the first Asian or Filipina Miss America for that matter. My main focus was to represent Hawaii as Miss Hawaii and also to prove a point to my students that if they don’t try things, they’ll never know how they will do. You have to be in it to win it. I kind of ran on a dare! I wasn’t setting out solely to be the first Asian to win. Hawaii is a melting pot, just like America. In Hawaii, I like to think of us as colorblind. People don’t look down on you for being a mix of ethnicities. They are more accepting of diversity and it’s celebrated.
ASIANCE: For your Q&A, do you remember your question?
Angela: ha-ha. I can’t remember the actual question but what was great about my year, we weren’t asked one question at a time, standing up onstage in our evening gowns. The format has changed since then. Donny and Marie were hosting. Marie actually sat us in a living room setting and the Top Five sat on couches in business casual attire in a roundtable discussion. She just had a conversation with us. She asked me if one of my students had a crush on me, how would I handle it? I said something like, “I teach every day. There is a respect between us and a fine line between student and teacher.” I shared an anecdote about my kids and said they have enough respect for me and I would never send out that vibe because I respect myself. There was never an issue because I made it a non-issue.
Because I was one of the only girls in a profession at the time, I think that made a difference. Most of the contestants were studying to be something and I was already a teacher.
ASIANCE: They’ll say not only are you the first Asian American Miss America, but you’re the first teacher!
Angela: That was an amazing opportunity to be representing all educators. My platform was “Character in the Classroom, Teaching Values, Valuing Teachers”. I was really pushing character education initiatives in schools, in light of the Columbine High School Massacre. I also brought to light the fact that teachers are underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated. I know what teachers make and I know the amount of work and preparation and the sacrifice that goes into being a teacher. Although it is rewarding most of the time, there are times it can also be a very thankless job! Teachers deserve more respect for educating our future.
ASIANCE: Are you still teaching now?
Angela: I actually was teaching for 5 years. I just took a year off because I had my fourth child. After having my kids, getting my Masters and starting my foundation, I’ had been wanting to get back into teaching because that’s my passion but I’m still a public speaker and a host on a television show in Hawaii. I also teach part time whenever my schedule allows so I am still interacting with kids in the classroom.
ASIANCE: Four kids!!
Angela: ha-ha I’m one of 10 kids so it’s all relative! (laughs) I have 3 boys and one girl. We waited for her.
Angela with her husband and children in the music video
She can decide when she’s 18 if she wants to compete or not. It wasn’t until I was 18 until I did my first pageant and it was to earn scholarship money for college. So I had life experiences already. I would never want to force pageants on my child. My husband and I want all our kids to be scholars and learn music. The Asian culture focuses on discipline and results. As a kid, I’d get a 97% on a test and my mom would say, why couldn’t you get 100%?
ASIANCE: What did your students say when you won?
Angela: Well, they were ecstatic and inspired! It was a dare. I competed for Miss Hawaii when I was 18 and 19, but only won when I was 24. Not all pageants are created equal. I only follow Miss America and the reason I follow that program is because of the scholarships. It’s the largest scholarship provider for young women in the world. The program gives away up to $45 million in scholarships to girls across the country. Being one of ten kids, that was very important to me because there was no entrance fee. It’s a not-for-profit organization. So even if you don’t win, you could still earn scholarship money. I paid my bachelor’s, my master’s and teaching credentials thanks to the Miss America Organization I’m debt free from student loans. So when people say it’s not empowering to women? I can’t agree.
ASIANCE: How was meeting President Bush?
Angela: It was an honor. I always wanted to meet the President, and I actually met both President Bush and the Philippine President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, each on 3 different occasions, which is such a huge distinction for any Miss America. I met Pres. Bush at the National Day of Prayer, when I introduced him on the dais at the White House. I met him again in the Rose Garden for the Children’s Miracle Network with the kids from CMN. I was the Goodwill Ambassador, as most Miss America’s are. I met with Marie Osmond and then I had a private meeting with Mrs. Laura Bush. Then he and Mrs. Bush invited me again to the White House in 2003 for a State Dinner honoring the Philippine President. I also got to meet the Philippine President in Manila at Malancanag Palace and again in Hawaii.
When I was at the State Dinner, I saw Colin and Alma Powell at the State Dinner, and they both remembered me from when I met them earlier on immediately after my win. We sat at Mrs. Bush’s table. Tom Brokaw was at our table. We met Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. This was 2 years after my year as Miss America. President Bush meets my husband and says, “Oooh Look..One of the most beautiful women in the nation.” I was like, ”Oohhh hello, Mr. President!” Ha-Ha!
ASIANCE: What is the greatest beauty secret your mom taught you?
Angela: My mom always said that “Your eyes are the windows to your soul” and “Your face is your fortune”. Take care of your face. Smile instead of frown. So that has always stuck with me. You need to express your soul through your eyes.
ASIANCE: What do you think of all the Botox and fillers?
Angela: Well I don’t see Botox for me but funny story: I was hired to do this appearance in Indiana. Dick Butkus was at our table and he was with this woman. They introduced me as Miss America. I noticed this woman kept giving me the evil eye. I didn’t know why she was looking at me so weird. When she left the table, Ivana Trump, who was sitting at our table said, that woman doesn’t like you because of your plastic surgery. I said “What plastic surgery?” She said, “Oh you didn’t have plastic surgery?” I said, “No”. Ivana said, “Ohhh I think she saw a show on TV the other day that you had a lot of plastic surgery”. I said, “I think I know who she’s talking about”. Miss Brazil was on the other night and said how she had 21 procedures. She thinks I’m Miss Brazil!
I would be afraid to do anything..I want to be natural and make the best of it!
ASIANCE: What is your beauty routine?
Angela: I definitely get my massages. I have four kids, so it’s hard to go as often as I used to when I was single. Of course, I try to make time for my facials and the mani-pedis. My husband is so great. I’m lucky to have a good husband.
ASIANCE: What do you think are the 3 most important qualities to win the Miss America pageant?
Angela: Confidence. You need to feel comfortable in your own skin. Everyone builds you up to break you down in this business. In the end you need to believe that you can win at anything in life. Grace. I think grace encompasses all of that. I’m an athlete and my coach used to say you win with grace and you lose with grace. Character. It defines who you are when no one is looking. How you act is who you want to be and how you react is who you really are. No matter what is hurled at you during your year, just like Nina, how she reacts and handles these things is who she really is. I think she definitely has the confidence. She holds herself with grace and she has very strong character. These are all the making of a winner and important to Miss America. She’s doing a fantastic job.
ASIANCE: You were the first Filipina American and first Asian American to be crowned Miss America and now the first Miss Philippines is Miss World. What do you say to that? Do you know anything about her?
Angela: Yes! I’m so excited and proud for Megan Young. She’s going to inspire so many younger women to be comfortable in their skin. Growing up, I never had anybody to emulate, especially in the Miss America pageant. I thought they were all pretty, talented, well versed and educated, but none of them looked like me! I never thought winning was an option.
When I won, Joan Lunden had done a special called ’48 hours with Miss America – behind closed doors’. She literally followed me for 48 hours with a video camera and tracked everything I did. I didn’t even remember what I did until I watched it live in my hotel room during a telecast when it was showing. It was such a whirlwind, such a blur. Do you know how Miss America does the traditional romp in the ocean? Well Joan Lunden was there, watching me and as I came out of the water. Then, this 17 year old Filipino girl ran up and hugged me! She said, “Angela, OMG I always wanted to be Miss America but never thought I could. Now I know I can. We were both laughing, hugging, and tearing up. Joan Lunden said, “Angela is that your cousin? sister?” I said, “No, I just met her”. She said, “Oh that is amazing!” That’s when I realized I was a role model for these young Filipina women. Megan Young is another great role model for young Filipinas.
ASIANCE: Was there another prominent Asian American woman (in media/celebrity) that you looked up to or wanted to emulate?
Angela: In the pageant world there was a Miss Hawaii who became Miss America. She was Caucasian and she’s a very good friend of mine. Her name is Carolyn Sapp. She put Hawaii on the map. If someone could notice Hawaii and crown a Miss America from my state then why can’t I do that, even if I look different? She was the winner in 1992 and looks like your Barbie doll. She’s beautiful.
Then there is Brooke Lee. She and I competed in Miss Hawaii. After she aged out at 24, she said, “I’m going to run for Miss Hawaii USA”. She won Miss Hawaii USA, won Miss USA, and she became the first Miss Hawaii USA to win Miss Universe.
As far as the media and entertainment, there weren’t too many Asian role models to emulate except Tia Carrere and Lucy Liu. Tia was from Hawaii and I could identify with her because she was Filipina. Lucy was in many action-packed roles and still remained feminine. I related to them.
As far as talent goes, I looked up to Gloria Estefan. At Miss Hawaii, I sang her song, “Con Los Anos Que Me Quedan”, which means “With the years that I have left”. I also have Hispanic blood. I’m Filipino, Spanish and Chinese.
Jennifer Lopez was a role model for me. People said I have similar features to her. I still wanted to be uniquely me, so I leaned more towards the Spanish side of my ethnic background when presenting myself at the pageants, as far as look, talent, and wardrobe.
ASIANCE: Now that you mention it, you look just like Jennifer Lopez when she starred in Selena. I love that movie!
Angela: Haha my friends said the same thing. They said, “Oh we saw your movie. Is that you?” I would say, “uh noooo!”
ASIANCE: What advice do you have for girls who want to be the next Miss America?
Angela: Be true to yourself. Don’t be attached to the outcome. Don’t let it determine your life. It doesn’t define who you are. A lot of girls try to be other people. How do I look like her? How do I do my hair like her? There is so much preparation and it comes down to how well you know yourself? At 24, I finally learned to feel comfortable in my own skin.
ASIANCE: Is that considered old at 24?
Angela: Yes, in the Miss America system, you age out at 24. Contestants are between 17-24. That’s why when my students told me to run again, I said, “Ahhh I can’t do that!” So it was my last year of eligibility. Some girls were 17. At the 90th anniversary of the pageant, Teresa Scanlan was 17 years old when she won. That’s a difference of 7 years of life experience from when I won!
ASIANCE: Are you a pageant coach?
Angela: Yes, sometimes I volunteer to coach contestants. In Hawaii, I volunteered with the local pageants. I feel like you win the pageant at the local level. You don’t have the same type of support there that you do at the higher levels. You get your own wardrobe. You don’t know what you’re doing. You’re practicing your walk. You’re doing your mock interviews. It’s so much work. Once you win State, you get more support and sponsors. Then you win Miss America and you have these national sponsors and you’re traveling the world! It’s important to mentor girls at the early stages.
I volunteer with Miss Philippines USA and I judge some of the local pageants here in CA. I still get involved. I have a television show in Hawaii similar to The View and it’s shot with my sisters. It’s statewide and we aired our 200th episode recently. It’s Living Local with the Baraquios. Livinglocal.tv http://www.livinglocal.tv/
I’m working on a book right now. It’s about my experiences as the first Asian Miss America but also being a survivor of sibling suicide. My brother died by suicide in 2006. My speaking tour now relates to the WHOLE LIFE movement. He died at 28 years old. It really woke me up to how important and fragile life is and how we should protect it at all stages. A lot of my speeches have been about that issue. Before having my fourth baby, I had a miscarriage. So just feeling that loss of life on two different levels has been impactful in my life.
My book is an inspirational memoir chronicling my journey. It’s bringing up a lot of feelings and emotions that I’m trying to sift through emotionally, as I write it and go through the process. My goal is to publish it by next September. ‘Better than a Fairytale’ was the old title. Now my working title is, “Happily Even After”.
It’s one of those things that just rocks your world. Everything changes. The way you look at people changes. My brother Albert was 2 years younger than me. He was supposed to be my son’s godfather. He died 11 days after my son was born. It was devastating. My brother Albert’s birthday was on the 15th and my son was born on the 17th. His first attempt was on the 11th. My two brothers came and flew him back to Hawaii because we were in California. They left on the 16th and my c-section was scheduled on the 17th, so I thought this is ridiculous, all three of my brothers are here and none are staying for my baby’s birth!! No one told me about his attempt until he was back in Hawaii with my family. My husband told me on the 18th and I was in stitches after my surgery, and I just wanted to crumble. Ohhh it was the worst physical and emotional pain.
Albert apologized and said he was so sorry. We had this long talk, and only days later he took his life. Ten days later he was gone. It was horrific. Yet, even amidst all the sadness and pain, I am in a place that reminds me that there is always hope!
ASIANCE: Was it bipolar disorder?
Angela: The doctors think it was either that or situational depression. He wasn’t in therapy long enough to determine it. He was going to therapy and the therapist said that he loves his family, and he had a great childhood. So there were no signs of it earlier on. He was telling us that he had problems with his girlfriend.
ASIANCE: No girl is worth that.
Angela: No girl is worth that. No guy is worth that!
According to a former Miss America CEO, Robert Renneisen, my story is a real-life Cinderella story! My parents are from the Philippines, came to America in search of a better life for their family, and their 8th born child is the first Asian American Miss America. He said, “If that’s not a Cinderella story, I don’t know what is!”
When I was the Grand Marshall of a parade in Washington, DC, there were all these Caucasian cheerleaders from California. Here I am on the float and all these white girls are saying “Aloha Miss America!” to ME. It was one of those moments where I thought, “How am I here?” It was surreal.
I just read Vanessa Williams’ book, “You have no Idea”. She was the first black Miss America…and 30 years later, we have the first Indian Miss America. Here I was in 2000 as the first Asian Miss America. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go in regards to diversity.
I was at the 90th Anniversary of Miss America in Vegas. 42 of us came back. We all brought our crowns. Debbye Turner wanted to take a picture with all the black Miss Americas. (There have been 8 but I think 6 of them were there). So they’re all taking this picture and I’m standing there twiddling my thumbs. Of course they tell me to jump in but I didn’t want to because, well, I’m not black. It was just a reminder that we have a long way to go. Why was I the only Asian Miss America at that time?
ASIANCE: Now you’ll have Nina!
Angela: I was so excited when Nina won! Yeah, now we’ll be hanging out at the Miss America reunions. Very cool to have a new sister! You know, it wasn’t until 1970 that Miss America had anyone of color compete. Prior to that, there was a ruling that said you must be in good health and you must be of the white race. It actually said that! If I had been born earlier, I would have never been able to compete. Nina’s win was a long time coming.
ASIANCE: Today our generation is so different.
Angela: I hope by the 100th anniversary we have so many more diverse faces added to the sisterhood. I really believe Miss America is a snapshot of our society. We have to ask ourselves, who are the judges that we’re picking to push these girls through to become today’s winners? The winner is a reflection of our values as a whole about who is considered to be an “American ideal”.
When a woman competes at Miss America, she needs to realize that the Interview is probably the most important phase of competition. Miss America becomes a speaker and the face of the organization, so it’s safe to say that you win in the interview, because Miss America is a job and you’re representing the nation. It’s a grueling schedule of 20,000 miles a month, and you’re in a different city every 18-36 hours on average, but it’s so worth it and it’s only a year. I visited my homeland—the Philippines–when I won, and Nina is going to be visiting India. I got to meet my grandfather for the first and last time. He died two years after I met him. Pageants are huge in the Philippines so he was extremely proud of me. It was an incredible moment to meet my only living grandparent face to face. I’ve experienced something as Miss America that no other Asian woman has ever experienced, until Nina.
Photo Credit: Jojo Serina
Family Photo: John Loyola