Photo by Dennis Oda, Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Taking time out to be with family, Angela Baraquio
cradles her nine-month-old niece, Echo, before a parade
Angela Perez Baraquio of Hawaii almost skipped the local
pageants that eventually led to the Miss America contest.
She was an honor student, an athlete and a sensible teenager
who thought the swimsuit competition was degrading. Of all
people, her parish priest, Father Maurice McNeely of Honolulu,
convinced her to give it a try.
“He said to me, ‘You can do this. You need to do this,’”
recalled Baraquio, interviewed over the phone in May while
she was at a Holiday Inn in Fayette, Missouri. “He said, ‘Catholics
need to be in the forefront more so they can witness to Christ.’”
The day was an “off” day for Baraquio and she had already
done four interviews with the media. Since becoming Miss America
2001 on October 14 in Atlantic City, she has traveled approximately
20,000 miles a month, met with President Bush twice, given
countless talks and interviews and has kept a schedule as
busy as any pope or president.
Yesterday she had flown in from Las Vegas where she gave
a talk on character education in schools and her platform
as Miss America. Baraquio’s first day in Missouri included
a press conference, an Internet chat session with several
high schools, a talk at a Methodist college as well as another
talk and dinner at the governor’s home.
Tomorrow it was off to Panama City, Florida. Everywhere she
goes people expect her to be “Miss America”: beautiful, gracious,
Baraquio, 25, has discovered that beauty may help win the
crown, but something much deeper and more sustaining helps
Miss America survive the 12-month whirlwind.
“When I’m alone, tired, scared or nervous, I can always count
on my faith,” she says. “God is always with me, and he is
using me as an instrument.”
Still Connected to God
Her whirlwind tour of America was supposed to start bright
and early the Sunday morning after she won the title. Baraquio
was scheduled to head to the bright lights of the Big Apple.
Regis and Letterman were waiting. Good Morning America,
too, wanted the nation to meet America’s new sweetheart.
Miss America officials had arranged for a limousine to whisk
Baraquio to New York. There was just one problem: Baraquio
told pageant officials she would meet all her scheduled obligations
on time, but she couldn’t go to New York Sunday morning. She
wanted to go to Mass.
Baraquio remembered what Father McNeely of Holy Family Parish
had told her before she left for the competition in Atlantic
City: “No matter where you travel, we’re all connected to
the Eucharist.” Baraquio wanted to begin her year of service
on the right foot, to keep her connection with God in the
forefront of her year as Miss America.
The story of Miss America 2001 begins in the Philippines,
sometimes called the most Catholic country on earth because
nearly all its people belong to the Church. Claudio and Rigolette
Baraquio were teachers who wanted a better life for their
children, even though it meant starting over. They came to
America, settling in Oahu, Hawaii, in the 1970s.
The Baraquios believed that their children would be better
off, but for themselves, things would be more difficult. Claudio
swallowed his pride and took a job waiting tables.
The Baraquios were willing to sacrifice on lifestyle and
status but not on their faith. Even though finances were tight,
they enrolled their children in a Catholic grade school. All
10 of them eventually received a Catholic education.
There are seven daughters and three sons, each named after
saints or feast days. The eighth child was born June 1, the
day before Angels Day. That was Angela, of course.
“Angie,” as she became known, was polite, caring, outgoing.
A spirited child quick with a kind word or helping hand, she
also was unremittingly curious. She once asked her second-grade
teacher what her name meant. “A messenger,” the teacher replied.
Baraquio also recalls wondering who she was and her purpose
in life. Why was she born into a family of 10 children? Why
into this family? It was strange and exciting. Even as a youngster
she sensed something different in store for her.
“The thing you need to understand about Angie is that she
grew up in a home where they lived the faith. They didn’t
just talk about it,” says Tony Boquer, the principal of Holy
Family Catholic Academy in Honolulu, which Baraquio attended.
Active in their parish, Claudio and Rigolette helped organize
the rosaries, devotions and ethnic Filipino religious celebrations.
They even cleaned the church on Saturdays. Their children
sang in choirs at three churches. Being involved in the church
was part of the identity of being a Baraquio.
'My Faith Is a Gift'
It wasn’t until high school that Angie questioned that identity.
Her inquisitive side stirred up rumblings deep inside her.
An internal whisper grew into a shout.
It wasn’t enough to automatically believe what her parents
believed. She went to the library and checked out books on
the saints, the Eucharist, the story of Jesus. She came to
a conscious decision.
“I chose to be Catholic,” says Baraquio. “I understand now
that where there is doubt that’s where you find faith. If
you have a blind faith, you have nothing to fall back on.
“My faith is a gift. When I meet someone who does not believe
in God, I realize how lucky I am. My faith gave me a lot of
strength and built my character.”
But there was more to Baraquio than just church. She played
keyboard and sang in an all-girl rock group called “High Tide.”
She also played basketball and volleyball and ran cross-country.
She was also attractive. Anyone could see that. Baraquio,
however, did not think in those terms. Yes, it was important
for her to look her best, but looks were only so important.
“I never thought of myself as extraordinarily beautiful,”
she says. “I thought I was a good person inside.”
In her eyes, beauty is something more abstract and less physical
than mere outer appearance.
“My mother used to say that eyes are the window to the soul,”
says Baraquio. “Beauty is the inner soul that shines forth.”
That inner soul was about all that her mother wanted Angie
to show, anyway. The Baraquio girls were forbidden to wear
Wanting to Make a Difference
Like all her siblings, Baraquio planned to attend college.
Her parents had seized the American dream by starting a pest-control
business. “My parents had to,” Baraquio jokes. “They had 10
Yet even though her parents were doing well financially,
she needed the money to pay for tuition. The chance of winning
scholarship money and Father McNeely’s encouragement gave
her the incentive she needed to enter her first competition
at age 18.
She won some preliminary contests before losing in the Miss
Hawaii competition. Meanwhile, she earned her degree in elementary
education from the University of Hawaii. Her teachers had
inspired her to become one herself, particularly her second-grade
instructor. The kindly teacher left notes in her desk telling
her she was doing well. “Being one of 10 children, I didn’t
get a lot of attention,” says Baraquio. “My teachers made
me feel special.”
For Baraquio, teaching was a way to give back. “I wanted
to make a difference, to leave a legacy. If I can have an
impact on one child, affect one person, that’s great,” she
says. “That one person in turn has a sphere of influence,
and they can touch someone else.”
After college she took a job at her alma mater, Holy Family
Catholic Academy, which is a mile from the Pearl Harbor Naval
Base. More than 70 percent of the students are from military
families. They respect discipline but, often on the move,
they crave a sense of place, too; a place rooted in faith
and people you can have faith in.
More Than a Coach
“Miss Angie,” as the students call her, taught gym to primary
grade children, coached basketball, volleyball and track and
field and served as athletic director. She set about teaching
the children more than just how to make a layup or do a pushup.
Baraquio used a classroom method called the TRIBES program.
It was based on community agreement, rather than rules. Students
were taught to respect one another and to listen to one another.
“They learned that if they couldn’t say anything positive
about someone they shouldn’t say anything,” says Baraquio.
“She was always teaching manners, even though it was gym.
She taught them to raise their hand if they had something
to say, to listen when someone talks, to show respect to others,”
Baraquio also made sure to be a visible part of the school
liturgies, coordinating the music and using her faith as part
of her personality during the school day.
The junior high students trusted her as a confidant. She
was one of those rare teachers who inspire students to open
up and share worries and fears.
The faith she modeled, the manners she taught, the compassion
she displayed were not lost on her students. “Even though
she wouldn’t like me to talk about it, I considered her an
evangelizer,” says Boquer.
Accepting a Dare
Baraquio’s third and final attempt to become Miss Hawaii
began with a double dare. Baraquio urged two students to try
out for the basketball team. Adolescent indecision gripped
the would-be athletes. What if they didn’t make the team or
embarrassed themselves trying?
Earnest but not pushy, Baraquio counseled the two hesitant
students in her office one last time. “You don’t want to look
back someday and say, ‘I should have and could have.’ You
have to take a chance. It’s O.K. to fail.”
The students agreed to try out for the team but only if their
teacher entered the Miss America competition again. Baraquio
smiled. They were right. She, too, needed to follow her dreams.
Baraquio almost quit soon after she started. While Angela
was in a local competition that led to the Miss Hawaii title,
Rigolette suffered a heart attack. Seeing her weakened mother
lying in bed was heartbreaking.
The local director urged her to continue. She relented, and
her mother, who has “a will of steel,” regained her health.
Baraquio won the Miss Hawaii competition, and the local basketball
squad gained two new players.
Strength From Prayer
Next up was the Miss America competition, held in October
in Atlantic City. Baraquio was not one of the favorites. In
fact, no Asian-American had ever won the title.
Few Miss Hawaii contestants over the years danced the hula
for the talent competition. That was considered too obvious
a choice. Immensely proud of her roots, Baraquio ignored conventional
wisdom and, while wearing an evening gown, danced the Polynesian
ritual to the theme of the movie Hawaii, sung by a
Miss Hawaii from 1975.
Baraquio also set herself apart in the evening gown competition.
She wore a vibrant red dress while most of the other contestants
chose black. The crowd oohed and aahed in admiration.
In the interview with the judges Baraquio said her platform
as Miss America would be character education. She wanted America’s
children to learn ethics and moral values.
Baraquio won the preliminary swimsuit competition. But her
onstage interview with host Donny Osmond, according to one
newspaper writer, was “unremarkable.”
Before each part of the competition Baraquio silently prayed,
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.” She
did not pray to win. She had once suffered from stage fright
and praying calmed her nerves. She prays whether she is on
stage before a national TV audience or in gym class, whenever
there’s a moment to spare. Praying is part of her inner life.
Baraquio made the final five. Beside her stood Miss California,
Miss Mississippi, Miss Kentucky and Miss Louisiana. Most viewers
expected Faith Jenkins, Miss Louisiana, to win. Jenkins had
won two preliminary competitions. She sang “If I Could” superbly.
Her platform, literacy, was considered appealing, especially
because her mother was once illiterate.
Baraquio remembered what Father McNeely had told her before
she left for Atlantic City. “I know you will win,” he joked.
“I have an in with the man upstairs.”
An Unbelievable Moment
The teachers, students and parents of Holy Family Academy
had gathered to watch the telecast at the school as part of
a fund-raiser. They held their breaths as the five were whittled
down to two, their own Coach Angie and Miss Louisiana.
Donny Osmond unfolded the card with the winner’s name and
began to read the name. Baraquio gasped. The crowd at Holy
Family erupted in wild cheering.
“My gosh, it was an unbelievable moment,” says Kehau Miyamoto,
the school’s dean of students who knew Baraquio as a student.
“She always told us you can be whatever you want to be,”
says eighth-grader Ashley. “She proved that herself.”
Shortly after winning the title, Baraquio returned to Holy
Family Academy. The students rushed up to embrace her. The
new Miss America was also the guest of honor at a reception
at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Wearing a white gown, crown
and lei, she glided down the runway, lined with her students,
their faces flushed with excitement.
Her poise and charm won over David Letterman and others.
The late-night host, fond of making his guests squirm, had
a photo of Baraquio in a swimsuit on his desk. After chatting
for a while, he unobtrusively turned it over, shoved it aside
and refrained from any wisecracks. She told Diane Sawyer of
Good Morning America that she would like to see the
swimsuit competition eliminated.
More Than a Pretty Face
Baraquio is not a mere figurehead of beauty but an activist
who crisscrosses the country on a mission of goodwill. Her
message is twofold: “Character in the Classroom: Teaching
Values, Valuing Teachers,” which promotes higher pay for teachers
and transmitting morals in the classroom.
“People think this is all glitz and glamour,” she says. “It’s
definitely a job, especially because of my focus on character
Her experience with Catholic schools has taught her that
teaching values in school is entirely possible. Catholic educators
“try to be a witness to Jesus Christ,” she says. “Character
education is ingrained in Catholic schools. We’re not talking
about it—we’re modeling it.”
Like all Miss Americas, she visits with legislators, civic
leaders and journalists. But this Miss America reserves plenty
of time for trips to Catholic schools and events.
In February she visited St. Mary Magdalen School in Wilmington,
Delaware. Three hundred eighth-graders from seven local Catholic
schools should have been in science, math or English, but
they gathered to hear Miss America.
“There will be people who tell you that you can’t live your
dreams, you can’t get your goals,” she told them. “You need
to listen to the people who give you positive messages.”
That evening, Baraquio spoke to a crowd of 180 adults and
children during a dinner at Ursuline Academy, sponsored by
Catholic Youth Ministry. Baraquio recalled the words of wisdom
that her pastor, Father Maurice McNeely, shared with her before
leaving for the Miss America competition.
“Remember that what keeps us together is the Eucharist. So
everywhere you go, you can go to Mass and we will be connected
in Christ,” he said.
Baraquio also recounted the earnest prayer she made before
being crowned. “The night I won I prayed that God’s will be
done. When they were calling the winners I just prayed to
God. I said, ‘I am scared. I probably won’t win. But if I
do, give me the strength and courage to do your will.’
“And that’s why I am here today, to testify to the faith,
because I am proud to be Catholic.”
Far From Home But Close to God
The title of Miss America brings over $100,000 in scholarship
assistance. Baraquio plans to get a master’s degree and return
to the educational field. Her ultimate goal is to become superintendent
of schools in Honolulu.
For now, airports and hotels are a second home. Baraquio
keeps in touch by letters and e-mail with the students who
were closest to her. She travels with a chaperone. Except
when a sponsor asks, she does not wear the crown, which she
keeps in a velvet-lined wooden box. Instead, she wears a modest
lapel pin in the shape of the crown.
Baraquio’s life is a blur of people and places. But on “off”
days like this she can sit and reflect, putting the frenzy
into perspective. The expectations of her are huge. “This
can be so overwhelming,” she says. “When I walk into a room,
it’s either ‘Wow, it’s Miss America’ or ‘What does she have
“I’ve learned so much about myself and about the challenges
of being Miss America,” she says. “I couldn’t do anything
without my faith in God.”
Being Miss America is an honor, not an identity. “The title
of Miss America does not define who I am. I’m a daughter,
sister, friend, aunt,” she says. “The foundation of who I
am is my faith, family and education.”
Baraquio is grateful for her success. She says being Miss
America has given her “a platform to say what I believe.”
She has not forgotten her old school, her roots, her faith—or
that her name means messenger.
Jay Copp edits the alumni magazine for DePaul University
in Chicago, Illinois. The author of The Liguori Guide
to Catholic U.S.A. (Liguori, 1999), Copp lives with his
wife and three young boys in La Grange Park, Illinois.