AT a recent book signing, Miss America 2001 was approached and hugged by a girl who admitted she had pondered ending her life for some time.
She attended the event, not knowing what to expect. Except, she did have one plan in mind.
“’I was going to commit suicide today and you changed my mind,” the former beauty queen recalled the girl telling her.
Fil-Am Angela Perez Baraquio, the first Asian American and teacher to capture a Miss America title, recently published a book entitled “Amazing Win, Amazing Loss: Miss America Living Happily, EVEN After,” which details her journey through participating in the pageant organization, love, depression, and life-changing experiences.
Baraquio is no stranger to suicide, a tragedy to which she lost her brother in 2006.
“The pain is never gone, and you just kind of learn to live with the pain,” she said.
Through her ups and downs in life, Baraquio says “the sun will rise again.”
And she hopes her story will inspire and touch as many people as possible.
The road to Miss America
Born in Hawaii to Filipino immigrant parents, Baraquio is the eighth out of 10 children. Growing up, she watched the Miss America pageants with her family, and eventually went on to compete in her first one at the age of 18.
She said the real catalysts for her decision to participate in Miss America were the scholarships provided by the organization.
“I never dreamed of being Miss America,” she said. “I was focused on being a teacher.”
Through her participation, Baraquio earned more than $100,000 in scholarships, allowing her to graduate debt-free with a bachelor’s and master’s degree. The funds also covered the cost of her California state teaching credential.
It took Baraquio multiple tries before she finally won the crown as Miss Hawaii 2000.
The Hawaii native competed against Hawaiian beauty queens Carolyn Sapp (with who she is now close friends) and Brook Lee, who both won Miss Hawaii in 1991 and Miss Hawaii USA in 1997, respectively. Sapp also went on to become Miss America in 1992, while Lee won Miss Universe in 1997.
Both Sapp and Lee accomplished a feat that Baraquio saw she could do: put Hawaii on the map.
“If they can do it, so can I,” she said.
And she did.
During her reign, Baraquio traveled 20,000 miles per month, stopping by more than 40 states for a speaking tour called “Character in the Classroom: Teaching Values, Valuing Teachers.”
But as a new titleholder is announced every year, Baraquio eventually had to pass the crown to 2002 Miss America Katie Harman.
She was scheduled to do so in September 2001, when attacks on America took nearly 3,000 lives.
The Emmy and Latin Grammy Awards were also supposed to be aired then, but were rescheduled or canceled because of 9/11. The Miss America coronation, however, went on because the contestants voted in favor of doing so.
Although it was a precarious time in the nation, Baraquio hid her fears.
“If they’re looking up to me, then I have to show some leadership,” she said about the time.
Everything went smoothly, but the former beauty queen recently found out some news about that time: during the ceremony, two snipers were pointed at her and Harman.
Had there been any malicious intent while the nation was on high alert, Baraquio was told she would have been the first target and Harman would have been the second.
“I couldn’t even breathe [when I found out]. I gasped!” she said.
In addition to snipers, she was told that FBI agents and members of the US Coast Guard were in and near the ceremony location in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“I believe that the prayers and masses I attended gave me extra protection that allowed me to be shielded from [harm],” she said.
Thirteen years after her big moment in 2001, Baraquio formally announced the release of her book at Cerritos Library on Nov. 16, 2014. The book is currently being sold on Amazon and her website, which has signed copies.
At 38 years old, she said she might still be young to have a published memoir; but in her mid-20s, she had already received requests to write a book about her experiences as Miss America.
In her 20s, however, Baraquio was still dealing with much pain and anger: the whirlwind of competing in the pageant and the depression she fell into after it, the 9/11 attacks and processing her brother’s death.
Now, those chapters of her life are closed, she said.
She kept a journal throughout those years and finally put pen to paper in 2013 after receiving a call to participate in the 2014 Christ Our Life Catholic Regional Conference in Des Moines, Iowa.
The request came in 1 ½ years before the actual conference, where Baraquio was also requested to bring her book, which did not exist at the time.
It took her six months to think about it, before spending one year compiling everything she journaled throughout those years of her life.
“I was Miss America—that’s great—but I’m living happily even after great success and great tragedy,” she said.
These days, Baraquio serves as vice principal and junior high language arts teacher at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School in Gardena, Calif. and continues to speak professionally. She is also the founder of a non-profit organization called the Angela Perez Baraquio Education Foundation and owns a Polynesian entertainment company with her husband, Tini Grey.
The couple lives in Southern California with their four children.
Baraquio hopes her faith-based memoir will inspire people and that readers will take away the importance of faith, family and friends.
(LA Weekend December 6-9, 2014 Sec. B pg.1)

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