Photo courtesy of Bea Millan-Windorski

Breaking Barriers: Beatrice “Bea” Millan-Windorski Shines Bright as Miss Earth USA’s Trailblazing Filipino American Winner


A former Young Professional at the East-West Center, Bea Millan-Windorski became the first Wisconsinite and Filipino American to win the Miss Earth USA title. She will be proudly representing her roots and showcasing her advocacy as she goes on to champion the United States in the Miss Earth 2024 International Pageant to be held in Vietnam later this year.

The Philippines and the United States share deep historical ties rooted in the US acquisition of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War of 1898. According to the US Census Bureau, Filipinos account for the third largest demographic of Asian Americans, following Chinese Americans and Indian Americans, respectively. Despite having a rich history of immigration and a flourishing global diaspora, Filipinos undeniably maintain a deep-seated pride in their heritage, regardless of where they might reside.

The global platform that international beauty pageants offer has long been a source of national pride for the Philippines. They provide an avenue to showcase not only outer beauty but also the richness of contestants’ cultures, heritage, and traditions while advancing the advocacies they value. The Philippines has consistently achieved success in various international beauty pageants, securing four Miss Universe titles, one Miss World crown, six Miss International titles, and four Miss Earth crowns.

Bea Millan-Windorski recently made history becoming the first Filipino American and Wisconsinite crowned as Miss Earth USA during the December 2023 finals held in Orlando, Florida. Growing up Asian American in Wisconsin has had a profound effect on her values, which she proudly embodies on the international stage. She hails from Whitefish Bay, Milwaukee County in Wisconsin and has Filipino roots through her maternal grandmother Marcela Buenavista in San Juan, La Union, Philippines.

A student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a double major in International Relations and History, Bea brings a unique perspective to the international stage through her diverse background and academic interests. She joins us in an exclusive interview to talk about her experience growing up Asian American, competing in and winning the title of Miss Earth USA, and her upcoming competition in the international Miss Earth pageant to be held in Vietnam, part of the broader region where her roots are from, as representative of the United States.

What cultural aspects from your Filipino American heritage do you think played a significant role in shaping your identity while growing up in Wisconsin?

I grew up in a predominantly white community in Wisconsin, so I sometimes struggled to fit in as a child. However, I always felt comfortable around the Filipino American community and looked forward to our family trips visiting my lola or grandma in the Philippines. Now that I am in university and have had wider exposure to the Filipino American community outside of Wisconsin, I have had the opportunity to connect more with my community through my past fellowship with the Philippine Embassy in DC, by organizing my university’s weekly Filipino Language Table, and by working with Filipino American designers and coaches leading up to the international Miss Earth pageant.

How did you navigate and celebrate the intersectionality of your Filipino American heritage while representing Wisconsin and the broader Asian American community?

I am incredibly proud and honored to be a series of firsts in the Miss Earth USA organization. I am the first Wisconsinite and Filipino American to be crowned Miss Earth USA. While a lot of people might associate Wisconsin with more rural communities, cows, and cheese, my home state has a lot to offer in the way of diversity and environmental activism–the conservation movement was even founded in Wisconsin by Aldo Leopold! Aside from representing the environmental efforts of my home state, I also want to advocate for refugee communities in Wisconsin. Milwaukee has the largest population of Burmese refugees in the entire country, and I will continue the volunteer work I started in high school with these communities after my graduation in May. I also want to tackle the conversation about mental health in the Asian American community through Miss Earth USA’s associated mental health initiative, Still She Rose. All too often, Asian Americans feel the pressure to be perfect, to excel, and succeed in every aspect of life. I want to use my platform to show other young Asian American women that nobody is perfect, and I have had my own mental health struggles. I struggle with anxiety and overcame anorexia, but I would not have been able to address my mental health challenges without first admitting that I had a problem and then seeking professional help.

You were also a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. How was your experience here conducting research and how has it helped you have a more nuanced understanding of US-Indo-Pacific relations?

Some of the projects I most enjoyed working on at the East-West Center were writing an article about the necessity of nickel mining in Indonesia to Ford Motor Company's electric vehicle supply chain and editing the ASEAN Matters for America report. Writing articles about connections between the US and the Indo-Pacific really emphasized to me that addressing the issues of climate change requires international collaboration. One country cannot tackle such a far-reaching issue alone–the United States requiring nickel from Indonesia for our clean energy transition is just one of many examples. I also loved working on the ASEAN report because it articulates to policymakers the importance of our ASEAN partners in global security, the health of the world economy, and international responses to climate change.

How has your cultural background contributed to shaping your personal definition of beauty and the values you bring to the Miss Earth platform?

The international Miss Earth is actually a Filipino-owned pageant, so I remember growing up and watching the competition with my mom, lola, and titas or aunts. I remember not only being amazed by the glitz and glamor of the delegates, but also being astounded by their poise, intellect, and passion for protecting the environment. I deeply appreciate that the competition uses the attention an international pageant draws to raise awareness on environmental concerns and provides young women a platform to share the issues they care about. My family always taught me that beauty is not defined by outer appearance, but by your care for others and that is something I hope to live up to throughout my reign.

In your journey to winning Miss Earth USA, have you encountered instances where your cultural identity was misunderstood or misrepresented, and how did you address such situations?

Not at all! I was incredibly lucky to befriend three other Filipino-Americans who were delegates for Miss Earth USA, Samantha Chapin, Alexis Rodis, and Gail Muggill. I was also lucky to work with a Filipino American dress designer, Carl Andrada, who ensured I represented my heritage fashionably on the national (and now international!) stage. My pasarela or walking coach, Alma Cabasal, is a former Miss Philippines Earth national titleholder and she helped me nail down my walk and tackle the mental challenges of a national-level pageant. The Filipino diaspora has also been incredibly supportive of my win and some of my first interviews as Miss Earth USA were with The Filipino Channel and a Filipino pageant blogger, Adam Genato. My biggest challenge with my cultural identity is not feeling Filipino enough. I am only half Filipino. I have tried to learn the language, but I still struggle with speaking Tagalog, and I grew up quite disconnected from the Filipino American community. However, preparing for the international competition has enabled me to befriend Filipinos from across the country and the world!

Could you share any memorable experiences or challenges you faced during the Miss Earth USA competition that had a profound impact on you?

Something that really helped me throughout the competition was my mindset–my goal above all was to make friends, have fun, and compete against nobody but myself. Whenever I felt like I was putting too much pressure on myself, I would call my pasarela coach, Ate Alma, and she would remind me of these goals. I spent the competition dancing with my friends backstage and living in the moment. I slipped on stage during the preliminaries and that could have thrown me off for the rest of the competition, but I instead focused on what I could control, which was my response, mindset, and attitude.

As a symbol of cultural diversity, how do you plan to use your title to promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation?

My environmental advocacy is Open Doors Open Hearts, which is about raising awareness of the climate refugee crisis and the needs of refugee communities. I will use my platform to directly amplify the voices of refugee communities and across the country. I hope to challenge the preconceived notions that many people might have about refugees, especially in the wake of the migrant crisis at our southern border. According to UNICEF, children make up more than 41% of refugees worldwide, so it is important that we address the climate refugee crisis with empathy, humanity, and understanding. There are a projected 143 million people who will be displaced by the impacts of climate change by 2050. It is imperative we have proactive international and domestic policies that ensure safety and stability for those individuals.

What preparations are you undertaking to ensure you effectively represent the United States at Miss Earth 2024 in Vietnam, considering the cultural nuances and environmental concerns in the region?

Vietnam has always been on the top of my list for destinations to travel to. I love the culture, food, and the natural beauty of the country. However, the Mekong River Delta, which provides water and food to 70 million people, will be fully submerged within our lifetimes if we do not take drastic steps towards a more sustainable future. I am descended from Filipino rice farmers and deeply understand the importance of aquaculture. Leading up to the international pageant, I hope to raise awareness of the impending Mekong River Delta crisis, the implications it has for food supply and human migration, and what possible solutions are available. I am incredibly thankful to Vietnam for being the host country of the international Miss Earth competition and I hope to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of their beautiful country and environment.

What advice do you have for individuals, especially those with diverse cultural backgrounds, who aspire to participate in beauty pageants and use the platform for positive change?

My advice is to be true to yourself and draw upon the lessons you have learned from your cultural background. I am so happy to see that the pageant industry is moving in the way of celebrating diversity. Growing up, there were very few American beauty queens who looked like me, so I hope to inspire other young women who might not feel like they fit in to go for it, to be true to themselves, and to continue to march to the beat of their own drum.

Kyle Ta-ay is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington and a Young Leader at the Pacific Forum in Honolulu. He is pursuing an M.A. in International Affairs at American University’s School of International Service. He is also an International Student Advisor at the International Student and Scholar Services, a Research Assistant for the ASEAN Studies Initiative, and the Vice President of Finance of the Graduate Leadership Council.