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María José Castillo Venegas earned the title of Miss Racine 2022 on Saturday, November 20 at Preservation Hall, 240 Lake Ave., in Downtown Racine. The 23-year-old graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Parkside in 2020. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and Applied Mathematics. Currently, she is employed as a Formula Chemist at S.C. Johnson.

The young Latina woman made her first step into the Miss America Organization as a way to give Southeastern Wisconsin something to look forward to again. The Miss Racine Scholarship competition did not take place in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, Sophia Karegeannes was appointed to a two-year reign serving as Miss Racine for 2020 and 2021.

Castillo Venegas says, “I wanted to make sure people knew they had something to believe in or feel happy about again.”

The Miss Racine competition is a local preliminary to the Miss Wisconsin State Competition and Miss America Scholarship Competition. The Miss America Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is the nation’s leading advocate for women’s education and the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women in the United States.

Implementing Restorative Justice

Castillo Venegas earned $600 in scholarships on Saturday night. In addition to receiving the crown, she was also named the talent award winner as well as Miss Congeniality. Throughout the competition she promoted her platform, “Mental Health Awareness Through a Restorative Justice Approach.” This social impact initiative will be a primary focus of the newly-crowned Miss Racine throughout her year of service.

“Restorative Justice is a conversation aimed to uplift and support those that would otherwise be reprimanded for factors they cannot control,” says Miss Racine 2022. Furthermore, she says, “with restorative justice, we can get to the root of the problem, make check-ins, and see a difference in students’ behaviors.” She’s certain that changes can occur with the proper support and a listening ear.

Unique Talent Helps Castillo Venegas Advance to Miss Wisconsin

She chose to entertain guests by performing a talent that had never been done before. Miss Racine 2022 is a speedcuber. While speedcubing on stage, the 23-year-old gave a touching original monologue about her experiences as a Latina woman who is also a disabled individual and chemist.

Castillo Venegas has a condition called Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a condition that affects her connective tissue. It causes trouble with the skin, joints, blood vessels, and more. Symptoms include dislocating joints, stretchy skin, chronic pain, extreme fatigue and more.

She’s open to sharing information about her diagnosis and being a support to others. Miss Racine 2022 says, “I am a person; a three-dimensional person with so many stories to share. I carry a variety of identities that make me unconventional in more ways than just appearance alone.”

First Latina to wear Miss Racine crown

In addition to being the first Latina to hold the Miss Racine title in the Miss America Organization, this Racinian will be advancing to the Miss Wisconsin competition in June.

“It means the absolute world to me,” said Castillo Venegas. “Honestly, it’s sad that I’m the first one in 2021, seeing as Racine has never been comprised of one or two races. We have always been diverse and it’s great that I can carry that first torch for any woman to follow, hopefully without fear that race will hold them back.” In 2017, Castillo Venegas won the title of Miss Latina Racine.

Volunteering is not new to Castillo Venegas. She has plans to pay it forward to the city she has called home since 1999 when her family immigrated from Mexico to Racine. Her favorite thing about her hometown is that “wherever you turn in Racine county, there’s a small galaxy completely different a mile away. You have the chatter in downtown Racine, the quiet open land in Union Grove, the quaintness of Burlington, and so much more. There are layers to our diversity across the county! And with those layers, we have so many different talents, skill sets, jobs, and valuable thoughts that give us a mix of farm and city life.”

Meet Miss Racine

María José Castillo Venegas will be serving Racine throughout the remainder of 2021 and into 2022. In June, she will take the stage in Oshkosh and participate in the state competition. Encourage her in her year of service by following her on the Miss Racine Facebook page.

Her first appearance will be on Thanksgiving day at the annual Dan & Ray’s Rendering Thanks Thanksgiving event.

Rating: 5 out of 5.