July 14, 1998 12:00 AM

Speaking of her mother, tears welled up in the eyes of the new Miss America, Angela Perez Baraquio, at a New York press conference on Monday. Baraquio, 24 and the first Asian-American to capture the crown, said that she nearly scratched plans to enter the pageant after her mother, Rigolette, suffered a heart attack in February. “She almost didn’t make it,” a red-eyed Baraquio said, as quoted by the Associated Press. “She’s the matriarch of our family . . . And seeing her so weak lying in that bed, it was hard for me to cope.” The former Miss Hawaii, a high school gym teacher, was convinced by the director of the local pageant to go for it. “He said, ‘Angie, she would be so proud of you.’ I ended up running, obviously, and she got better because she has a will of steel.”

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