BRUSSELS • The new Miss Belgium said she has received an onslaught of racist criticism online after winning the crown.
Ms Angeline Flor Pua, 22, has a Chinese-Filipino father and a Filipino mother, reports said. She was born in the Belgian city of Antwerp where her parents met. She was crowned on Jan 13, beating 29 other contestants from all over the country.
Many of the critics questioned her nationality and asked why someone with Asian heritage won. Some said the crown should have been awarded to a blonde, blue-eyed Belgian.
"I call this Miss Philippines, not Miss Belgium," a critic commented in Dutch. A Twitter user also said: "Hopefully, it's not a ladyboy."
In an interview with BBC News, Ms Pua - who can speak Dutch, English and Filipino - sought to address such comments.
"I've heard about the negative comments. Of course, it hurts a lot to read those things about myself because I know those things are not true," she said. "I can show my ID, my birth certificate to prove that I am a Belgian."
When asked if she had faced such racism when growing up, she said that she hadn't. "Never, that's why I'm very shocked about the news happening these few days because I've never been confronted with those topics. I've always been accepted by the people at work, at school, everywhere," she said.
Not all the comments online are negative though.
Many people have expressed support for Ms Pua, who is training to become a commercial pilot.
"Proud of Miss with the Asian roots," said an online user. Another said her win was proof that "most Belgians are embracing diversity".
Ms Pua told the BBC that "racism is a very sensitive subject".
"It's not only in Belgium, I think it's worldwide", she said.
She had this piece of advice to those who are victims of racism: "You should not feel sorry because you should be proud of who you are, or what you are and where you come from."
Ms Pua was crowned Miss Filipina Europe in 2016.
In September last year, she won the title of Miss Antwerp, which allowed her to compete in the Miss Belgium 2018 pageant.
She said making it to the finals of the national pageant was already an achievement for her. "It took me eight months of work to win the title. Before joining the Miss Belgium national pageant, we have to first join the regional pageant," she said.
Ms Pua said her hobbies include baking and travelling.
She is expected to compete in the Miss Universe and Miss World pageants later this year.