Woodbury woman named 2013 Mrs. Minnesota International
Woodbury resident Andrea Bennett Xiong's life typically consists of working as a human resources specialist at Hmong College Prep Academy, a charter school in St. Paul, and supporting her husband Tou Ger in his motivational speaker career.
In her off time though, Bennett Xiong trades in her tennis shoes for heels, her jeans for ball gowns and charter schools for pageants.
Bennett Xiong, 32, was crowned Mrs. Minnesota International March 16 at St. Cloud State University.
"It's a lot more glitz and glamour," Bennett Xiong said.
Bennett Xiong will be competing for the title of Mrs. International July 19-20 in Chicago.
According to the Mrs. Minnesota website, the Mrs. International system was developed to promote married women, their accomplishments and commitment to family and marriage.
The pageant categories include platform, evening gown, fitness wear, personal interview and on-stage question.
"I really wanted the whole human being celebrated," she said.
An important message
One of the key components that makes the Mrs. International system unique compared to other pageants, Bennett Xiong said, is that there is a lot of emphasis on contestants' platforms.
"What I love about the experience is that the girls are passionate about many different things," she said. "The pageant is like a microphone to connect with a lot of different people and a lot of different audiences."
Bennett Xiong's platform is "Love is Not Abuse-Dating Violence Prevention and Education."
When Bennett Xiong was in her early 20s, she went through an experience that would change the rest of her life.
Bennett Xiong had a boyfriend, who would often get angry and act out physically toward her.
But it was one particularly terrifying day that gave Bennett Xiong the strength to move on with her life.
"It was super clear to me that I deserved something better," she said
After a heated argument one day, Bennett Xiong went into the bedroom and closed the door.
But her boyfriend violently burst into the bedroom, grabbed her by her feet and started dragging her out.
"I just lost all hope," she said. "I had no strength to fight anymore. The only thing I could think to do was pray that if I got out of this I would dedicate my life to whatever I believe in."
Bennett Xiong's boyfriend abruptly left the room for some reason. She thought he was getting a gun, but in reality he left the house.
"That was my opportunity to leave all my things behind and start all over," she said. "I thought 'I can't ever imagine being in a relationship again.' But I got through it day by day and I eventually met my husband - God works in mysterious ways."
It was because of this experience that Bennett Xiong returned to pageantry after having done it as a child.
"This is a way to reach more audiences," she said. "I understood that it was a problem much bigger than me and that I am not alone.
"If I come forward and speak up, there's power in that."
Vying for the title
Bennett Xiong said she is excited to compete for the title of Mrs. International because her experiences thus far as Mrs. Minnesota have been nothing but positive.
"It's hard to describe," she said. "It's a very positive experience."
Bennett Xiong said she feels confident going into the Mrs. International pageant since the current Mrs. International is the former Mrs. Minnesota and the reigning Miss International is also the former Miss Minnesota.
"Minnesota is really in a good place to do great things," she said.
Bennett Xiong said she wants to enjoy every minute of her Mrs. Minnesota experience.
"It's taking everything in and really documenting my year and enjoying it," she said. "I know I'm making a positive difference and contributing something good."