Long before Pia Wurtzbach was crowned Ms. Universe and Cindy Obeñita Miss Intercontinental, a Fil-Am beauty who traces her roots to Cagayan de Oro City and Misamis Oriental brought pride and prestige to the city by becoming the first contestant of Filipino parents to win the Ms. Texas USA title.
Aileen Jan “A.J.” Valdehueza-Yap Valdez now 34, won the prestigious title at the pageant held July 7-10, 2009 at the Stafford Conference Centre in Houston, Texas and represented the US in the 49th Miss International pageant held in Chengdu, China on November 7, 2009.
The preliminary competitions for the swimsuit and evening gowns were held July 8 at the Hilton Hotel Ballroom in Houston. A.J. won both the “Best in Swimsuit” and “Best in Evening Gown” awards.
A.J. is the daughter of Dr. Romeo “Boy” Sy Yap of Cagayan de Oro City and Virgincita “Geget” Bautista Valdehueza Yap who grew up in Balingasag, but traces her roots to Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental. She is the younger of two siblings and has an older brother Nathan. Dr. Boy is a psychiatrist, and Mom Geget a nurse by profession and former Director and Owner of Virginia’s Lakeview Personal Care Home in Texas, USA.
“I thank God for what she is and what she has become,” Mom Geget said in an online interview from Texas. “It is truly a gift to have a beautiful daughter both in appearance and in character. I told her to wear the crown with dignity and pride yet with a humble heart.”
A.J. was selected by National Pageant Director Britt Harrison and other pageant directors from other states of MISS US INTERNATIONAL as Miss Texas US International 2009.
She graduated as the Most Outstanding Student at the Sacred Heart School in Conroe, Texas and went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude at Willis High School.
Boy, Geget and A.J. took a month-long vacation in Cagayan de Oro and Region X (Northern Mindanao) following her Miss Texas triumph, and was presented to the employees of the City Hall during the traditional flag-raising ceremony held every Monday.
“I loved CDO, everything was very close and I enjoyed spending time with my family there,” A.J. said. “I loved the malls the most in CDO and the least, was the traffic and rain.”
During her stay she went river rafting in the Cagayan river, visited the Chocolate Hills and Hinagdanan Cave in Bohol; Camiguin; Duka Bay Resort in Medina, Misamis Oriental; and petted a tiger cub at the Mantianak Zoo and Nature Park in Sugbongcogon, Misamis Oriental.
She also admits developing an addiction for halo-halo which she says she could eat every day, besides traditional Pinoy breakfast foods like Tapsilog and garlic fried rice. However, she has her reservations about balut.
Although she didn’t make it to the finals of the pageant in Chengdu A.J. has no regrets.
“AJ has a humble heart and accepts ‘not winning’ graciously. Okay lang to tell the story wala siya ni daug. Humility makes one a beautiful person,” Geget recalls. “In China she did not place, but was voted Miss Mobile Beauty. During the competition, the China crowd was asked to text their favorite contestant which was the recipient of Miss Mobile Beauty Plaque. This title allowed her to stay for an additional week with the top 3 winners doing modeling and interviews. For me this title is also prestigious as she won the crowd’s hearts.”
When she had the chance to mingle with the contestants, Geget observed how most of them did not think of winning, except for a few. They were having fun amidst hard work and a busy schedule.
“They like to look their best, and I don’t know how they can stand walking with their 4 to 5 inch heels all day long, especially during sightseeing. They truly love making friends from around the world. They just want to do their best for the country they represent,” she stressed.
“Winning is a prize of mostly luck . Looks, talents and hard work definitely help, but how many times the contestant who was the least you expect, wins. It’s the right time and the right place for one lucky woman,” she noted.
“After my travels to China, I continued to make several appearances, which included being a guest star on Life Pinoy Style, and being a co-host for the Alex and Toni Gonzaga Concert here in Houston,” AJ reminisced. “I passed on my title in July of 2010 and crowned Miss Maryland the 2010 Miss US International. I was also part of the staff for the Miss Teen United States -World and Miss Teen-World Pageants–we had our International Pageant, and crowned Miss Teen Greece as the 2010 Miss Teen-World.”
A.J. graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas in December 2011 with a major in biology. However, instead of proceeding to Medicine like she originally planned, she decided to be a Nurse Practitioner because of the length of time it takes to be a doctor. That’s eight more years for an MD vs. 2 1/2 years for a PA.
“Boy was a little disappointed but we both understand and support her,” mused Mom Geget. “She was eager to finish school and join the work force. Ibog siya sa iyang brod Nathan who was traveling all the time then.”
On top of her studies and modeling stints, A.J. made two appearances with the Humane Society. She was also a regular volunteer at Ronald McDonald House, a home for children with cancer as well as at an animal shelter (she loves animals especially dogs).
Life after Pageants
After representing the United States at the Miss International Pageant in China in 2009, AJ continued her studies at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston, Texas and graduated with a Bachelors in Biology in 2011.
After graduating she worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) while studying and applying to nursing school.
She graduated with her Bachelors in Nursing in May of 2014 and started her nursing career as a Registered Nurse in the Emergency Room at Texas Children’s Hospital on Houston’s Medical Center.
In 2016, AJ transferred to work at the Texas Children’s Urgent Care as a nurse, while studying for her Masters as a Nurse Practitioner, graduating with a Master’s Degree as a Family Nurse Practitioner in 2018.
Aileen married Otto Valdez in 2017 with whom she has 2 daughters. She currently works as a Nurse Practitioner at Texas Children’s Urgent Care. Texas Children’s Urgent Care is staffed by board-certified pediatricians as well as nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurses who specialize in pediatric clinical care, with facilities and equipment designed to meet the needs of children and young adults through the age of 18.
With her family and career to look forward to, AJ shares her reflections on her pageant life:
“I believe pageants really allowed me to build my self-confidence and taught me self-discipline. The competition is truly more a competition within yourself instead of the other contestants. The discipline in you must commit and prepare for this competition- mentally and physically. Once you are there, you just have to do your best. The winner is up to the judges – on a different day, different judges, a different winner could be chosen, so I really just wanted to enjoy the experience. I was given the chance of a lifetime to experience China alongside 60+ other smart, kind, and beautiful women. It was for sure an experience I will never forget.”