BELOIT—Francis Castro, 23, is a bit of a Renaissance woman.

The newly-crowned Miss Wisconsin Latina can speed-paint, is a professional makeup artist, sews and works as a paraeducator during summers when she is not at her university. However, her greatest passion is her platform of bilingualism.

Castro said it’s important for young Latinos not to lose their ability to speak Spanish when they feel the pressure to perfect their English. She also noted that Spanish has been spoken in the United States since Spanish colonization hundreds of years ago.

“It’s beneficial for us to be able to help those who don’t speak English in the community,” she said.

Castro recalls a teacher once telling her “English only.” It has propelled Castro to continue perfecting her bilingual skills. She’s a junior at UW-Whitewater majoring in Spanish education with three minors in bilingual and bi-cultural education; English as a second language; and Spanish literature.

After graduation she plans to become a Spanish teacher in the School District of Beloit’s dual language immersion program.

“Our future generations will have that option to become bilingual even if they don’t speak Spanish at home,” she said.

Not only can being bilingual improve one’s ability to get a job and allow for travel and social opportunities, research has indicated it can sharpen the mind and delay the onset of age related conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Castro said she received a crown in the mail after being notified she had won the pageant in March. Miss Wisconsin Latina was the first title she won, although she had competed in Miss Beloit Outstanding Teen and Miss Beloit twice and Miss Wisconsin USA.

Castro has a rich Mexican-American heritage as the daughter of Tarci Castro and the late Othoniel Castro. Her father’s side of the family traces its Mexican-American roots back to 1848 in California.

“My family has always been here. I’m 70 percent Native American Aztec,” she added.

Her father met her mother in Mexico where her mother worked as a teacher. Until she was 13, Francis lived with her mother in Acapulco with her father visiting in the summers.

In Mexico she learned to do nails, make pinatas, draw and explore her creativity. She later attended Hackett, McNeel and Beloit Memorial High School.

Over the years Castro did a variety of interpreting gigs. She worked at Open Arms Clinic in Elkhorn and has helped people when she’s at the doctor’s office or the store.

Because there is not a director in Wisconsin for the Miss Wisconsin Latina pageant, Castro was originally set to compete in Kansas for the crown. However, when it was cancelled due to shelter-in-place orders, she did online interviews with judges, sent a video of herself walking in evening wear and emailed photos for the swimwear competition.

After her victory in March, Castro will be competing at the national Miss U.S. Latina Pageant this summer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on July 17 and 18.

For now, Castro is keeping busy sewing face masks. With her new title she hopes to be more involved in Latino community events, promote Latino-owned businesses and read books in Spanish to children across the city. She plans to stay in Beloit.

“I love Beloit. One can be successful here, and I hope to give back to her community,” she said.