Fil-Am beauty queen traces roots to Jolo, Sulu

By Rodney Jaleco, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jul 16 2012 10:03 AM | Updated as of Jul 16 2012 06:03 PM

Miss Teen Philippines-America Iana Kozelsky with her parents Gerry and Sara

Statuesque American University freshman Iana Kozelsky dreams of being a journalist and perhaps winning another beauty title but for it now, it’s college.
 
Iana, 18, is this year’s Miss Teen Philippines-America, one of the longest-running pageants in the Metro DC region.
 
She also an interesting pedigree – her father Gerry Kozelsky, a Chief Executive Officer of a transportation company in Baltimore, is from the Czech Republic, and her mother Sara Amel who runs a day care, grew up in one of the most strife-prone villages in the Philippines.
 
Sara was born in Asturias, a barangay in Jolo, Sulu that has been the scene of fighting triggered by everything from family feuds to the presence of Abu Sayyaf bandits.
 
It was the seat of the Muslim secessionist uprising in Mindanao and much of the town was torched by fleeing rebels after government troops landed there in the early 70s. The US deployed Special Forces in 2006 and helped drive out terrorists in the capital town the following year.
 
“It was okay, medyo magulo,” Sara shared with the Manila Mail. But then she soon left, studying at Notre Dame high school and then to Ateneo University in Zamboanga City, about a hour’s plane ride away.
 
She earned an accounting degree from Ateneo de Zamboanga, she revealed.
 
She travelled to Silver Spring, Maryland in 1986, met Gerry and they married in 1987.
 
Their life has revolved around Iana, their only child. They’re excited about her plans. “She’s a natural,” Gerry says about her plans to pursue a career in journalism. “That’s what she wants to do.”
 
“Every since I was about in high school I was into public speaking and speeches in class but in my last 2 years of high school, as part of the newspaper team in school, that got me into the news more and interested on what’s going on,” she told the Manila Mail.
 
She professed an interest in politics and entertainment – perhaps an impractical combination here but something that might find more relevance if she were working in the Philippines.
 
She was just 4 years old during her first and last visit to the Philippines.
 
Her father said he visited Jolo twice, the last time was back in 1998. He enjoyed the visit, Gerry insisted, and didn’t feel threatened. If there were dangers, he now recalls with a chuckle, “I didn’t know because nobody told me about it.”
 
Gerry and Sara vacationed there last September but only stayed in Zamboanga City which they now count as home away outside the US.
 
He says Iana wants to go back too but they just didn’t have the time, especially now that she’s starting college. “I want to see my family there because they don’t have a chance to visit us here, to visit Mindanao which I don’t remember much,” she explained.
 
Then, as if an afterthought, she wondered about another possible reason to visit the Philippines. “I heard there is a Miss Philippines pageant there; that would be kinda fun,” she said.