Macel Leilani Wilson – First Asian American to win Miss USA

07 Oct 2022 | Priya Bhardwaj

Macel Leilani Wilson has etched her name in the history forever for being the first ever Asian American to be crowned Miss USA in 1962. The historic finale was held on Thursday, 12th July 1962 in Miami, Florida.

Macel Leilani Wilson is the Hawaiian beauty who was born in Honolulu to a Portuguese mother and a Hawaiian, Chinese, and English descent father who worked as a plumber. She was also the first non-Caucasian woman to win the Miss USA crown. At that time, Macel was 19 years of age and worked as a receptionist.


Macel Leilani Wilson – First Asian American to win Miss USA


Two days after winning the Miss USA crown, Macel went on to compete in Miss Universe 1962 at the Miami Beach Auditorium in Miami Beach, Florida where she placed as one of the Top 15 semi-finalists. Wilson also filled in at the Orange Bowl Parade in Miami, Florida when then Miss Universe Norma Nolan of Argentina fell ill with the measles. She appeared on The Tonight Show in October 1962.

In 1967, Macel Wilson moved to Copenhagen, Denmark and married Jens Henrik Packness, a civil engineer. After moving to Denmark, she began studying film at University of Copenhagen and painting in private classes. She also began work as a film editor at the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.


Miss USA Macel Leilani Wilson First Asian American Winner Miss USA 1962


Wilson and her family lived in Tunis, Tunisia where she continued her art studies at the Tunisian School of Fine Arts in Le Bardo from 1973 to 1976. In 1977, she returned to Copenhagen and resumed work as a film editor with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation from next year until leaving in 2000. She continued her art studies and had several exhibitions in Danish galleries starting in 1999.

Macel’s contribution as an Asian American woman paved way for other women of mixed heritage to not just compete at the pageant but also give it their all to win the competition and representing a country like United States, an amalgamation of cultures, at an international platform.