The biggest celebrities of them all: the 2020 Tournament of Roses Royal Court. L-R, Rose Queen Camille Kennedy, Rose Princesses Emilie Risha, Reese Rosental Saporito, Mia Thorsen, Michael Wilkins, Rukan Saif, Cole Fox.
by Laura Berthold Monteros
At the Tournament of Roses Parade, the real celebrities are the gorgeous floral creations that float along the parade route on New Year’s Day. The 131st Rose Parade, held on Jan. 1, 2020, was no exception. But that doesn’t mean there are no human celebrities! Riding along Colorado Blvd. in flower-bedecked antique vehicles is a tradition for the people that the current president chooses to represent the theme she has chosen, this year, Pres. Laura Farber chose “The Power of Hope.”
You can read more about them by exploring the 2020 Tournament of Roses page on this website. You can see them, nestled in the seats of beautiful vehicles and waving to the crowds, in the gallery below. Information about the cars is in the captions.
Rose Princesses Rukah Saif, Mia Thorsen, Emilie Risha, Reese Rosental Saporito, Michael Wilkins, Camille Kennedy, and Cole Fox are introduced by KTLA News anchor Lynette Romero
by Laura Berthold Monteros
On the patio of the famed Pasadena Playhouse, gathered friends, family, Tournament of Roses members, and media bustle in anticipation of one of the most exciting annual events in the city. Inside, after the chatter dies down, the 102nd Rose Queen will be announced. Chosen from seven young women on the Tournament of Roses 2020 Royal Court, the queen will preside over the 131st Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 2020. But who will it be?
The story is really in the pictures in the gallery below, so be sure to take a look and read the captions to learn more about the women of the Tournament of Roses Royal Court.
Amid servers carrying plates of hors d’oeuvres, the music of The Mariachi Divas, and snapping cameras, we were able to identify the parents (the dads wear white rose boutonnieres) and talk with a few. They had lovely memories of their daughters, and were happy to share with The Rose Examiner. For more about the Royal Court, check out the Royal Court page on this website.
ON THE PATIO
Princess Rukah Saif must have set the record for the family member who traveled the farthest. Her grandmother, Shamsun Nahar, flew all the way from Bangladesh and just arrived a few days earlier. Rukah’s mother, Rumana Rashid, said her daughter had been going to the Rose Parade since she was a child perched on her father’s shoulders.
“She enjoyed it through her whole youth,” Rashid said. She described Rukah as quiet and very kindhearted. “She is our only child. She grew up with us.”
Her mother and father, Saif Haroon, were graduate students—she in molecular biology and he in civil engineering—when Rukah was born. She was still a preschooler when they moved to California, and has been to the parade very year since. She even marched with the Arcadia High School Band in one and helped to decorate a float.
Princess Michael Wilkins—“Mike” to her family and friends—is also an only child. He father, Overton Wilkins, said, “She’s my little sunshine,” and related how he sang “This Little Light of Mine” to her.
“She always made us proud,” he said. “She’s a nice young lady and we enjoy her.” Indeed. Her father said that in addition to being quite an athlete, having won in CIF tennis tournaments, “She’s just as good in speech and debate.” She’s been on the Maranatha High School team for four years, and went to the NAACP oratory finals in Detroit last July.
“I told her if you practice long enough, good things will happen,” Wilkins said. “She’s been a blessing to us.”
Princess Reese Rosental Saporito’s father, Chris Rosental Saporito, said, “I am so proud of her. She is fantastic.” She has handled her position on the Royal Court with grace, he said. Reese is on the soccer team with fellow Marshall Fundamental School Princess Mia Thorsen.
INSIDE THE PLAYHOUSE
It was pretty much an all-female and heavily Latina cast, with Pres. Laura Farber leading the way as the first Latina (and only third woman) leading the 2020 Tournament of Roses. She was joined by the chair of the Queen & Court Committee, Ruth Martinez-Baenen, emcee Lynette Romero from KTLA News, and of course the Divas. Farber welcomed the audience, thanked the sponsors, and introduced the Pasadena Playhouse director of development Nancy Griffith Baxter and emcee Romero.
Each of the seven princesses was introduced with a short slide show featuring photos from early childhood and teen years. Voiceovers by her parents mentioned accomplishments, character, and personality. When all seven were onstage in their diaphanous champagne gowns, it was time for the announcement. Farber stretched out the announcement with several teasing false starts, then opened the envelope to announce, “Camille Kennedy!” After hugs and photos, the girls left to be fitted with their tiaras and for Queen Camille to change into her white gown.
In the interim, Farber asked the former princesses and queens in attendance to stand up, and she introduced the 1940 Rose Queen, Margaret Huntley Main, attending her 80th coronation. Queen Margaret, who wrote the book A Rose Queen Is Forever, advised, “Enjoy every moment. You are making memories for the rest of your life.”
There was a slideshow of the Royal Court at community events and their retreat in Solvang, a Danish community in Central California. The Mariachi Divas gave a spirited performance of mariachi favorites. When the set was done, they walked off the stage playing “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”
As each Rose Princess was led back onstage on her father’s arm, she received a bouquet of red roses from two former princesses, Maya Kawaguchi Kahn (2017) and Helen Rossi (2019). The previous Rose Queen usually presents the bouquet to the newly-announced queen, but due to a calculus midterm in Chicago, Queen Louise Deser Siskel could not make it. She sent a video promising to take Queen Camille out for a deep dish pizza to make up for it, and Martinez-Baenen presented the roses.
OVER BUT STILL GOING
After the program, there were rounds of still photos and interviews with the media for the members of the Royal Court. We were able to get a few words with Queen Camille and some of the other members of the court. Quotes from the princesses are in the captions below; they are amazing young women, so be sure to read them! We asked Queen Camille, who is fluent in Japanese and wants to attend college in the country, if she learns languages easily and what she learns about others from knowing their language.
“I do!” she replied. “That’s what I’m proud of.” Math and science are more challenging for her, she said. In addition to Japanese, she is “fascinated with Korean.”
“The best way to learn a culture is to learn the language, and if you’re interested in [learning about] a culture, learn the language.”
OFFICIAL TOURNAMENT OF ROSES BIO
Camille is a senior at La Salle College Preparatory and lives in Pasadena. She is currently a member of her school’s drama/musical theater troupe and has been featured in three productions, including a lead role in the spring 2019 musical, “City of Angels.” Camille is a member of the afterschool choral group and the Support Our Troops Club. Camille enjoys listening to music, performing in theater productions with friends, cooking, and hitting the gym with her dad. She plans to pursue a liberal arts degree in Japanese linguistics, social sciences, or culture and media studies. Camille is interested in going to college in Japan, with Waseda University in Tokyo and Asia Pacific University in Kyushu as her top choices. Camille is the daughter of Tim and Jennifer Kennedy; she has two younger sisters, Ava and Esmé.
2020 Rose Queen Camille and the Royal Court will attend numerous community and media functions, serving as ambassadors of the Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena community, and the greater Los Angeles area. The grand finale will be their appearance on the Royal Court float in the 131st Rose Parade® presented by Honda and attending the 106th Rose Bowl Game® presented by Northwestern Mutual, both on Wednesday, January 1, 2020.
Hints. There are always hints. The hints started a little early with three Instagram posts, which can be seen on Facebook at All Things Rose Parade. At the announcement on Tuesday of the Grand Marshal of the 2020 Rose Parade, the hints were cinnamon apple empanadas (as American as apple pie), Mexican hot chocolate, and a band playing Latin American favorites—rhumbas, flamenco, Brazilian and Caribbean dances—and a red cloth covering the table that hold the bouquets. More than one, then?
More than one. The Grand Marshals of the 131st Tournament of Roses Parade, which will be held on Jan. 1, 2020, are gymnast and author Laurie Hernandez, actress, producer, and vocalist Gina Torres, and a woman who has more credits to her name than the Wrigley Rose Garden has flowers, Rita Moreno. She is one of only 15 EGOT winners (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) and has been honored with two presidential medals. At ages 19, 50, and 87, the women span three generations of talented Latinas. All three had stories of the Rose Parade and “The Power of Hope,” this year’s theme.
Be sure to check out the gallery below for photos of the big event!
Tournament of Roses President Laura Farber opened the event with “It’s a beautiful day in Pasadena!” She shared why she chose “The Power of Hope” as the theme. Born in Argentina to students who left everything to escape oppression, she said that the United States offered hope to her parents. He husband Tomas had a similar situation, with his family leaving the Dominican Republic to escape the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.
Hope makes anything is possible, she said. “El poder de esperanza. Hope means so much.” It brings joy, aspiration, inspiration. “Hope never quits.”
With that, Farber launched into her introduction of the Grand Marshal. The GM is a Latina, Farber related, who was born in New Jersey in 2000 and is an Olympic gymnast, author, and contestant on Dancing with the Stars, among other accomplishments. “Laurie Hernandez!” she announced.
Hernandez came through the thick silver curtain, and was presented with a bouquet of red roses. At the lectern she related that she has watched the “Rose Bowl Parade” since she was a kid. Her charm and enthusiasm made up for that slip of the tongue. “Keep spreading that message,” she said. “The Power of Hope.”
“It’s a dream come true!” she told reporters after the announcement. She said that she wanted to be part of the Olympics when she watched it on television, and she felt that same desire when she watched the Rose Parade. She said she was surprised when she found out she would actually have that opportunity. She spoke of the “chemistry” the three strong Latinas developed when they met prior to the announcement.
The usual program order is that after the speech by the GM, there are photo and interview ops. But this time, Hernandez went to the side of the stage and Farber again stood at the mic to announce the second Grand Marshal—a mezzo-soprano who sang opera and jazz, acted in The Matrix and television series such as Firefly and Suits, and is the first Afro-Latina to have the lead in her own series. Pearson. Gina Torres stepped through the curtain.
Her mother loved parades, she said, so she saw a lot of them. “Parades are about teamwork…So I’m honored to be a part of this team.”
Afterwards, she told a radio journalist that the invitation had come through her manager. He forwarded the email and wrote, “Scroll all the way down. I think you want to see this,” she said. “It took me 25 seconds to say yes!” Asked what her favorite operatic role is, she said that she hadn’t been a lead, but that she learned so much about Mozart, Handel, and other composers. Opera singers are really athletes, she said.
Farber was not done. The third Grand Marshal is from Puerto Rico, a Broadway star, and best-known for singing “America” in West Side Story. “She is a hero of Puerto Rico and an American legend,” Farber said. Who else could it be? Rita Moreno!
Moreno came through the curtain and down the steps dancing. She took center stage, and told her story. Her mother left Puerto Rico to create a better life. She worked in a New York sweatshop until she could go back to Puerto Rico and fetch her 5-year-old daughter. Even at that age, Moreno said her uncle was impressed with her dancing.
“All I ever wanted in life was to be a movie star,” she said. “I am so grateful to the Rose Parade, but especially to Laura…and representing with two astounding women.”
She called for music—the sound techs put on “We Are the Champions.” Moreno called out, “We don’t have any Latino music?” At that, they put on Latin dance music, and the three Grand Marshals joined in a dance. It has to be a first in Tournament of Roses history. Then the confetti cannons blasted, “America” began playing, and the three Latinas radiated joy.
Later, when West Side Story was mentioned, Moreno enthused about the new adaptation Steven Spielberg is making. Moreno will both executive produce the film and star as Valentina, a reimagining of store owner Doc. “It’s full circle,” she said.
Asked about how she feels about being a role model, she responded, “It’s great. It’s not something I started out to do. I became a role model by accident.” And the message? “I’m still working at 87. That’s great!”
Followers of All Things Rose Parade had a good time guessing who the Grand Marshal would be. Only one thought it might be Gina Torres, and he, along with several others, pinned Rita Moreno. Be sure to “like” that page to stay up to date on Tournament of Roses happenings, and subscribe to The Rose Examiner to get email notifications as articles are posted. No spam will be sent to you.
Here are the official Tournament of Roses bios
Rita Moreno has received four of the most prestigious awards in show business; an Academy Award®, a Tony Award®, two Emmy® Awards, and a GRAMMY® award. Her credits span more than six decades, beginning on Broadway at age 13. A recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor for her lifetime contributions to American culture, Moreno was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush and the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. In addition to her film, stage, television and concert accomplishments, Moreno gives her voice to important causes, including racial equality, hunger, early childhood education, as well as health issues like HIV, breast cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Moreno was among many celebrities to take part in the historic March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963 and has since been involved with many civic, cultural and charitable organizations, including the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Well-known for her roles on Suits, Alias, Firefly and Westworld, Gina Torres was born in Manhattan to a close-knit Cuban family and raised in the Bronx. Gina’s character, Jessica Pearson, on USA Network’s hit original series Suits garnered award-winning success which lead to the spinoff series, Pearson. Currently she is staring in the lead role and executive producing Pearson, which sees her Suits character take on the world of Chicago politics. The role of Jessica has been a life changing one, earning Gina the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Award for Outstanding Performance in a Television Series and the Visionary Award from the LA Femme Film Festival. Before entering the world of acting, she studied opera and jazz as a vocal major which lead her to appear in plays and musicals on Broadway, being directed by such legends as Tommy Tune and Pete Masterson in Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public and Jerry Zaks in Face Value. In addition to her work on television and Broadway, Gina’s film credits include The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions and Sundance Film Festival Critics Choice, Don’t Let me Drown. Gina enjoys giving back through several philanthropic organizations; Heifer International, Dress for Success, Planned Parenthood and Save the Children.
Laurie Hernandez earned Olympic Gold and Silver medals as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team. Laurie is a second generation American, her grandparents are Puerto Rican, making her the first U.S. born Latina to make the U.S. team since 1984. Following her win at the Summer Olympics, she earned another title, champion on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. In 2017, Laurie became an inductee into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame and was recognized as the 2018 Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Biggest Kid. Most recently, Laurie served as a cohost of America Ninja Warrior Junior, and as the voice of Valeria on Nickelodeon’s Middle School Moguls. Laurie is the author of two books; I Got This: To Gold and Beyond, chronicling her journey thus far and a children’s picture book She’s Got This, each appearing on the New York Times Best Sellers list. When not in the gym, Laurie serves as Global Ambassador for Stomp Out bullying and travels the country inspiring young gymnasts and speaks to the next generation about following your dreams. Laurie will go for the gold again at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Every new president of the Tournament of Roses is enthusiastic when talking about his or her parade, but it would be hard to beat the outright energy and joy of Laura Farber. Even when presented with concerns about the future““““` from long-time parade fans, she maintained her exuberance.
Farber took the helm of the 2020 Tournament of Roses on Jan. 17. She brings her personal vision to the 131st Rose Parade, 106th Rose Bowl Game, and all the attendant events that draw hundreds of thousands of people to the Pasadena area to share in America’s New Year Celebration. She is enthusiastic about new developments in the celebration, but loves the traditions, as well.
“I think that we have to respect tradition, but balance it with innovation,” she said. “We strive in everything we do” to strike that balance.
To that end, in addition to the longstanding committees, the Tournament now has a social media committee, an innovation team, and the brand new Festival Committee to plan and implement events.
“We want to enhance our demographic,” she said, with events that will “attract my kids.” She noted that television is being replaced by streaming for the younger demos. The Funny or Die live stream of the Rose Parade with Will Farrell and Molly Shannon was very successful, she said. It incorporated live chat to engage watchers.
It won’t be Macy’s
A concern that has often been expressed to The Rose Examiner is that increased emphasis on entertainment may lead to a parade that emulates the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
“Have no fear. We will not be Macy’s,” Farber insisted. “Macy’s and the Rose Parade are the most diametrically opposed [parades] I have ever seen.” The Macy’s entertainment is for the cameras, and then the floats come, she said. There is a single broadcaster, who can control every element., whereas the Rose Parade has several broadcasters.
“It’s apples and oranges…. We have no desire to turn into Macy’s.”
“We don’t want the parade of 20 years ago,” she said, but “for traditionalists—we have something for you. It’s your Rose Parade.”
Entertainment or floats?
Something longtime fans will appreciate is how often Farber mentioned florals for floats. “Increase those florals,” she stated several times. Dry materials have distinct uses, but she said, “I’d like to see more floral and less seeds.” She would be “thrilled” to have more floral elements, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be entertainment.
“I do believe in having interactive floats and entertainment. It’s just how it comes together.” She mentioned Earth, Wind and Fire atop the 2018 Forum float, who brought parade-goers to their feet. “They made people happy. People were jumping up and down.” Pauses in the parade for performances are few and are carefully considered, she noted. They are factored into the time frame for the parade, which is two hours on the dot for broadcast.
Speaking of floats…
One event locals and visitors have looked forward to for decades is visiting the float barns during Deco Week, the last few days before the Rose Parade. The floats are in the final stages of flowering at that point, and the volunteers are scurrying around to get finished in time for judging. With no float barns left in Pasadena since Phoenix Decorating company joined the other two commercial builders, Fiesta Parade Floats and AES 15 miles to the east, Deco Week has been scaled down.
For the 2019 parade, AES moved its floats to Rosemont Pavilion, the float barn in the Rose Bowl area, along with Cal Poly Universities and FTD decorated cars. Some viewers expressed disappointment in the limited offerings for the $15 admission price. We asked if having shuttles to the other float barns might help.
Farber said that the Tournament is going to look at shuttles, but can’t make promises. They are also trying to make Rosemont more of an event. This year, AES put on Sip & Savor, a tasting event, next to the barn.
“It’s a good deal, pay for the floats and get admission to Sip & Savor. It was packed, the vendors were happy,” she said. The feedback was good, she said, and there were activities for children, as well. (Sampling tickets were about $2.50 each.)
The Power of Hope
Farber was surprised to learn that the word “hope” had never been used in a Tournament of Roses theme before she chose “The Power of Hope” for the 2020 celebration. It is a word that has deep meaning for her, and runs throughout her life.
Farber’s parents came to the States with her when she was a young girl. They were students in Argentina during the time of the “Dirty War.” There was a lack of stability, she said, and students were the most vocal critics of the military government. Civil rights were abrogated.
“It was not a place where you felt comfortable that you could stay,” she said. One of her parents’ professors knew someone at University of California Santa Barbara, and her family was able to immigrate. Her parents, both biochemists, found a place at UCSB.
“It takes a lot to leave everything and everyone you know,” she said.
Her husband, Tomás Lopez, had similar experiences. His family came to New York from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The US offered hope, opportunity, the ability to make a new life.
“That kind of motivated this theme. It’s a unifying theme at a time when we need to be unified,” she said. The New Year is a “time to turn over a new leaf.” Hope is life, she shared. It’s respect, joy, happiness. It’s inspirational, motivational, and aspirational.
“Nobody can ever take it away. There’s something powerful about it,” she said. “The Power of Hope.”
Telling other stories
Farber was animated when the subject of marching bands came up. There are more bands from Latin America than ever before, an all-female band from Copenhagen that she is excited about, and many first-year bands.
She rattled of some of the names: West Harrison High School, Miss., which was founded after Hurricane Katrina; Southern University, Baton Rouge, La.; the rare band from upstate New York; from Houston, Texas, Pearland High School, which served as a shelter during Hurricane Harvey; units from Greendale, Wis. and Alhambra, Calif.; and a Moreno Valley, Calif. Title I high school.
The Music Committee hosts a music night to show the videos of applicant bands 18 months prior to the parade. The videos present the music and the story that each unit has to tell.
“The quality is off the charts,” Farber said, referencing both the performances and the stories.
Part of the community
Farber is proud that the Tournament of Roses Association is part of the Pasadena community year-round, not just for a few days before and after Jan. 1. Farber reads books to elementary school students and will participate in the Black History and Latino Heritage parades. The Association and Tournament of Roses Foundation support local public schools with money, volunteers, and events.
“The Power of Hope” applies to the game as well, Farber said. The Rose Bowl Game Keith Jackson Postgraduate Scholarship awards $10,000 each to one student from the Big Ten Conference and one student from the Pac-12 Conference. The students do not have to be on the football players. They will shadow the Rose Bowl Game staff and will be presented with their award at Lawry’s Beef Bowl.
The weather report
It’s always sunny for the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game, except when it isn’t. But for the previous 130 parades, it has only rained on 10 parades. There are certain superstitions that go along with that—never have a parade on Sunday, don’t ask a Supreme Court Justice to be the Grand Marshal, and don’t choose a theme with any reference to water—but there seems to be only one person responsible.
“The Executive VP is in charge of weather,” Farber informed us. The Executive Vice President becomes the President for the following year. She told 2019 Pres. Gerald Freeny that she gave him a good parade, and it seems she expects 2021 Pres. Robert Miller to provide lovely weather for hers.
Ultimately, Laura Farber hopes that the 131st Tournament of Roses, with the parade, game, and many events, will bring the “joy and happiness of the New Year. We are ‘America’s New Year Celebration.’”
We dropped into a couple float barns this week to get a look at the floats in their final stages. First was the new spacious and bright headquarters of Phoenix Decorating Company in Irwindale. Man-of-many-hats Chuck Hayes introduced us to assistant volunteer coordinator Jay DeCastro, who has worked for float companies since 1986, and Maryann Griffin who told us she “absolutely loves” being around people and ensuring they are welcome.
The next day, we went to Rosemont Pavilion in Pasadena, which has been used by many float builders over the years. This year, Paradiso Parade Floats and Cal Poly Universities drove their entries from the far east San Gabriel Valley to finish up the floral on their floats. The cars that will carry the dignitaries are being decorated there, too; more on that to come.
In the Phoenix Decorating Company barn
Laura Farber, who will have her turn as president of the Tournament of Roses in 2020 greeted us by the Theme Banner float. Asked if she was preparing for the 131st Rose Parade, she said, “Yeah. That’s what we do!” She has her theme (big secret) and has a list of potential Grand Marshals (bigger secret). “We have an eight-year build-up,” she said, referring to the Tournament’s executive committee ladder, from vice president to secretary, treasurer, executive vice president, and finally president.
“The last four years go by super quickly,” she said, adding that she’s getting ready early because she is an “excessive planner.” She said it will be fun to do the job from a different perspective as the third woman president and first Latina.