Rose Parade celebrates diversity with Rita Moreno, Los Lobos and Maria from ‘Sesame Street’

Who could blame Sandra Brockman for strutting through the crowd at the Rose Parade in a pair of red shorts?

With temperatures in the high 50s, Southern Californians wearing hoodies and stocking caps shivered around her. But Brockman, 60, basked in the sunlight. She had come to the 131st annual Rose Parade from blustery central Wisconsin with her 85-year-old aunt, Helen Haydock, whose hometown of Wisconsin Rapids declared a snow emergency this week.

After Haydock’s husband, a man with whom she had traveled the world, died in June and the Wisconsin Badgers made the Rose Bowl to face off against the Oregon Ducks, she decided to come to Pasadena to see in person the floats she had admired on television for years.

“Of course I support Wisconsin,” Haydock said, “but I really wanted to see the floats.”


The Rose Parade — started in 1890 as a promotional event by a local social club to show off Pasadena’s famously mild winter weather — kicked off this year under postcard-perfect blue skies, ringing in the new year with the theme “The Power of Hope.”

For many, the Rose Parade has become a wholesome annual respite from the divisive politics gripping the nation. On Wednesday, the parade took place at the start of a new decade and the beginning of an election year in which President Trump is running for reelection after being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives.

Sheldon Fuller, a 39-year-old South Pasadena attorney, first saw the Rose Parade as a teenager with his father but said the cheery display is more powerful than it ever has been, with “so many mass killings [and] impeachment.”

“I think it’s beautiful,” Fuller said. “There’s all walks of life who put on a cultural exposition.”

Some election-year politics were scattered throughout the parade route. One group of Bernie Sanders supporters walked through the crowd yelling, “Feel the Bern!” to the tune of the classic chant, “Olé, olé, olé.”

For Andy Au, the Rose Parade was an opportunity to promote Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Au, a 55-year-old pharmaceutical sales representative from South Pasadena, posted up in the middle of Colorado Boulevard in the predawn hours with a flashing bike light and a Yang sign.

Au, who said he did not work for Yang’s campaign, called the candidate “completely out of the box.” A few passersby made snarky remarks when they saw Au passing out fake $1,000 bills with Yang’s face on them.

One float, featuring a 30-foot Statue of Liberty covered in eucalyptus leaves, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Beside the float, women walked in long white dresses and suffragette sashes.

The floats rolled along without any significant hitches, unlike last year, when the Chinese American Heritage Foundation’s float caught fire near the beginning of the parade route on Orange Grove Boulevard.

The UPS Store float, which won the Sweepstakes Trophy for beauty, suffered mechanical issues and had to be towed by a massive white truck — a rare sight because the balky floats each have their own driver skilled at slowly maneuvering through the 5.5-mile route. The float, which was 35 feet tall and 55 feet long, featured tamarin monkeys with bright orange hair made of layered marigold petals and toucans with glistening black seaweed feathers.

This year’s parade also was a celebration of diversity, overseen by Laura Farber, the first Latina president of the Tournament of Roses Assn. and an immigrant from Argentina.

The parade also had three Latina grand marshals — Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez, actress Gina Torres, and Emmy-, Grammy-, Oscar- and Tony-award-winning performer Rita Moreno.

Honored guests riding the route in a 1915 Pierce-Arrow Model 48 were legendary Spanish-language Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrín; actress Sonia Manzano, who played Maria on “Sesame Street”; and astronaut Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina to go into outer space.

Alyssa Conde, 20, of Downey felt a pride being surrounded by fellow Latinos in the crowd — a joy that was heightened when she saw Costa Rican and Salvadoran dancers grooving in the parade. A throng of Salvadorans near her waved their country’s flag and cheered.

“I feel very proud,” said Conde, who is Mexican American. “I know our people have gone through a lot, especially in Mexico and El Salvador, but they’re being heard.”

Miguel Santoscoy, 24, of Canoga Park said he appreciated that there was more cultural representation, especially for Latinos, this year.

“I’m glad they’re taking it more seriously than before,” said Santoscoy, who has Mexican roots.

Gerardo Echavarria, a 50-year-old South Gate electrician, was attending the parade for the second time and immediately picked up on the increased Latino representation.

“I was pretty emotional because I’m Mexican, and to see bands representing my country was amazing,” Echavarria said.

His friend, Luis Recalde, a 54-year-old Huntington Park salesman, has attended for six years and said that in the past the event looked “very commercial.” But Wednesday’s lineup helped bridge a gap for those who “want to feel near their country,” said Recalde, who is Argentinian.

A float by the Sikh American Float Foundation featured a colorful tree made of walnut powder, lemon seeds, coffee and coconut powder, as well as a huge figure of Bhai Ghaneya Singh Ji, a devout Sikh known for giving water to wounded soldiers on both sides of an armed conflict.

Marching bands from Japan, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico performed, and a group called Helsingør Pigegarde from Denmark made a statement by being the only all-female marching band in the parade.

After a long practice one day about a year ago, Southern University band director Kedric Taylor huddled his 200-plus-member squad for a quick message.

The crowd danced — and Twitter lit up — as East L.A. rock band Los Lobos performed “La Bamba” from atop a float.

Esprit Jones, 39, of Pasadena staked out a spot near the end of the route, where she hoped to “cheer on the bands as they finished.” She held her 7-year-old daughter, Brielle, who sported pink earmuffs with a unicorn horn.

Jones has been bringing Brielle, who noted that she could “smell the ponies” from the sidewalk, to the parade for the last four years because she wants her to be exposed to all kinds of people coming together to have fun.

“There are so many ideas and different cultures here,” Jones said. “It’s beautiful to see us all together for one cause, even if it’s just for a day.”

Wearing an Oakland Raiders hoodie under a black pea coat and gray scarf, his mitten-covered hands clasping a hot cup of tea, Stephen McGee was attending his first Rose Parade.

The 39-year-old from Long Beach has watched the parade for years on television and finally came this year with his girlfriend, whose family has been attending for a decade.

“I’ve been putting it off every year,” McGee said before the parade began. “I’m ready to experience it. ... Everyone has been so nice and engaging.”

Proving that even the less glamorous parts of the Rose Parade can be festive, two volunteers cleaning up horse manure with a shovel and barrel strutted down Colorado Boulevard wearing poop emoji hats.

Another volunteer, Ger Alderson, compared being part of the pooper-scooper squad to going to Disneyland.

“It’s the funnest, most exciting thing!” said the former kindergarten teacher from Thousand Oaks.

Alderson, 68, and her husband, Will, both grew up watching the parade every year. They keep up the tradition to honor Will’s late father, who loved the event.

This year they enlisted the help of their neighbors, Rich and Cathy Hanson, to clear manure from the parade route. The four wore Dr. Seuss costumes handmade by Alderson, drawing roars of cheers and laughter.

Will Alderson, a retired firefighter, was dressed as the Grinch. But he couldn’t hide that he was giddy. He loved being a pooper scooper.

Times staff writers Laura J. Nelson and Erin B. Logan contributed to this report.