2019 Rose Parade has 40 floats, 21 marching bands and a proud Jewish, LGBTQ queen


The 2019 Rose Parade rolled out Tuesday morning in familiar, comforting and decorative style, along with a twist of newness.

Among the fresh touches were a grand marshal, Chaka Khan, who sang in the new year as the parade opened, and 101st Rose Queen Louise Deser Siskel, a future scientist in glasses who has proudly shared being Jewish and bisexual.

The familiar heart of the Pasadena event brought together 40 floats, 21 marching bands and 18 equestrian units. The parade also served as a prelude to the Rose Bowl, this year pitting the Washington Huskies against the Ohio State Buckeyes.


As it often does, the weather dawned clear and bright — like the postcard-style real estate promotion the parade was once intended to be. That sunshine followed a chilly night for campers along the 5.5-mile route. Overnight winds had been forecast to range from 25 to 45 mph, with gusts up to 65 mph. Temperatures dipped to the high 30s — not a record cold, but a chill made worse by the wind.

With people stoking fires to keep warm, firefighters patrolled for windblown embers.

Those who endured it were the type to make the best of it.

Christina Carreon of Whittier arrived around 8:30 p.m., planning to set up under some bleachers when she noticed the view from her truck wasn’t too bad — she and husband Rudy Cervantes had a direct line of sight to where the floats would come by.

So as scores of campers set up air mattresses, hammocks, cots or sleeping bags, the couple squeezed their air mattress into the back of the pickup.

Then Cervantes pitched the top of their tent above the truck bed, creating a cave-like shelter off the ground.

The couple began camping out along the parade route three years ago.

The floats were assembled with as many natural materials as possible, with a sweeping palette of colors, but the rainbow also was cultural.

Full coverage of the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade »

The high school band from Flower Mound, Texas, took part and so did Na Koa Ali`I, Hawaii’s all-state marching band from Kaneohe. They were joined by the All-Izumo Honor Green Band from Japan and the Banda Escolar from Guayanilla, Puerto Rico.

U.S. Forest Service pack mules defied the federal government shutdown to plod with dignity down Colorado Boulevard. Their mission was to mark the 75th “birthday” of Smokey Bear, who was created to spread the message of forest fire prevention.

Other equestrian participants included the Norco Cowgirls Rodeo Drill Team and Little Miss Norco Cowgirls Jr. Drill Team, and the Mini Therapy Horses from Calabasas.

The flotilla of floats has evolved from assorted histories and motivations. For Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, float construction has become an annual exercise in student entrepreneurship and artistry, with 90% of the flowers grown locally.

Certain cities and causes are represented year after year. Burbank has entered a float since 1914 and seized upon this year’s “Melody of Life” theme to present animated characters playing instruments in its “Stompin Good Time.”

The Chinese American Heritage Foundation presented a 90-foot float to commemorate the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, basing its design on a photograph taken at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869. The entry depicted two locomotives facing each other and was decorated with more than 12,000 roses and 3,500 orchid florets. The locomotives were re-created with “glossy black seaweed, velvety black onion and gray poppy seed, blue sinuata statice blossoms and red cranberry seed,” according to an official description.

But unlike its historic inspiration, the mechanicals were comparatively overlooked — the float stalled, causing a jam and forcing other entries to squeeze around. A tow truck intervention was required.

The Donate Life float extolled the mission of organ donation for the 16th year and showcased the musical diversity and rhythms of Africa.

The float displayed gigantic replicas of African drums: the djembe from Senegal and Kuba drums from the Congo. Other featured traditional instruments were a marimba from Ghana and a kora from Burkina Faso. More to the point, perhaps, the float also incorporated 44 floral portraits honoring deceased donors.

Overlooking the portraits was a double Senufo mask from the Ivory Coast “that gives thanks to ancestors and remembers those who have gone before,” according to the float sponsors. “The double face suggests male and female, past and present generations, as well as the interconnectedness of all of those who have been touched by the power of donation.”

Twenty-six living donors or transplant recipients rode or walked beside the float.

The parade is all about boosterism in the form of forgivable, celebratory spectacle. Carnival’s Rose Parade float featured divers and a replica of the cruise line’s new California-based ship, the Panorama.

Blue Diamond entered its first float to promote almond milk.

Another first-time entry came from the restaurant chain Chipotle, which hopes for a goodwill boost five months after more than 600 people came down with food poisoning after eating at a Chipotle in Ohio.

The float featured a giant red tractor to symbolize the work of farms. On the float were growers and suppliers of ingredients for Chipotle restaurants as well as the rock band Portugal. The Man.

The “Cultivate a Better World” float was crafted with ingredients served in Chipotle restaurants, including about 200 pounds of chili flakes to cover the tractor; ground onion seeds for the tires; cumin, cloves, oregano and bay leaves covering the cart; ground white rice for lettering and 100 pounds of lemons hanging in trees — all destined to be recycled as compost.

Another goal of the parade in recent years has been to respond to the diversity of Southern California.

The first African American rose queen was named in 1985. The Tournament of Roses had its first female president in 2006. The first African American president, Gerald Freeny, is serving this year.

Freeny, in a TV interview Tuesday, credited his daughter with suggesting the parade theme. A Pasadena native, he started watching at age 5. He began volunteering in 1988.

“When I first joined I never thought I’d be president,” Freeny said.

There’s still a queen, and she’s a high school senior at a tony private school in Pasadena. Siskel, this year’s honoree, and the members of her court have attended some 120 social events in their ceremonial role. For the parade, she broke from tradition by wearing glasses. In another departure, Siskel wore the same dress, a lacy purple gown, as the young women who were runners-up.

“It was a decision we all made in order to show unity on the float today,” Siskel said in a Tuesday morning television interview.

In an op-ed in The Times, Siskel noted the importance of the platform she has.

She described herself as “the first Rose Queen to talk about being Jewish. I feel an additional responsibility, to myself and to this tradition, to share that I am bisexual.”

“While I am almost certainly not the first member of the LGBTQ community on the court,” she wrote, “I hope that by saying so publicly, I might encourage others to be proud of who they are.”

For Armando Hurtado, the parade was about watching his daughter perform in the Pasadena City College Honor Band and communing with those around him.

“People don’t see race here,” Hurtado said. “Everyone is here for one purpose, to bring in the new year.”

He added: “You don’t see people coming together a lot. This is one event where that happens.”

Waiting on the sidewalk as the sun rose behind them, Hurtado and his wife Pamela met Moises Moran, who was there for his 12th parade with his two kids, 11 and 8.

The heater Moran had brought to attach to his propane tank wasn’t working, so the men sitting next to Moran lent him theirs.

Twitter: @howardblume