Rose Parade 2020: Meet The First Latina President Of The Tournament Of Roses

Laura Farber is the first-ever Latina president of the Tournament of Roses Association, which organizes the nation's most famous New Year's Day parade. (Courtesy of Tournament of Roses)

Laura Farber, a native of Buenos Aires, is the newest president of the Tournament of Roses Association, which puts on the nation's most famous New Year's Day parade. Farber is also the board chair, and as the first Latina president in the Tournament's history, she's part of a continuing effort to increase diversity at the venerable volunteer organization.

To that end, Farber named three Latinas to serve as co-grand marshals: actresses Rita Moreno and Gina Torres, and Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez. Farber also asked that the B-2 pilot who flies over the 2020 festivities be a woman (wish granted: Lt. Col. Nicola Polidor).

She also chose this year's theme, "The Power of Hope (El Poder de la Esperanza)." She told us the choice was inspired by her and her husband's immigrant experiences (he's from the Dominican Republic), and fueled by a desire to see a divided country come together in the new year.

MAKING HISTORY

The pantheon of past presidents includes just two other women (who served in 2005-06 and 2012-13). Farber is the first Latina and native Spanish-speaker to work her way up to the post.

Becoming president is an eight-year ascent that starts with serving as a vice-president on the executive committee, then as secretary, treasurer and executive vice-president.

Farber attributes her rise, in part, to a mechanism put in place relatively recently to increase diversity in an organization that was traditionally white and male. She got her Tournament start as one of the executive committee's five "at-large" members, whose two-year terms are intended for women and people from minority backgrounds, allowing them to "sit at our policymaking table, to make decisions about the direction that we're going and to also have an opportunity to display what they love and know and then go back into our membership," Farber explained.

Farber also noted that the Tournament of Roses runs community outreach efforts such as the queen and royal court, high school student ambassadors and the college intern program.

"You have to have a pipeline, or else it becomes difficult to continue what your institution is trying to achieve, which is reflecting our diverse community," she said.

The theme of the 2020 Rose Parade is "The Power of Hope (El Poder de la Esperanza)." ( Courtesy of Tournament of Roses)

THE APPROXIMATELY ONE MILLION THINGS THE PRESIDENT DOES

"Well, it is a lot of time. I'm not going to say it's not," Farber said of her main job, which is serving as the ambassador of all things Tournament of Roses.

Her work includes dozens of speaking engagements and decisions that must be made long before the first float glides down Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day, including choosing the theme, artwork, and grand marshal(s), as well as scouting and selecting bands.

Her other duties include reaching out to local schoolchildren. "I have made it an important emphasis to go to schools all over the place to read at libraries in Spanish and English, and to just be out there," she told us.

The Tournament president also runs the executive committee's bi-weekly meetings and the board of directors' quarterly meetings, and shows up in support of membership events.

Farber is also an employment law attorney with Hahn and Hahn LLP (a Pasadena firm that has provided four previous presidents), and a mother of two school-age kids. "This is beyond a full-time job, but I love it," she said. "I don't see it as a job. I see it as giving back, and I've enjoyed every moment."

WHAT FLOATING FLOWERS HAVE TO DO WITH WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE

Farber could barely contain her excitement about some of the notable entries in the 2020 Parade, including two floats that celebrate the 100th anniversary of women nationwide receiving the right to vote.

Huntington Library is also celebrating a centennial, with tableaux from its famous gardens. And the California Mayflower Society funded a replica pilgrims' ship to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock.

Farber also selected three "honored guests" to ride together in a car: the first Latina astronaut Ellen Ochoa, actress Sonia Manzano, who played Maria on Sesame Street for nearly half a century, and the Spanish-language Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrín.

2020 Grand Marshals (left to right): Laurie Hernandez, Rita Moreno and Gina Torres. (Courtesy of Tournament of Roses)

LISTEN TO THE MUSIC

Farber said this year's parade has the largest number of international bands ever — from Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Mexico, and Japan, and an all-female marching band from Denmark.

But it's a Moreno Valley band that she was anxious to highlight: Rancho Verde High School's Crimson Regiment. Many of the student musicians are from low-income and military families, and their school district provides free uniforms and free instruments and maintains them so that socioeconomic status doesn't stand in the way of involvement in the band.

"Most of their kids are AP and honors students," she said. "That will be the most phenomenal, hopeful band. That will be the embodiment of The Power of Hope."

Another entry in this year's parade is the Alhambra Unified School District Marching Band, which includes musicians from Farber's alma mater, Alhambra High.

TELL US ABOUT THE HORSES

The noble steeds who drew the festooned carriages in the first Rose Parades have remained well-represented through the ensuing years.

The 2020 edition features 17 equestrian entries, ranging from Buffalo Soldiers and the last Marine Corps Mounted Color guard to women rodeo riders and members of the Valley Hunt Club, which staged the first Tournament of Roses in 1890.

Farber said first-timers include the Horsewomen of Temecula Wine Country — "eq-wine" for short.

"We have a whole group of amazing diverse equestrian riders. It's going to be fantastic," Farber said.

YAY CIVIC PRIDE

"I'm very excited about this parade. You can probably sense that!" Farber said.

It's a sentiment shared by many in the San Gabriel Valley, which reaps a bounty of tourist dollars from the estimated 800,000 parade goers.

But that enthusiasm is not limited to the SGV. Valley cities including La Cañada Flintridge, South Pasadena, Sierra Madre and Alhambra create float entries, but Burbank, Torrance and Downey also have their own floats this year. Some, including La Cañada's, are built and decorated by their residents.

"It means so much to so many people, this tradition — but also innovation," Farber said. "We believe in the balance between tradition and innovation. And that has been an important theme. And we are trying to carry that out in so many different ways."

One way is the addition this year of a mid-parade performance between the opening and closing numbers that are relatively new to the procession.

HOW MUCH MONEY DOES THIS GENERATE?

"Everyone wants to have a wonderful new year. And that's why "The Power of Hope" was selected [as the theme]," said Farber. She said the Tournament of Roses is documented to generate an annual $200 million economic impact.

Revenue generated by visitors goes up when out-of-state teams play the football game, and the upcoming Rose Bowl match-up will pit Oregon against Wisconsin. Hope is high among hoteliers and restaurateurs in the area, she said.

WHEN VEHICLES BREAK DOWN

It happens almost every year. Things break. Accidents happen.

But the 2019 parade was notable for what went wrong. The Chinese American Heritage Foundation float caught on fire, right at the corner turn onto Colorado Boulevard in full view of television cameras. Nobody got hurt, but it caused a lengthy backup, and the final few entrants didn't get their moment to shine on live TV.

Farber was asked about preventing a similar mishap.

"We've made some changes in terms of improvements — once again, innovations. And so we are confident that we won't have something like that happen again," she said. "We want to make sure that the entirety of our parade goes down that route."

TRASH, TRASH, TRASH

The Rose Parade generates literally tons of trash. Some gets swept up during the parade by the Pooper Scooper patrol that follows the horses. More gets sucked up by giant vacuums that come along at the end.

Trash is not Farber's focus — that's the city's job — but she did say that "not only is it collected, but now we have composting. We have recycling. We're doing a lot of things, in collaboration with the city and all our other partners, so that this does not become landfill."

The city reported in January that Pasadena Public Works collected about 90 tons of trash along the parade route and inside and outside the Rose Bowl after the last round of festivities, a 4% decrease from 2018. The city also said more than 10 tons of clean cardboard and over 10,000 beverage containers were recycled.