BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
I have been envious of some of my friends who, for the last four years, have decorated the Armenian float for Pasadena’s Rose Parade. This year, I was determined to volunteer to work on the float. However the holiday crunch prevented me from doing so until two days before the parade.
On Saturday, December 30, I headed to the warehouse in Irwindale, about 20 minutes east of Pasadena, where the float was being made. I arrived in Irwindale around noon, parked at a designated structure, then, from there, took the free shuttle to the Phoenix Decorating Warehouse, about a mile away. The weather was most glorious – sunny, blue sky, and temperature hovered in the low 70s.
I was the last person to get on that shuttle. I found the only empty seat next to a young woman. As is my habit, I started a conversation with her. She was from Michigan, visiting Los Angeles for work. She said that she had heard from a colleague that she could visit the workshop to see the floats. Very proudly, I said, “I’m going to work on the Armenian float.” And continued with a little spiel about being an Armenian.
She was very happy to be in LA, instead of shivering in Michigan. Kindly, and with a big smile, she listened to my talk, but I could tell that she didn’t care at all about my ancestry and my heritage. And why should she?
In a short time, we arrived at the Phoenix Decorating Company. As I made my way out of the shuttle bus, I met a woman in a white suit, white shirt, and white shoes, wearing a red scarf as a bow. She was member of the Tournament of Roses Committee, and she gave me a quick history of the Rose Parade. She said that the white suit was chosen to give the committee members a distinguished look amid the bursts of color. The members of the committee are nicknamed “White Suiters.”
It was noon. Hundreds of people, volunteers and spectators, stood in line to buy food from many lunch trucks that were available outside. I hurried inside the warehouse to find the Armenian float among the dozen or so in the final stages of preparation. The warehouse smelled like fresh flowers because of the many piles of cut roses, in boxes, on the ground, waiting to be used.
At the door, I asked a security guard where to find the Armenian float. She pointed towards the back. I passed a few floats, and in a corner found the beautiful, tall bust of a woman dressed in traditional Armenian headgear. That was the Armenian float. I rushed towards it.
Despite many volunteers scrambling around the warehouse to put finishing touches on floats, there was no one by the Armenian float. I searched close by, then asked someone at the neighboring float. They told me that the Armenian workers had most likely gone to lunch. I was very disappointed. I felt like a little girl who has lost her mother in a crowd. So I waited.
Since I was idle and had nothing to do, I checked out the next-door float, a model of the world’s largest free kitchen, located at a temple in India, where 100,000 people are fed each day. The 2018 theme “Making a Difference,” or acts of human kindness, went very well with this Indian float.
Finally, after 45 minutes, the volunteers started to return. The majority of them were teenage school kids wearing black sweatshirts with the logo of AARFA (Armenian American Rose Float Association.) In no time, they positioned themselves to start their assigned jobs. I had to sign up before I could join them.
At the registration table, I met Gayané Voskanyan, who was a member of the AARFA volunteer board and who had been volunteering since the first Armenian float was built for the 2015 parade.
Gayané gave me some history. The first float had cost $250K, the same as this recent one. This was the fourth consecutive year of having a float at the parade. This year, the committee had chosen the design of the bust of a woman to symbolize the selfless acts of Armenian women and mothers who “make a difference” in the lives of their families and the community.
Gayané told me that the make-up of the woman’s bust was done by a professional artist using ingredients such as crushed rice and other natural colors taken from seeds, fruits and vegetables. The makeup was truly outstanding.
All volunteers had to wear a sweatshirt with the logo. I paid $20 for a sweatshirt and started to work at a table. They showed me how to pluck green chrysanthemums from their stems and place them upside down in a cardboard box so that they could be glued to the float.
Gayané told me that about 50 volunteers had signed up for the first part of the day, and they were expecting about 100 in the evening, who would stay to work until all the details were finished, probably sometime in the early morning. She planned to stay there until the next morning when the judges would arrive and judging of the floats would be done. Then she would go home and have a much needed sleep.
I was happy to be able to help with the float just a little bit. I worked for a few hours and then left, because I had chores to finish and events to attend.
When on January 1, the floats rolled down Colorado Blvd, and I heard the comments about the Indian float from the TV hosts who covered the parade, I realized the importance of participation in the Tournament of Roses. If it were not for that float, I would have never known about that fabulous soup kitchen in India.
I was ecstatic to hear that our float which was named “Armenian Roots,” gained the JUDGES AWARD—the most outstanding float design and dramatic impact!!!!!
Here are the words of Leeza Gibbons and Mark Steines, the hosts of KTLA TV, channel 5, about the Armenian float as it rolled past their podium.
“Look at this beauty, isn’t this lovely, won the Judges Trophy winner for the most outstanding float design and dramatic impact. This strong and beautiful Armenian Matriarch represents hope joy and optimism Armenian Roots honoring those women who have made a difference through acts of kindness and unconditional love.”
“The Armenian Rose Float Association doing wonderful work… there work has paid off with this trophy… brown cinnamon, pomegranate and paper bark bring mother Armenian face to life, her ornate head dresses crafted by use of kermit tree mums, kidney beans and blueberries, traditional motifs like her veil feature tree truck coffee, coats of arms and badges are made from wine mums, artichokes, curly willow and grapes.”
“This beautiful tapestry of color symbolizes life, spring, beauty, courage, wealth and faith… Congratulations to AARFA for the Judges Trophy Winner… they deserve it.”
“It really is… Love the detail of this one, I love the story of how many generations come together of Armenian families to create legacies and memories by decorating these floats together… it’s really really lovely.”
I don’t think it would be inaccurate if I say that having a float in the Tournament of Roses has given us Armenians a chance to reach millions of people across the world and to tell our story. This year, it was the only float representing a nation.