Thursday, February 19, 2015

Raúl R. Rodriguez, presente

I'm sure it was after 1960 when I saw my first Rose Parade.  That was a long time ago.  That was also the first year that Raul R. Rodriguez had a float in the parade.  Imagine being 15 years old and so talented that there are people who are willing to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to make your vision a reality.  That's talent.

I have no idea how many floats went down Colorado Blvd. that were designed by Raul between 1960 and 1999.  Given his talent, his dedication to his work, and the continued support that saw his vision become reality, there must have been hundreds and hundreds.  Literally.  

In 1999 members of the Latino Cultural Academy, which eventually became Latino Heritage, coordinated and fought with the city to have our first Latino Heritage Parade.  It was to be in April of that year.  The morning of our first parade it began to pour cats and dogs.  Figuratively.  

This was before half the world had their cell phone or were on Facebook, so the word went out to some folks and didn't go out to others.  The core planning group decided we would go to the check-in site and thank folks for coming out in the rain.  Among those who came, was Raúl R. Rodriguez.  He was gracious, he was kind to the community members who were there.  He stayed for a couple of hours as we stood by the lockers under the eaves of Pasadena Christian School.  That's class.

Rained out parade 1999
The following year Raúl was our Grand Marshal.  He was a guest on Casa Martinez.  He donated use of a sketch as part of an exhibit we had on the history of Latinos in Pasadena at the Pasadena Museum of History.

He rarely missed being in the Latino Heritage Parade.  All of this could have been small potatoes for someone who was used to traveling around the world and having dinner with heads of state and royalty. He came because it, and we, mattered to him.

And the community knew this.  They could see the love that he felt for them reflected in the colors on the floats.  He took an idea from paper to a three dimensional bit of a dream that all of us could share as we began the new year.  

Latino Heritage Parade -
Yours truly; Raúl R. Rodríguez, Grand Marshal; Bill Bogaard, Mayor, Pasadena;
Evelina Fernandez, actress and playwright; Dr. Daniel Olivas, Astronaut
He was so proud of the first year he was able to bring in Mexicano elements to the parade.  The subtle cultural references were fine, but mariachis on a float, well, now we're talking.  The community loved seeing this and loved him for bringing this to the world stage.  

I loved Raul, too.  I was lucky to get see all of this and to get to know him.  I had to return the sketch to his home in Hancock Park and ended up spending time with him and the love of his life, Robert.  We talked and they shared pictures of parties where they'd had a chance to look goofy and just have a good time.  

It was about that time that I rode in his car after we met at the Wall/Las Memorias in East LA on the commemoration of World Aids Day.  On this solemn occasion as we were riding, he shared that he was an orphan, meaning that both his parents had died.  I remember finding that a curious thought.  One that I understood better when my parents had passed.  That nigh his honesty and thoughtfulness were a different sort of gift he gave me.  

The following year that we discovered that we were related through marriage.  We were second cousins.  For many that might not have meant much, but for us it was a sweet connection; it was seeing a bit of familia whenever we were together.  It always made me happy to hear the love in this voice when he greeted me as, "Prima".

He and Robert moved to Pasadena a while ago.  We lived about a mile away from each other.   I visited their home and they gave me a grand tour.  It was a sweet time.  We sat and chatted as neighbors and family will do.  

Not too long ago I told Robert that I felt that Raul should have a prize named after him.  After all, he has received more prizes than any other designer of Rose Parade floats.  He liked the idea.  It seemed fitting.

I'm hoping that this comes to pass.  It's time.

Uncredited photo via


  1. Yes. A prize for best float decoration is s fitting tribute for Raul Rodriguez. We always tried to guess which of his floats he would ride on January 1. It was always great to see him in the parade...a real highlight. It would be a great tribute to see his name on a banner announcing an award winning float. May Raul rest in peace.

    1. When I get back from Oregon let's start to work on making this a reality.