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Moreno Valley school helps Panama band achieve Rose Parade dream

Hard work, sacrifices and the generosity of supporters at home and in the U.S. helped a marching band from Panama make its way to a Moreno Valley high school days before they’re set to perform at the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Under a cloudy sky Friday morning, Dec. 30, the Banda de Música La Primavera from Santiago de Veraguas in Panama practiced on Rancho Verde High School’s football field. About 190 students took up half the field, rows of students carrying instruments, flags and some donning a toned-down version of “la pollera de gala,” colorful, full-length skirts used in traditional events. When the band makes its first appearance in the Rose Parade on Monday, Jan. 2, its members will fulfill a dream seven years in the making.

“After all this time, we have the opportunity to represent Panama,” said Diana Gonzalez, 18, who plays flute in the band. “I’m nervous, but happy.”

The road to the parade hasn’t been easy.

The band raised funds, coordinated travel and made arrangements to travel to Southern California. But financial obstacles remained, and the band members needed a place to sleep. Val Verde School District, based in Perris, opened the gym doors at Rancho Verde high to offer the band shelter and practice space.

In the gym, along with rows of mattresses and tables filled with food, signs made by Rancho Verde high marching band students welcomed the visitors on Friday.

“Bienvenidos!! Panama Band Primavera,” one sign read. Another: “Bienvenidos todos!”

Rancho Verde high’s marching band students and their parents have also visited the Banda de Música La Primavera members, who range in age from 8 to 19, welcoming them with tamales and pasta, according to Rancho Verde band director Honglac Hathuc.

The Rancho Verde High School gym in Moreno Valley housed the Banda de Musica La Primavera marching band members and their parents from Panama on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, as they prepare to perform in the Rose Bowl Parade on Monday. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice with traditional polleras skirts and pintando hats at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Rancho Verde High School gym is home to Banda de Musica La Primavera marching band members and their parents in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Rancho Verde High School gym is home to Banda de Musica La Primavera marching band members and their parents in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Rancho Verde High School gym is home to Banda de Musica La Primavera marching band members and their parents in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Rancho Verde High School gym is home to Banda de Musica La Primavera marching band members and their parents in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Rancho Verde High School gym is home to Banda de Musica La Primavera marching band members and their parents in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Rancho Verde High School gym is home to Banda de Musica La Primavera marching band members and their parents in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

Musica La Primavera marching band members from Panama practice for their Rose Bowl Parade performance at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. (Photo by Anjali Sharif-Paul, The Sun/SCNG)

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Banda de Música La Primavera’s arrival in Moreno Valley is one of its final steps in the journey to the Rose Parade. The Panama band is one of two representing Latin America — Mexico is also represented – in this year’s parade.

Seven years after working to make the cut, Banda de Música La Primavera learned in March it had been selected to walk the 5.5-mile route in Pasadena. The band started raising funds and looked for government grants to fund the trip to the Rose Parade, but by the time the band got visas and booked flights to LAX, there was no money left for hotel rooms, said Jostin Jimenez Ortiz, an assistant director for the band.

Cue the Val Verde school district, which stepped in to assist.

During Rancho Verde marching band’s 2020 appearance at the Rose Parade, Javier Jimenez Ortiz, the band director and Jostin Jimenez Ortiz’s brother, befriended Hathuc.

Earlier this year, Javier Jimenez Ortiz asked Hathuc if his band could stay at the school, but Hathuc said, “that’s not something the school does,” and he declined. When Jimenez Ortiz called Hathuc on Dec. 20, days before the band was to leave Panama, Hathuc said he couldn’t say no.

Hathuc said Rancho Verde Principal Brunel Merilus and Val Verde Superintendent Michael R. McCormick were instrumental in getting the gym prepared, including finding 230 sleeping bags — 190 bags for bandmembers and another 40 for the parents and adults who accompanied them.

“They moved mountains to get those kids here,” Hathuc added.

With 230 students and adults making the trip from Panama to Southern California, travel was arranged in groups. The first groups arrived Tuesday, Dec. 27, with the final group arriving at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 28, Hathuc said.

The Michael D. Sewell Memorial Foundation, an Ohio-based organization and Rose Parade sponsor, started an online fundraiser to cover the costs for the band to stay at the Rancho Verde school gym.

The full cost of the trip was not made public, but the foundation had raised about $5,600 by late Friday afternoon to defray some of the cost.

“It’s amazing, you do one small thing and everyone wants to help out,” said Hathuc.

Luggage, cots, inflatable mattresses, blankets and tables with snacks and food crowded the gym on Friday, Dec. 30. Most items were donated by churches, local residents and the high school, all of whom heard the news of the Panama band looking to accomplish their dream.

For the next week, the Panama band will call the gym home.

“The kids are always saying they prefer staying in the gym than a hotel,” Jostin Jimenez Ortiz said. “They’re like family.”

On top of the financial difficulties, some of the band’s instruments were damaged during the flight from Panama, Jimenez Ortiz said. Rancho Verde high lent the band instruments for the upcoming performance.

But the most beautiful moment of the band’s time in Moreno Valley, Jimenez Ortiz said, was when it was welcomed by the Rancho Verde high students.

“When the first group arrived, they were received by a hand-written card by the school’s band students,” Jimenez Ortiz said. “We’ve received a lot of support.”

Related links

2023 Rose Parade will include Inland Empire residents
Many factors go into Rose Parade lineup
2023 Rose Parade lineup: Your guide to every float, every band, every horse unit, in order
How to watch the 134th Rose Parade on TV, apps or stream it online
Cal Poly Pomona’s 2023 Rose Parade float is tribute to nature, rebirth

The band’s last day at the high school gym will be Wednesday, Jan. 4, though some students will leave hours after they perform at the parade, catching a flight back to Panama on Monday, Jan. 2.

The Banda de Música La Primavera is the 17th entry in the 2023 Tournament of Roses Parade, which can be seen at 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 2, on ABC, Cowboy Channel, KTLA, NBC, Peacock, Univision and RFD-TV.

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