Queen Nadia Holds New Year Traditions Dear

First published in the Dec. 30 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

Although Rose Queen Nadia Chung has never physically attended the Tournament of Roses Parade, it is a tradition closely held to her heart.
As a young girl growing up in La Cañada Flintridge, she would watch the parade on the television with her family every single New Year’s Day — a pastime that she fondly remembers melding her Korean roots with being American.
The longstanding tradition originated from her grandparents, who emigrated from Korea and found a sense of belonging through the parade.
“They didn’t have a lot of America they could connect with immediately,” Chung said, “but the parade was something that became a part of our own New Year’s Day tradition. It has made my grandparents feel really welcomed and like their community was celebrating the new year with them. It’s been a really big part of my family.”
Their special celebration merged aspects of Korean New Year traditions such as eating rice cake soup, called tteokguk, in the morning and performing sebae, a ritual of kneeling and bowing deeply to one’s elders.
This year, however, Chung will not only be experiencing her first Rose Parade in person, but will also be riding on a float dedicated to her reign as queen and those of the princesses, while still holding on to the small-town tradition that initially sparked her joy for the community event.

Photos courtesy Sonia Chang
Nadia Chung with her parents.

Her experiences as a third generation Korean American have influenced the way Chung views her role as queen.
“It has definitely made me want to be a good representative and ensure I’m empowering and encouraging other young girls who may look like me, and who might see me as somebody they can be in the future,” said Chung, 17. She is the first Korean American Rose Queen, according to the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association.
She, like many of the girls looking up to her now, was once enamored by the Royal Court. In 2009, Chung made long-lasting memories with the queen and princesses at a tea party, which gave her the first glimpse into a world she yearned to be a part of ever since.
“Little me actually has that moment imprinted upon me, because as a little kid it’s incredible that someone cared enough to have tea with me, talk to me and encourage me,” Chung said. “These girls who I really aspired to be like were saying, ‘Hey, I believe in you’ and so now, knowing how much that meant to me when I was a little kid, I’m hoping that everyone I meet, no matter how short the interaction is, I can connect with them and let them know I really believe in them, too. I feel that responsibility is a great honor and I want to give back in the same way those girls gave me someone to look up to.
“It feels like a big full circle moment and I know that I have my community to thank for that, because I didn’t know those things would be possible for myself,” she added.
Chung’s journey to becoming 2022’s queen hasn’t been easy, admitting she often had her doubts at the beginning of the process and later developed a sense of imposter syndrome. However, she has since found her confidence and voice along the way.
“I really honed an understanding of myself to realize that I enjoy using my voice to help uplift the voices of others, whether that’s through public speaking, writing, speech and debate or mock trial — all of those parts of my life have led up to this moment to help me become a better advocate and representative,” Chung said.
The instant her medallion was placed around her neck — signifying Chung’s place on the Royal Court — she was overcome with emotions.

Nadia Chung doing ballet at Descanso Gardens, one of her favorite places in La Cañada Flintridge. She started practicing ballet at age 13 with California DanceArts.

“To me it wasn’t just a necklace,” Chung said. “I started crying, because that was the moment when it really hit me that we’re part of a tradition that is so much bigger than us — a tradition that precedes us and will continue on past us.”
Chung said she once perceived the Royal Court members as being so much older than her, so when it was her time to join, she was surprised at how fast the moment arrived.
“Somehow all these years snuck up on me and I can’t believe that now it’s me,” said Chung, who is a La Cañada High School senior. “It’s a sincere blessing and feels like a lot of dreams come true for me, but it also feels like I got really lucky to gain six new sisters that I will be friends with for the rest of my life. I also now have a bond and sisterhood that I share with all of the former Rose Queens that came before me.”
Now, as her term as queen is ending, Chung is awaiting acceptance letters from colleges. Her top choices are Brown University; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Southern California; and the University of California, Berkeley. She plans to pursue a career in civil rights law.
“It’s an exciting process, because there’s a lot of anticipation and I’m not sure where I’ll be going,” Chung said. “I’ve submitted applications and it’s in the hands of the colleges. I trust that I’ll end up where I’m meant to be.”
Although Chung missed out on some typical high school rite of passages such as homecoming, she said the tradeoff of executing her Royal Court duties was worth it.
“This is the best senior year I could have ever imagined, but also one that I never imagined,” Chung said.
“There were of course moments that I wondered what it would be like to have a traditional senior year,” she added, “but when I’m at hospitals, retirement homes and places I can interact with my community in a way I would have never been able to do otherwise, I realize I’m not missing out on much and gaining so much more.”