Kylie Kuwada will represent the Garlic Festival, Gilroy and Christopher Ranch throughout her reign
Kylie Kuwada knows garlic. Her knowledge of the stinking rose helped her earn the crown and sash of the 2019 Miss Gilroy Garlic Festival Queen.
She and nine other women waited in anticipation for the results of the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival Pageant held the afternoon of May 19 at New Hope Community Church in Gilroy. With an audience of about 150 watching, the tension mounted as emcee Andrea Yafai announced the winners.
Second runner-up was Lauryn Longoria from Vanguard University. First Runner-Up was Lilly Higgins from Presentation High School. And then for the top royal spot: Kylie Kuwada.
“My jaw dropped. I still can’t believe it,” she said in an interview two days later. “It’s such an honor and I just feel so lucky to represent the Garlic Festival, Christopher Ranch and Gilroy as a whole.”
The third time Kuwada has participated in the festival’s pageant, the Gilroy native did well in the interview with the five judges — Ken Christopher, Stephanie Vegh, Dewey Lucero, Claudia Sandoval, and Shay Matthews. Her speech about garlic played on the personality of Mr. Rogers with the theme of how the festival enables her to be a community helper with her volunteering activities. Her traditional Japanese dance in the talent contest showed off her culture.
A junior at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Kuwada was awarded $1,000 as queen as well as a $10,000 scholarship from Christopher Ranch. She was also awarded the Past Queen ($400) and Past President ($800) scholarships.
She tied with contestant Higgins for the best speech and tied for best talent with Brianna Budelli, a Christopher High School student.
The rest of the 2019 royal court include princesses Amaya Leyba-Guerra, Simran Sihra, Jenessa Andrade, Katie Van Horn, Brianna Budelli, Rae Ceballos, and Gisselle Oliveira, who each received $1,500 from Christopher Ranch. For the next 12 months, the members of the royal court will serve as goodwill ambassadors for the festival and the community of Gilroy.
In July, the women will participate in luncheons in the community as well as a friendly visit with representatives from Gilroy’s Sister City Takko-machi in Japan.
July 26, 27, and 28 at the 41st Annual Gilroy Garlic Festival they will roam the grounds at Christmas Hill Park chatting with and having their picture taken with many of the tens of thousands of visitors.
“The festival is going to be the most fun part of this experience. Getting to be with the girls for three days, we’ll really bond,” Kuwada said. “You get to experience friendships that will last a lifetime.”
The newly crowned queen and her older brother, Ryan, have helped out with the festival for many years, encouraged by their parents, Marah and Eric. Her mother serves as this year’s chair of the entertainment committee.
“I’ve definitely volunteered for the garlic festival since I’ve been of age,” Kuwada said. “I enjoy giving back to the community, it means so much to me.”
Growing up in Gilroy, Kuwada attended El Roble Elementary and Solorsano Middle schools. She graduated from Christopher High School in 2016. Inspired by a science class she took there, she decided on a college major at CalPoly studying environmental management and protection with a minor in biology. She wants a career in marine conservation. She will be interning this summer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Bodega Bay doing research.
Kuwada is thankful for her seasonal work at Christopher Ranch for helping her appreciate the local garlic industry. She worked there as a receptionist in the summer of 2017 during her college break. In the summer of 2018, she did an internship in the garlic grower’s facilities department, doing water reports for the ranch.
“Christopher Ranch has been a huge part of my college experience,” she said. “Being able to work for them and being part of that family has been one of the greatest experiences and I feel so lucky to have that. And now being the queen and able to represent that company and the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association is such an honor that I can’t even put it into words.”
As a judge at this year’s pageant, Ken Christopher, the garlic company’s vice president, was impressed by Kuwada’s poise and confidence during the interview, speech and the talent contest.
“She was the one who stood out, and we realized right away that she could handle regional media, she can handle the crowds, she’s ready with all the answers to garlic questions,” he said.
The panel of judges were especially impressed by her encyclopedic knowledge of the herb that made South Valley famous. “She was throwing facts about garlic to the judges,” Christopher said. “She is one of the best ambassadors we can ask for.”
Pageant Chair Katie Alatorre was impressed by the caliber of all the contestants and how they entertained the judges and the audience with their talent.
“The pageant was a lot of fun. The girls were amazing. They had a lot of energy,” she said. “The judges look for girls who will represent Gilroy well. They look for someone who is outgoing and personable and has a good knowledge of garlic.”
For Queen Kuwada, going through the pageant process was “one of the coolest experience” she has had in her life. She developed professional skills such as public speaking. She also learned a lot about herself, such as that she enjoys getting on the stage, she said.
Kuwada looks forward to her year serving as the Gilroy Garlic Festival queen, making friends with the other members of the court as they represent the community.
“I think being on the court with nine other smart, talented and outgoing women is one of the best parts,” she said. “And being able to be with them and walk around the festival and be a group of ambassadors for Gilroy is one of the things I’m most excited about this summer.”