When Brooke Perez was a young girl, it was like pulling teeth to get her to order what she wanted at a restaurant.
“We’d go to Subway and they’d try to ask her what she wanted on her sandwich, and she was too shy to say anything,” says her mother, Sundi Perez. “Her dad got to where he’d say, ‘Well, I guess you’re not going to eat then.’ ”
Fast forward to Feb. 27, and Brooke is on stage at the Performing Arts Center in Wenatchee, speaking to judges who will decide the 2021 Apple Blossom Festival royalty.
“I was nervous but I kind of got into the zone,” Brooke says. “It was like, it’s just me and the microphone.’ ”
And this poised young woman of 17 nailed her speech and wowed the judges. That night, she was named Apple Blossom Festival queen.
“It was surprising for us,” Sundi said of her and her husband, Louie. “I don’t know where it all came from.”
Brooke knows. But it’s been a long journey.
The shyness was there as long as she can remember back into her childhood. Times were tough back then. Her brother, Brandyn, 12 years older than Brooke, was born with a rare disorder called Charge Syndrome. He was deaf and blind with periodic emotional outbursts.
“It took over our household sometimes,” Brooke says. “It took a toll on my mom.”
Brooke says she learned coping skills and how to help calm him down.
“It taught me a lot about what it means to be a compassionate person,” Brooke says. “He taught me patience.”
Sundi says she thinks that the situation made Brooke’s ingrained shyness worse. With Brandyn’s condition, the family was unusual to other people, and Brooke felt that.
Brandyn died in 2015 when Brooke was in sixth grade. Her other brother, Michael, is 10 years older than her and lives in Rock Island with his own family.
The process of coming out of shyness took years, but it centered around gymnastics, dance and playing violin in the school orchestra.
She started gymnastics at age 5.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” Brooke says. “There are so many eyes on you and your team is cheering for you. You get so into your skill that you forget anything else that ever mattered.”
After two ankle injuries, she moved on to dance at age 14. For the past four years, she’s been doing jazz, lyrical, contemporary, open and hip hop. This past March, she earned the judges choice award at a regional competition in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
In sixth grade, she began playing the violin, an instrument her grandfather played.
“I love it,” she says. “There are so many different kinds of music you can play on the violin: modern and classical. You can have this one instrument and it can make this high-pitched noise and it can be bounced off all these other instruments in an orchestra.”
COVID-19 shut down the orchestra where she used to play at Eastmont High School. Now, she says, she plays for her own enjoyment at home.
Brooke is spending her senior year as a Running Start student at Wenatchee Valley College. She also works part time as a receptionist at Wenatchee Dental. Last July, she worked in a cherry orchard as a swamper.
“I got to use some of my Spanish,” she says. “I helped translate for some of the workers. It was great to build relationships with them and it made the job fun.”
At school, Brooke says, she enjoys math and science but has found she also likes writing. She plans to study biology at Seattle Pacific University this fall. She says she isn’t sure what she will do after getting a degree but hopes to work in the health-care field, maybe working with people with special needs.
Being queen, Brooke says, is an honor.
“Growing up, I knew the royalty played a big part in our community. I always thought, ‘Wow.’ They were real celebrities to me.”
She decided to try out this year with a “why not” attitude.
“I knew I could take the skills I’d learn with me anywhere — for a job, college, anything,” she says. “You learn so much. There are volunteers teaching you how to do make-up, about time management, speech presentation, how to have poise, how to hold yourself with confidence.”
She says she is looking forward to the combined grand parade and youth parade on June 12, especially after the pandemic cancelled the big festival events last year.
“I’m so excited to see all the people lining the streets and coming back together again,”she says. “I am excited to see the little girls and their faces. You don’t realize how much of a role model you are to them; their eyes light up and you can’t even explain the feeling.”
Her parents will be watching too, but their eyes will be on their daughter.
“She’s found herself and just has this absolute drive,” Sundi says. “She know what she wants to do and has the assurance about her in who she wants to be. It’s like, ‘wow.’ And we’re just choked up with pride.”