The newest face of Gerber, 8-month-old Mary Jane Montoya from Fresno, California, is of mixed heritage. Her mother, Sara Montoya, has Mexican heritage and her father, Billy Montoya, is a descendant of the Yokut Mono Tribe.
They plan on raising Mary Jane with a mixture of those cultures too.
“We’re teaching her Spanish,” Billy said after explaining that his sister and mother are very involved with the tribe and will be getting Mary Jane involved as well. “We want her to know everything about her culture.”
Being the Gerber baby comes with a $50,000 prize that Sara and Billy have decided to put away and save for Mary Jane’s college fund.
“Higher education is so important and we see the value in that,” Billy told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We want to make sure she doesn’t struggle with college…making sure she is able to focus on that,” Sara said. “We know how hard it is to work and go to school."
Billy is doing that right now. He works full-time and attends Fresno State full-time. He plans to graduate next semester with a degree in graphic design.
“I know first-hand how hard it is,” he said. “I’m so glad I’m going to be able to give her a chance to focus full-time on school.”
Mary Jane was chosen from more than 308,000 entries because her picture demonstrated the visual appeal and expressiveness the judges at Gerber were looking for and was consistent with Gerber’s heritage, said Molly Kelly, a representative with MSL Group, Gerber’s public relations firm.
When she was announced as the winner on October 6, Facebook was abuzz with negative comments from people saying she didn’t look like the original Gerber baby. Gerber has since removed the negative comments from the page.
The negativity didn’t bother the Montoyas though. They are just proud of their little girl and appreciative of the experience being chosen has brought. They got to go to New York City and be on the TODAY Show to meet the original Gerber baby, Ann Turner Cook, who is now 85, and be interviewed by Natalie Morales.
“She [Ann Turner Cook] has that same look and that same twinkle in her eye. She’s super sweet,” Sara said. “They were so nice and so open to talk to us and let us know what it was like for her to be the icon of the Gerber baby.”
The Montoya family had never been so far across the country and were amazed by the fast pace of the city and seeing how a television show is put together.
“Just the process of walking into the building, the hair and makeup, how many people it takes to make the show happen [is incredible],” Sara said. “And to be in New York and feel the city alive—it was a lot of fun, we really enjoyed it.”
“It was just a big whirlwind,” Billy said. “I couldn’t believe how small the sets are and how many people go into doing it—it was just amazing.”
That’s not all. Sara and Billy said Mary Jane actually learned to crawl while they were in New York City.
“We can’t wait till she grows up so we can tell her she was the Gerber baby,” Billy said.