Sunnyside St. Pat's Parade Marked By Inclusiveness
Since 2000, participants in the St. Patrick's Parade in Sunnyside and Woodside have been gathering at 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue on the first Sunday in March to play music, dance, emote politically and eventually march 15 or so blocks, all in the cause of "inclusivity", a quality they find demonstrably lacking in the St. Patrick's Day Parade held on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan every March 17. Seven years and eight parades have not diminished the enthusiasm of those who show up for the smaller event, determined to have fun, whatever the weather on that day. The weather this past Sunday was cold and overcast, at its grayest threatening the parade with the first snowfall in its history. It must have been particularly cold to anyone who enjoyed the false spring weather the day before and then had to face Sunday's temperatures, which restored early March's leonine reputation.
Nobody came hoping to gawk at a nationally famous political figure, or even a temporarily spectacular one, both of which types have appeared in the past. United States Senator Hillary Clinton, on hand for the 2000 and 2002 parades, was in Selma, Alabama, celebrating civil rights history and keeping pace with U.S. Senator Barack Obama, also appearing in that town. The politicians who showed up for the 2007 parade included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged to make an appearance every year and does. He added that he had been in Ireland a few weeks earlier. City Council President Christine Quinn shared the truckbed stage with him and praised the event as "a parade every March that welcomes everybody", not like another one she could mention. She did speak of a third one, though: a parade to be held on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, but in Dublin. She, her father and a few City Councilmembers, will attend it, she said.
In one respect, the big Manhattan and small Queens parades are commonly inclusive, bringing non-Irish people in to celebrate "Irishness" for one day- sometimes by dressing up Irish, sometimes by simply being themselves, such as the group of Mexican children and adults that graced the parade Sunday. But as an example of the former, there was the group making an appearance for the second consecutive year. It currently describes itself as "Keltic Dreams Irish Dancers, 34 African- American and Hispanic children ages 7-12, from P.S. 59 in The Bronx". Led by the thoroughly (and native) Irish Caroline Duggan, who has taught them step dancing as an after-class activity for the past few years, these children from a school on Bathgate Avenue fling themselves into the dance routines with a spirit that should charm any Hibernian. They put on a show before last year's and this year's parade- and are scheduled to put on another one, to be televised in Ireland Friday, May 25. The trip To Ireland has been financed by the American Ireland Fund and private effort.
The St. Patrick's Parade was established in protest against the policy of the Manhattan St. Patrick's Day Parade Committee, which prohibited inclusion of homosexual groups, Irish or otherwise, in the March 17 parade. That alone would guarantee protest this past Sunday, but others got their causes and complaints across, too. When Bloomberg and Quinn were speaking, one man on the sidewalk tried to compete with them for attention, chanting and holding up a sign denouncing "Bloomberg's racist cops". Among those carrying signs and banners of protest this year were Sunnyside Gardens residents united in denouncing plans to make that neighborhood a historic district- in other words, to landmark it. Each year along the Skillman Avenue parade route, there are small counter-protests, often nothing more than catcalls. This year's contrarians, however, were two men in dark clothing who described themselves as "a couple of Catholic guys". They displayed a black banner perhaps 15 feet wide, emblazoned with orange letters that said, SACRILEGE. Marchers from the Metropolitan Community Church, whose banner proclaimed, "God Made Us Queer!" didn't have to wonder what it meant, nor did others. Unfriendly remarks sprang from the parade, one of them funny enough to save the situation. Regarding the black banner and blazing letters, a marcher
cried, "That sign is soo o gay!"
Also in the march, not for the first time, were the All-City High School Marching Band and Variety Boys and Girls Club. Another repeat performance came from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, some of them playing brass and drums, others simply cavorting, with hilarious results. Sunnyside Community Services marched, as did Ballet Quetzacoatl of Brooklyn and Dignity USA. The group De Jimbe was back, and if this assemblage of drum, horn, violin, guitar, banjo and flute players has become a permanent fixture, that can only do the parade good, because De Jimbe could be described as its musical engine.
Next year's parade won't be a huge event, but it will go on. The St. Patrick's Parade has made its mark and established itself as a place where one can make a statement or just have fun for a couple of hours- inclusively.