In Awe of Cinco Parade
After days of changing weather forecasts, I had begun to imagine worst case scenarios on Thursday and Friday. I imagined a group of us artists hanging out in the rain parading just to parade, sin audience. In my mind the band cancelled because they couldn't get their instruments wet, all the kid stayed inside, and my student were afraid to come. While I would have still reveled in the rain experience I couldn't help but be worried that it would have discouraged all the people that went into the planning of the event. I kept saying prayers, mantras, yogic intentions, anything that might invoke a weather change. The night before the parade I spent finishing the install of my show at Fort Gondo. When I went home I continued to work on the souvenir brochure for the parade all the while imagining that every name I was typing would be present. At 3:30 I finally went to bed.
Cam woke me up at 6:30 to prepare for the transportation of the circus wagon. He thought we needed to move it at an hour when not many people would be driving. I complained to him about how hard it was to wake up even stomping my feet. When we walked outside it was sunny with slight clouds. Somewhere in me the little flame of hope lit up. At our studio Cam got the wagon ready and I unloaded supplies from my car. I spoke briefly with Lyndsey on the phone about a dream of understanding she had where she understood our roles in the parade. Cam instructed me on how to follow him. As we began, I shot this photo from behind, all the while thinking about how hilarious it was to transport this structure. When Cam pulled onto Broadway I noticed how people's heads turned to look at the circus wagon. Jaws dropped at the bus stop. I was supposed to watch Cam but I found myself overcome with laughter. Arriving at the Lenador lot, I waved at Galen and Jessica who looked surprised to see Cam's structure.
Went home to shower, costume up, and prepare brochure. The lady at Kinko's loved my dress so much that that I decided to give her a milagro pin. She called me sweetie buns and thanked me enthusiastically. ONwords to meet up with Lyndsey back at CAMP, we ran the parade route in 20 mins flyering the parade route and yelling out to neighbors about the parade. We split up and as I walked down Cherokee through the people setting up tents, a mexican grandma from the third floor yelled down to my "i love your beautiful dress!". I told her it was for the parade at 1:11pm.
Back at Gondo with my volunteers we began to strategize arranging, lineup, release forms, etc. At this point I think I realized that the weather was going to hold out and I began to feel elated.
People began to arrive at Gondo volunteers, friends from out of town, students, photographers, friends from Grad school. People began to show up at the lot; the band, a group of bikers, Celestial theater, my hero art teacher. I was moving back and forth between Gondo and the lot bringing out water, getting volunteers t-shirts. I could see Lyndsey had a huge group forming at CAMP, they were pouring out the door and around the sidewalk.
As the band practiced in the lot, they called out to all the people in the neighborhood. People came out and sat on their front porches and kids ran down the street not wanting to miss out. I was reminded of the end of the movie the Music Man were all the town people come out to be in the band and they all know what to do, that after a total belief that they could not do it. The lot was brimming with people, more people than I even knew, or could have anticipated, people that had never even contacted me or rsvpd. . My first vision of 50 people had grown to 150. Friends in all kinds of crazy creative costumes; skeleton bikers, tornadoes, wielding giant puppets, dressed up as princesses, and kings of cherokee. The little girl i had practiced singing with the footbeat was proud to show me her orange dress she wore to match the hat and mask she had made last week at the costume workshop. Painted faces, my student in masks, cheerleaders, bike crews, moped crews, dogs, Galen's floats, it was all more fabulous than i could have envisioned. I still get the chills thinking about it. Where I had been worried about people showing up or them being bored as they waited, I saw instead people filling the lot with themselves and their conversations.
Lyndsey has lost her talking cone. I thought with this amount of people how will we get this parade going? We asked the police to use their bullhorn and they said yes. Lyndsey greeted everyone singing OhhhOhh Cherokee. I got on the mic and made a few requests about walking slow and directions for line up.
The parade started with the FootBeat. A Beautiful group of kids and adults behind the banner, singing songs with Celia. Lyndsey pushed the dragon coordinated with an endearing ragtag group of people around her. Two people activated cloths on the side of her making a flowing motion. People danced between the cloths, kids surrounded her in costumes. Other choir members fell into line around her. My Forest Park students grouped up behind them. They were followed by St. Cecilias dancer, a beautiful group of young dancers. Then custom bikers, then Peat in his truck. Next was Carolyn as the peacock flag thrower. Cam followed in his wagon followed by many of my grad school friends and other artists/performers. After them a church group of clowns. Then the Roosevelt Band. Bikers. A break dance float from Gondo. The moped crew. Scott Pondroms Fire Engine. Galen and the Radio Cherokee Skarekrau Radio Float.
People had come out to watch the parade! and in certain areas the intersections were packed!
As the coordinator I had the unique opportunity of running through and around all the different aspects of the parade. My favorite moments include:
-When Peat's car stalled and then the audience cheered as it started up again.
-Hearing people run up to the marching band and yell out to the kids they knew waving enthusiastically.
-Ladies dancing on the corner to the music in their bare socks because they had just ran out of their house.
-Singing with the footbeat and my college students who had not even anticipated they would be singing
-one of my students from the south side running up to me mid parade with his mask to catch up with his class.
-looking at the footbeat and all its beautiful diverse perfomers, dancers, singers etc.
-dancing with my high school friends that had come from out of town behind the marching band.
-hearing that St. Cecilias had lost their music at one time but they kept dancing to what they heard inside.
-Watching the breakdancer get off the float and onto the street to perform for a large crowd.
-Seeing Carolyn and her friend Emily march together, Emily protecting Carolyn and Carolyn with full flags flying.
-On Utah (and other people mentioned this moment to me as well) surrounded by houses, some of which were in deterioration, seeing kids come to their windows and wave down to us or even stick their heads out the window calling down to us! I never realized how significant and moving it would feel to parade down a street that might not ever have been a parade street. it felt like we were recharging the street with love and people power.
-Seeing Skarekrau radio come around the corner and waillll to the crowd holding their own and audience in their spectacular loud costumes and performance.
-Holding hands with my Footbeat friend as we approached the end of the parade and realizing how many people had gathered to watch us approaching.
-hearing people call CAM's structure the ark. Like we were all what had been contained inside.
-Jeff Miller as the bike crasher falling on the ground over and over.
-Singing cielito lindo with people on the street and in the choir.
-the awe of all the ambitious costumes: wesley's puppets, cindy's hurricane, the banana bike brigade, my brother as building, corey as earth, ann maree and jason as the boxers, amy all fab in ann maree's mirror cosutme, galen with the rickshaw as a sort of mexican wrestling beginning of man person, ben with his recycled homemade organ grinder, emily and her etheral bike, eric and michelle dressed up in eric's artwork, bill as the pitchie patchie man, brianna as country punker, and all the kids dressed up with faces painted! just too fabulous!
When the parade was over I think i felt the collective effervesence, the joy I had been anticipating. the only thing i regret was not having a picture or a space to reflect and thank the participants. I think/thought to some extent everyone wanted to be able to see each other at the end. Will Lieberman aptly described the parade as a sort of Stone Soup. I really like that idea.
I am struggling now to understand how the press has represented it; as my channel four interview turned in to a terribe piece on the swine flu that was interjected with parade clips and quotes. Meanwhile the post dispatch quoted an alderman who described the parade as too avant garde and another as not very Mexican. This was never billed as a Mexican Parade anyways. Those who were there and in it, got it I think. Galen described it as cultural architecture in a way we had created the largest performance art piece Cherokee Street had seen. I don't always have the words to describe how seriously I viewed this parade as an art piece. The works in it were primarily hand made, there was no funding-save money for a kid's workshop, and there was not advertising within the parade. People had been practicing for weeks to represent themselves as groups. I had multiple calls out to artists to participate. For me this was about bringing together people to celebrate the energy of a street, its own cultural diversity and those who are drawn to call this street a part of their St. Louis experience. Leaving the parade that day I was stunned by the amount of people that described this parade as the best they had seen in their life. Pretty good for a first year, no budget, all handmade event. Falling asleep that night after a long day, I thought about the parade in peru that had inspired it all. I realized that what had been significant for me about that parade was the way in which people occupied the streets as a group in spite of the history of sendero luminoso and inspite of the people they had lost in the street. They did it to defy these things and more so to celebrate their own human power to celebrate together.
I am reminded again of my fav. Thomas Merton passage from the Streets are For Celebration.....
Celebration is the creation of a common identity, a common consciousness. Celebration is everybody making joy.
Celebration is the beginning of confidence, therefore of power. When we laugh at them, when we celebrate, when we make our lives beautiful, when we give one another joy by loving, by sharing, then we manifest a power that they cannot touch. We can be the artisans of a joy they never imagined. We can build a fire of happiness in this city that will put them to shame.
They with their gold have turned our lives into rubble. But we with love will set our lives on fire and turn the rubble back into gold. It will not be just the crap that came out of the earth. This time the gold will have real worth. It will be the infinite value of human identity flaming up in a heart that is confident in loving. That is the beginnning of power, of transformation. Can the street become an inhabitable space? Yes, when it becomes a space for celebration.