apache | doctor | nurse | mom | teacher
I love a parade. There is something about parades that just get to me. I don’t know quite what it is, maybe the collective expression of solidarity towards something, but I will inevitably choke up during a parade. It can be almost any parade- the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television, a huge demonstration in favor or against something, a tiny local homecoming parade- it doesn’t matter. There will come a moment where I will just get caught up in the humanity of the moment and that’s it, I’m done.
Of course, I have theories about the genesis of this parade love. When I was little, my brother and I weren’t allowed any candy or sugar-sweetened anything. My mom meant well, I’m sure, but our diets were strictly regulated. Parades were this magical experience where people would literally throw candy at you. Once a year, we could just sit on the side of the road as happy people would casually toss my most coveted and forbidden desired treats at us. There was no discrimination or shame to it; if you were sitting there, you got candy. It was delightful.
As an adult, no parade has had quite an impact on me as the parade that takes place as part of the events recognizing the struggles, resistance, and thriving within the LGBTQ2S+ communities, known as Pride. I am a cis-het woman in a long-term relationship with a man and really have no place inserting my narrative into this particular discourse, yet the Pride Parade has changed the course of my life more than once.
San Francisco Pride, 1996
There is this part of me that can’t help but volunteer. I do not know how I got pulled into doing it, but that year I volunteered for the San Francisco AIDS Walk. My job was to sign people up to receive information about the walk- really, the worst possible job for me. Anyway, together with a small collection of volunteers, we were distributed along Market Street in San Francisco in the hour before the Pride Parade armed with a clipboard and a pile of brochures. We were told to stop pedestrians and ask if they were interested in learning more about the AIDS Walk. If they were, we would hand them the clipboard to get their phone number and address. Easy enough. I hated it, because it meant I had to talk to strangers. I think I collected maybe 10 names. I kind of wandered through the crowd trying to look approachable, hoping someone would think, “That girl might have information about the AIDS Walk. Maybe she has a brochure, or even better, maybe that clipboard that she is carrying is meant for her to collect my name and address.” In other words, I treated that opportunity like I have treated most opportunities in my life- put myself in the right rainstorm and wait for lightning to strike.
Once I returned my sad clipboard with the single, incomplete sign-up page, I disappeared back into the crowd and found a spot along the street to wait for the parade. I didn’t have to wait long. I had never been to a parade in San Francisco, let alone a Pride Parade. I had no idea what to expect.
If you have ever been to the San Francisco Pride Parade before, you know the sequence of events. First, the police clear the streets. Then there is that tension of waiting, the streets expectantly empty, as if the entire city is holding its breath. In that moment of waiting, the police cars having passed and a near silence in their wake, you hear the roar of motorcycles rumbling in the distance. No- you don’t hear it, you feel it. The feel of those bikes rattles through your body and then the screaming begins as all those people lining the streets begin to thrum with energy, this exuberance growing and growing as you see the bikes coming up the street and hear the wave of people cheering them on as they approach. It’s the Dykes on Bikes, and they are magnificent.
That year, the Dykes on Bikes had made their grand entrance and passed by and the crowd was just getting its breath, that first burst of energy almost too much to bear, when a second explosion of energy came careening up Market Street. The noise of the crowd was incredible, only this time it was without the bass of motorcycle engines as accompaniment. This sound was different, it was people cheering a bittersweet song for their everyday heroes, a song for those they had lost and a song for the people who had taken on something bigger than themselves to try to make the world better in their memory. As with the Dykes on Bikes, I heard the crowd long before I saw the group, a wave of noise traveling up Market Street. A group of hundreds of people on bicycles, each wearing a solid colored long-sleeve shirt that collectively created a rainbow. They had decorated their bikes with different photographs and messages, names and dates, remembering people who had died from AIDS. This was the California AIDS Ride 3 group, just back from their ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, having raised money in support of two AIDS-related organizations. The support from the crowd was unmatched. I watched those people ride by on their bicycles, these looks of wonderment and joy and pride on their faces and I thought, “I want to do that. I want to make a difference.”
Santa Fe Pride Parade, 2009
In 2009, the Pride events were relocated from the Plaza to the brand-new Railyard Park. Only opened a year prior, the park was a gorgeous addition to the downtown landscape, but it was still finding its niche within the city’s events. Surrounded by wide, multi-lane roads and few retailors, it would eventually grow into an excellent events space, but it was not a good choice for Pride in 2009, and those big roads were a poor canvas for the still small parade that would begin the weekend events.
I love parades. Did I mention that? For the love of a parade, that year I gathered together my two kids, ages 4 and 1, and my older son’s best friend (also 4). My brother also joined us, bringing our 97-year-old grandmother in tow. We found a spot along the parade route where we were about the only people for the whole block, and we parked ourselves on the curb. Grandma had a chair and an umbrella for shade, but the rest of us sat it out old school. We waited for what seemed like forever, sucking on apple sauce bags and eating kid snacks.
I recall friends of mine asking if maybe my kids were too young to attend a Pride Parade. I couldn’t imagine why. During the parade, there were people dressed to impress, including some wearing less clothing than maybe they would wear to work. I think maybe this was what those friends were concerned about, but I still am not sure. My friends certainly weren’t worried about exposing my children to political figures driving fancy cars and handing out candy in hope for votes, which is what made up about half of the parade participants.
We sat in the sun and cheered and smiled and waved at every group that passed us, excited to be part of this exciting day. The kids got candy, I got my parade, and we had a beautiful day in the sun supporting people in our community- our community being people who live in our city and people who share this same incredible earth with us.
What made this notable for me, the reason I’m writing about it now, is meaningful for me more now as a mother looking back at that day 14 years ago. It was important then, but today that day rips my heart out of my chest and stomps it apart. During that parade, as I sat there with my little children and their friend, people in the parade thanked us for being there.
People in the parade thanked US. They thanked us for sitting on the side of the road, cheering for them. One young person ran over to me, tears in his eyes, and specifically thanked me for bringing the kids. It took my breath away then, and it does today. What world do we live in that a person would do this, and that people would question my decision to take my kids to cheer for people living their beautiful, courageous lives?
Santa Fe Pride Parade, 2023
When I woke up yesterday, I knew it was going to be a hard day. All my joints ached. I had slept poorly that night and struggled to get out of bed. My throat hurt and I was congested and I just felt like crap. The only reason I motivated myself to get up was the promise of a parade. We were going to join the Santa Fe Indigenous Center’s group in the Pride Parade. I didn’t know how I would get through it, but I was going to do it. I wanted to be there to support our Two Spirit relatives, I wanted to be there to support the SFIC and recognize the hard work that everyone at the center is doing. I know how important it is to have warm bodies participating in things like this, and I was more than happy to be able to do this one thing. There aren’t a lot of ways I can volunteer these days, and this was one easy way to participate. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to participate unless there was room for me in the car they were driving in the parade. Usually the SFIC has a convertible with three passengers and then a group of people walking behind it carrying signs.
Pride events have returned to the Plaza since 2009. The streets in downtown Santa Fe are narrow and perfect for a parade. There are many, many more people attending Pride in 2023 than attended in 2009. The parade was bigger in every way. There were lots of little kids. The roads were full from the start of the parade to the very end. There was joy and excitement. As we moved down the streets, people yelled back and forth, “Happy Pride!” There was so much happiness.
The parade route takes you from the state capital down Old Santa Fe Trail to the Plaza. On the way, we passed sculptures by my father and my grandfather. We passed people who were so happy to see us. We weren’t wearing regalia or fancy beads and feathers. We were just ourselves, being Natives, in a parade.
Towards the end of the parade, the route makes a right turn onto San Francisco Street, onto the Plaza. When we turned that corner, the crowd was huge, and the wall of noise was almost too much. That was my moment- the moment I get in every parade where I get lost and cry and feel like I am entirely a part of everything. There were Natives in the crowd lulu-ing for us, we were seen. We were THERE. In that block of people cheering, showering each other with pure love for that single moment, I lost sense of being utterly exhausted and achy and feeling like I was moving through mud, worrying about this whole breast cancer thing and what will happen in the next few weeks, what is going to happen with my job and my husband and my kids and all the other weights on my shoulders. I was there, I was in it.
In 2009, I hope our presence on that curb lifted up the people in the parade, the people who looked at us and mouthed the words, “Thank you.” Yesterday, for that little bit of time as we rode along the parade route receiving all that love, I was lifted up. I got my candy, my sugar high. I got to be part of something bigger than myself. Parades make a difference.
That’s why I love parades. Even if fleeting, they bring us together, they lift us up, and that makes a difference.
I'm a Chiricahua Fort Sill Apache Nurse Researcher. I write, speak, and think about health equity and parenting in our complicated world.
Views expressed here are my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.
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