As I mentioned earlier, I’ve relocated to Boston. I was excited that I’d get to see South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, an event I’ve always heard about but never attended. In some sense, a parade’s a parade. For this one, 600,000 people gathered in South Boston to celebrate the area’s Irish heritage. It was organized by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council and featured community groups, politicians, firefighters, military groups, and marching bands.
And while parades are pretty canned experiences, a parade gives a community the opportunity to create common heritage through shared experience. I’ve grown increasingly interested in festivals and other common experiences. Returning to the US from abroad, I’m always struck by how much of American life is lived behind closed doors and in private spaces. Neighborhoods feel abandoned, sidewalks are unused, parks stand pristine and undisturbed. I’ve recently photographed a testicle festival, a skijoring competition, Evel Knievel Days, a mechanical bull-based community fundraising event, and a balloon rally. These events seem unrelated, but for the communities in which they happen, like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in South Boston, they serve similar purpose. The events are public focal points of culture, history, and celebration; memory of years’ past meet with new generations, passing on traditions and giving identity to places that might otherwise lack distinction. There’s a frequent lament about the end of public space in America, but in these events, we get a glimpse that a sense of community survives.