Neighbors turn out for Dorchester Day
It doesn’t get much more Dorchester than Mark McHale’s spot at the corner of Range Road and Dorchester Avenue. There, each year at the Dorchester Day parade, he and an assortment of children and grandchildren greet the mayor, city councilors and city council candidates who are familiar with politics in Ward 17.
McHale, who is 64, has been watching the Dorchester Day parade for the better part of the last 60 years.
“I love seeing all the faces of people you grew up with,” he says. “It’s a good day to be from Dorchester. It’s always a good day to be from Dorchester.”
While McHale represents the traditionally Irish American character of Boston’s largest neighborhood, the stretch of Dorchester Avenue between Ashmont Station and Richmond Street, where the Dorchester Day Parade launches, is changing. Interspersed between the Irish and American flags adorning front yards are the flags of the former Republic of South Vietnam and Cape Verde.
“It’s a lot of new people along with the old people from way back,” says Mayor Martin Walsh, whose Butler Street home is just steps from the beginning of the parade route.
Like McHale, Walsh has been attending this parade all of his life. But now, as mayor, he marches the entire four-mile route, adding to the mileage by zig-zagging across the street to greet families occupying front yards and sidewalks. He greets many by first name, along with a “Happy Dorchester Day.”
“I love the neighborhood,” Walsh says. “Back in the day, we all had our sections, but on Dorchester Day, all the neighborhoods come together.”
The annual parade, which commemorates the May 30, 1630 founding of the Puritan settlement, has been held since 1904.
The diversity of the neighborhood shows up in the parade itself. Along with a bagpipes band, baton-twirling pre-teens march with Estrellas Tropicales and Fuerza International. Bringing up the rear is a Haitian-American-dominated Seventh Day Adventist marching band, its members clad in crisp khaki military uniforms. A Vietnamese-American band sponsored by Viet Tan, the Vietnamese Reform Party, sports royal blue uniforms that contrast with the bright yellow-and-red stripes of the South Vietnam flag. A combination of bold colors and Caribbean rhythm comes from a contingent of masqueraders from the Dynasty International carnival band.
Among all the culture and diversity are several of the myriad candidates running for Boston City Council in Dorchester and citywide. Incumbent Dorchester councilors Andrea Campbell and Frank Baker greet supporters. While both face potential opponents on election day — pending the Election Commission’s check of candidate signatures — they walk unopposed in this parade, boasting large contingents of supporter in matching campaign T-shirts.
At-large incumbents Michael Flaherty, Annissa Essaibi-George, Michelle Wu and Althea Garrison are present, as are challengers David Halbert and Julia Mejia.
Parade participation doesn’t come cheap, with most parades charging $200 to march. But for candidates, it’s money well-spent in Dorchester, which, with more than 130,000 people, is the city’s most populous neighborhood. Coming after the Greek and Haitian parades, Dorchester Day is one of the most important political spectacles of the summer.
“It unofficially kicks of the political season,” Walsh says of the parade. “This is the first parade when people have their signs out and get out to meet people.”