Celebrating Freedom and DiversityBy Nolan Highbaugh
“Are you Chinese?”
It’s the question I am typically asked in between breaths whenever I am gushing about the San Francisco Chinese New Year’s Parade (the “Parade”) and my involv – err, love affair with the event for which I am heading into my 15th year as a volunteer Parade Marshal/Section Leader. For me, the Parade is the best of what this country should be – all people coming together to celebrate the freedom and diversity of culture that enable this country to thrive.
Growing up in Vallejo, “going to the City” was always a treat and I cannot remember any time that we did not find ourselves in Chinatown at some point during each visit. Although my family rarely attended the Parade (“too many people”, “too cold”, “too wet”), I never forgot the thrill of being on the City streets at night, way past my bedtime, transfixed by the ground-rumbling drums, bright undulating dragons, and, of course, firecrackers – lots and lots of firecrackers!
In 1995, after returning to the Bay Area (the “Yay Area”) following a three-year stretch in Los Angeles, I started attending the Parade every year with friends and family.
It was about a month before the 2007 Parade (the “Year of the Golden Pig”) when I was telling a friend, Margine, about my Parade plans and she suddenly asked, “You know that Wayne works on the Parade, don’t you?” At the time, I had known Wayne Hu for about four years and had no clue about his role with the Parade. We were all in the same room at the time, so she walked me over to him and said, “Wayne, did you know that Nolan goes to the Parade every year?” Wayne’s response, with a smile of course, “You attend the Parade every year? I’m gonna’ put you to work!” I’ve been fortunate to have only missed one year since then.
Volunteering for the Parade has only made me love it more. Each year, I am profoundly impressed by the careful logistical preparation and dedication of Parade staff and my fellow volunteers, but it is the honor of being a part of the “backstage crew” for something so historic and important to the City and Yay Area that charges me. Every Parade day has been a bounty of endless excitement: walking among the floats and groups/bands prior to “step off” as they line up to delight the crowds; helping “anxious” Moms find their children’s performing groups; occasionally bumping into a local community legend or celebrity; spotting personal friends in the joyful crowds; rounding the corner of Post onto Kearny St. for the final, triumphant stretch; and, finally, quietly strolling in the night air through the gleaming power-washed streets of Chinatown on the way home from another beautiful Parade night.
So, am I Chinese? No. I am a middle-aged African-American man born and raised in Vallejo, CA – a proud son of the Yay Area, and the Parade is a sacred part of what makes this my home.
Interested in volunteering? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org