by Curtis Chong
From the Editor: When I joined the National Federation of the Blind back in 1972, one of our major affiliate projects was to build a float and march in the annual American Royal Parade. The reactions we got were uniformly positive, but we discontinued our annual participation because it seemed to us that showing the public we could walk in a parade was less significant than it once was. Reading this article from Curtis Chong causes me to question our decision and reveals just how surprised and excited the public is to see us participating in public events and walking proudly on our own.
Curtis Chong has lived in many states, and, wherever he goes, he is an active part of chapter and affiliate activities. He now lives in New Mexico and has taken on the task of writing about the affiliate’s participation in the New Mexico State Fair. Here is what he says:
In the National Federation of the Blind we have a motto which says, "We are changing what it means to be blind." We give substance to this motto through the many local, state, and national activities we undertake in the Federation to educate the public about the true nature of blindness. We want the public to abandon the perception of blindness as symbolizing hopelessness, helplessness, and dependence; we work to promote the image of the average blind person as someone who can work hard, contribute to the community, move about independently, and take leadership.
Since 2005 the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico has been creating new public perceptions about blindness by marching in the annual New Mexico State Fair Parade. Each September, as the New Mexico State Fair gets under way, Federationists from across the state come to Albuquerque to march in the annual parade and by their participation demonstrate to the public that blindness does not prevent a person from walking the two-mile route—and at a rather fast clip at that. We are proud that in 2006, 2009, and 2011, we were awarded for being the largest non-high school marching unit in the parade.
September 14, 2013, began as a cloudy, rainy day. This did not dampen the spirits of our State Fair marchers. Preparations for the parade started the night before when a hard-working crew, led by Alexia Switzer (our Parents of Blind Children division president), decorated our diamond float—diamond representing the seventy-fifth year of the New Mexico State Fair. In addition to its flashy appearance, the float was large enough to accommodate those among us who would have difficulty walking in the parade given the two-mile route and the fast pace of the march. This year was the first in which Federationists who used wheelchairs were able to participate.
Sixty-three Federationists and one guide dog arrived at the New Mexico State Fair early Saturday morning to participate in this year's march. We chartered two small buses to make it easier for Federationists to gather together and get themselves organized for the trip. The bulk of our group met at a shopping mall, climbed aboard our two buses, and negotiated the chaotic throng of people and vehicles to get to our spot in the parade line. There were four families with blind children who participated, proudly walking with their white canes. Marchers carried signs saying things like "NFB," "Meet the Blind," and "Success." Some signs had a foot-high picture of Whozit on them.
Leading the charge was our blue National Federation of the Blind banner, carried by four Federationists, among them Adelmo Vigil, president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. The banner prominently displayed our Whozit logo and the name National Federation of the Blind. Behind the banner was our twenty-foot float, surrounded by Federationists who walked in front of, alongside, and behind it.
It took about forty-five minutes for us to complete the route, walking at a fairly fast pace. We were well received by the crowd lining the route. Many people shouted "Good morning," or "Nice job," as the marchers passed by, and we were often greeted with enthusiastic applause. Federationists smiled and waved to the crowd even though, toward the end, some of us were beginning to feel a little tired.
Although there is a lot of work involved in planning for and marching in a parade of this type, we believe that it is well worth the effort. The crowd who comes out to watch the parade is always friendly, and it’s a great way for us to show them who we are. Many of these people have probably never met a blind person, but, because we’re out and marching, they see a group of enthusiastic, mobile, and independent people who just happen to be blind—just another way to change what it means to be blind.