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Less ‘diversity’ in 2019 Mummers Parade, but whose fault is that? | Stu Bykofsky

In the wake of several Twitter-fueled, faux outrages about huge "insult" to various communities, a few changes were grafted on to the parade.

Captain Carmen Maniaci Sr. center, dances with other members of the Avalon String Band during their 2018 performance. Clowns are usually a safe character.
Captain Carmen Maniaci Sr. center, dances with other members of the Avalon String Band during their 2018 performance. Clowns are usually a safe character.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT/ Staff Photographer

The 119th Mummers Parade will cakewalk down Broad Street on Jan. 1 a little less diverse than in recent years, but a little more politically correct.

Following several Twitter-fueled, exaggerated outrages that claimed affronts to various communities, in 2016 a few changes were grafted onto the parade, and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations was ordered in like a CIA "clean team" to help wipe up the mess.

A "Philadelphia Division" was created to march alongside the traditional divisions — Comics, Fancies, Fancy Brigades, String Bands, and Wenches. The new division was an umbrella for nontraditional groups that wanted to participate in the parade (though "outsiders" — everything from Irish clog dancers to Falun Gong marchers —  had long been welcome to strut with the Comics).

The parade attracted groups such as the Mexican heritage musical group San Mateo Carnavalero, the Puerto Rican musical group Bomberas de la Calle, the Asian group Southeast by Southeast, and the steel band known as the Philly Pan Stars Orchestra.

None of them will be marching in 2019, for various reasons, although some might return in the future.

The Philadelphia Division was dropped because it was seen as segregating newcomers, and now, as in the past, nontraditional groups are steered to the Comics. For his part, Chuck Tomasco, the president of Landi Comics, welcomes them with open arms.

The parade has always been open to outsiders, although most outsiders might not have known that. Trying to diversify the parade is laudable, but here's a dirty little secret: Being in the parade requires a lot of time for rehearsals, it requires money for costumes, food, and transportation, and it requires getting up very early in the morning to assemble on cold streets to entertain sparse crowds. Most people don't have the grit of dyed-in-the-wool Mummers.

This year's parade will be somewhat less "diverse" because some of the "diverse" people just aren't showing up.

That the parade is well over a century old and remains the largest spontaneous folk celebration in America speaks to Mummers' spirit.

The other change is the continuing oversight by the Commission on Human Relations. When this was first announced, I was wary. It smacked of political re-education camps found in China

But no, says George Badey, a saxophonist with the elite Fralinger String Band and spokesman for the Mummers. "When we get to the middle of the  21st century, I want people to look back at this era and see that this is when the Mummers embraced change and diversity," said Badey.

"The Mummers leadership  agrees to vetting their ethnic themes with individuals or organizations that can advise them of the historical accuracy and the respectfulness of their presentations," said parade director Leo Dignam. When they can't find an expert, they meet with a representative of the commission.

That's what happened Monday night at the Mummers Museum at Second and Washington. Representatives of the Fralinger and Greater Overbrook String Bands and the Shooting Stars fancy brigade met with Dignam and commission deputy director Randy Duque.

Rather than a critique, "it's more like thinking things through, asking the question, 'Have you looked into this, have you looked into that?'" said Duque.

"We checked on costumes and makeup and music to make sure they were doing accurate representations of these cultures," added Dignam.

Fralinger is using a Polynesian theme, while Greater Overbrook and Shooting Stars have Native American themes.

"Any of the ethnic themes, they are required to meet with an expert on that particular culture," said Dignam.

So, OK — I changed my mind. If the "review" by the city will prevent accidental or even apparent offense, then it is good for the Mummers and puts the focus where it belongs — on the performance rather than any gaffe.