Gasparilla's first all-female krewe marks milestone anniversary
Saturday marked the silver anniversary for Ye Loyal Krewe of Grace O’Malley, Gasparilla’s first all-female krewe. And the group of fierce lady pirates has at least one thing on Ye Mystic Krewe:
They’re based on a real historical figure.
“Grace O’Malley was an extremely brave woman,” said this year’s krewe head Kimberly Anderson. “Her father, a pirate, forbade her to go with him, but she cut her hair as a teen, dressed like a boy and stowed away as a pirate.”
And what better time for the original female krewe to celebrate its 25th year than in a time when the “#metoo” campaign has commended numerous women for bravely speaking out against sexual assault?
Anderson, 48 and a Pasco elementary school principal, grew up in Zephyrhills going to the parade with her grandmother when the only females on floats were those considered the “queens” or “princesses” of the men’s krewes. No pirates — not many independent female role models for the little girls in the crowd grabbing at beads.
It wasn’t until 1992 that the group of females were able to petition for a krewe following a racist debacle that shut down Gasparilla the year before.
“I feel like we kind of paved the way as a krewe,” she said, “and the variety of krewes out there now … we were leaders and we still are leaders.”
Although pirate culture has a history of demeaning and sexualizing women, Anderson and her group of more than 300 women have found power in their presence and charity work.
“I would never do anything than be with my krewe, with my ladies, on this day,” she said, donning her customized red velvet Elizabethan garb. “To me, it’s better than Christmas.”
'I don’t want to sound weird but they don’t really have a lot of African Americans' at the yacht club before Gasparilla
The invasion is underway and the parade of pirates still to come, but 21-year-old Keshema Fleming’s Gasparilla ends with her shift at 2 p.m. Fleming came to Tampa two months ago from the US Virgin Islands, where her parents are struggling to repair her home after it was destroyed during hurricane season.
She hopes to make enough money working jobs like her housekeeping duties at the Tampa Yacht Club so that her parents can rebuild a home for her to come back to as soon as possible, Fleming said.
As she stacked chairs in the Yacht Club ballroom alongside four other black employees, Fleming hesitated to say whether she would stick around to cheer on the Krewes of pirates she served breakfast to this morning as they parade down Bayshore Boulevard.
“Gasparilla is fascinating, but there aren’t many different cultures,” Fleming said. “I don’t know if it’s for me, but it seems like everyone is having a lot of fun.”
Aleniah Roacher, 20, also immigrated from the US Virgin Islands, becoming fast friends with Fleming. In the two years Roacher has lived in Tampa he’s never seen the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, he said - though last year he did drop by the Gasparilla night parade for about an hour.
“I hear the night parade got really crazy, like with women exposing themselves,” Roacher said.
As the boom of cannons and loud speakers signaled the start of the 114th Gasparilla Parade of Pirates, Roacher stacked chairs at the Yacht Club under the watchful eyes of plastic pirates dripping in beads and black and white photos of the men who dreamed them up.
“I don’t want to sound weird but they don’t really have a lot of African Americans, I think it’s more of a caucasian type of event,” Roacher said. “I’ve seen about five African american guests here today. That’s five period.”
Roacher couldn’t think of any pirate themed festivities in the Virgin Islands, where he hopes to return as a certified A/C technician once he completes the required 2-year training course in Tarpon Springs.
It’s been hard to find work, Roacher said, so he jumped at the chance to join Fleming and the other members of their team to prepare Gasparilla’s exclusive Yacht Club for Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, even though that meant reporting for duty around 5 a.m.
By 7, club staff were ready at the helm, swiftly wiping down breakfast tables, refreshing trays of ham and biscuits and gravy for the buffet and trashing abandoned cups once filled with “Milk Punch” - a fabled elixir of milk, brandy, simple syrup and nutmeg - as a steady stream of club members came swaggering in.
Neither Roacher nor Fleming had ever heard the legend of Jose Gaspar.
“I asked a few of the pirates here what they think it means to be a pirate and they couldn’t really answer me,” Roacher said. “I know it’s just a party where you can be fun loving and loud, but it seems kind of degrading to females and not really open to African Americans like me and my friends.”
But could Gasparilla ever change? Could he see himself someday joining Ye Mystik Krewe m, or at least watch them parade past with his friends?
“I think that’s a hard question to answer,” Roacher said. “But yeah, I think everybody would like to enjoy their time without being judged.”
--Anastasia Dawson, Times staff writer
by Chris Spata1/27/2018 8:55:08 PM
Yacht Club staffer Aleniah Roacher (left) moved from USVirgin Islands in 2015. His friends call #Gasparilla2018 a “Caucasian-Type event.” Could that change? “That’s a hard question to answer, But yeah, I think everybody would like to enjoy their time without being judged.” https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DUkyIW9WkAIRkiP.jpg
by Anastasia Dawsonvia twitter1/27/2018 8:36:20 PM
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