NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio cemented his image as a mediator and a bridge between disparate communities on Sunday, by attending both Indian and Pakistani Independence celebrations.
In the early afternoon, De Blasio marched in the Indian Independence Day Parade, waving an Indian flag throughout his walk 10 blocks down Madison Avenue.
Jitendra Fadia, who marched in the parade, estimated that the event drew as many as 100,000 attendees, the largest parade celebrating India’s independence outside of India itself.
De Blasio applauded the Indian community for its dedication to education, its contribution to the cuisine in the city, and singled out Nisha Agarwal, city commissioner of immigration affairs, and Ram Raju, CEO of the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation for praise.
At the end of the march, de Blasio presented the Indian Association with an official proclamation declaring Sunday, August 17th to be NYC Indian Parade Day.
“Continue the great work you do for this community and New York City, and namaste,” de Blasio told the Indian Association, right before leaving for the annual Brooklyn Mela parade on Coney Island Avenue.
Brooklyn Mela Parade
Later that day, at the Brooklyn Mela parade celebrating Pakistan’s Independence from Great Britain in 1947, de Blasio presented a similar proclamation declaring Sunday to be “Brooklyn Mela Day.”
The mayor spoke about education again at the Mela parade, bringing up his own efforts to fund universal pre-kindergarten school, and cut a ribbon in honor of the progress there.
“I have the special honor of being the first mayor in 20 years to attend this event and show my appreciation for this community,” the mayor told the crowd. De Blasio is the first New York mayor to attend a Pakistani Independence celebration since David Dinkins in 1994.
The significance of the mayor’s attendance was not lost on the crowd, who saw it as a sign of their acceptance by the city.
“It is a very big achievement to be accepted as a society as a whole,” said Mela attendee Saira Bhutta, a student from Long Island.
In Pakistan itself, Independence Day has been marked by tension and unrest. On Saturday, opposition leader and former cricket star Imran Khan led tens of thousands of followers on a protest march on Islamabad, the country’s capital, demanding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign.
“Wishing all Pakistanis a happy Independence Day. Today we embark on our Azadi March to bring true democracy & Naya Pakistan,” Khan tweeted on August 13.