🐚 Shell yeah! We’re talking about the Portlandia Mermaid Parade

It’s Wednesday!

And you know what that means — it’s time for all of us to get a little weirder (but reasonably so). 

Each week, we celebrate elements of Portland’s wonderful weirdness in collaboration with Weird Portland United. We’ve featured a veritable truck-load of quirky, local characters, art, and so much more.

Did you miss a story from this series? Don’t worry, you can find our archive of Weird Wednesdays right here

Today’s Weird Wednesday is taking you deep under the waves, into an aquamarine world of fantastic flora and fauna —  a place where the celebration of your inner weirdness is shimmering as the sun skips off the water. We are talking all about this weekend’s Portlandia Mermaid Parade, what to expect, who will be there, and why we are embracing everything that makes Portland weird. (Editor’s note: Yesterday the CDC and the OHA issued a recommendation to wear face coverings for all public indoor events and in public places. This is an outdoor event, but please exercise caution should you attend.)

Grab your snorkel, let’s dive in.

This weekend, get ready to experience the beauty of mythology and the rippling wonder of the ocean and those that protect it — the 5th Annual Portlandia Mermaid Parade will be making a splash at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park. 

We interviewed the creator of this magical event, Una the Mermaid, as well as our favorite upcycling, bagpipes-wielding weirdo and president of Weird Portland United, the Unipiper (Aka Brian Kidd) to learn more about the history behind this event and why it’s so important to re-embrace your inner weirdo. What follows is our interviews, edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about the collaboration between the Portlandia Mermaid Parade and Weird Portland United — how’d this come about?

Brian: We first met Una in 2019 through our collaboration on the ‘Spirit of Portland’ photoshoot. We had been aware of the Mermaid Parade for a number of years and knew that we wanted to engage with the local mermaid community. They are such a vibrant group dedicated to spreading a positive message, which is exactly how we like to view our own mission. When we contacted Una, we knew immediately there was an opportunity to join forces, unite the weird, and grow stronger together. Plus, our mascot being a purple octopus seemed like a natural fit with the stewards of the sea motif.

When did you start performing as a mermaid and how long has the Portlandia Mermaid Parade been taking place?

Una: I started casually mermaiding around 2010 and began doing it professionally around 2012. The Portlandia Mermaid Parade started in 2016. This year will be our 5th year (though it should have been our 6th. Due to COVID, we didn’t do an event last year.)

Weird Portland United is collaborating with the Portland Mermaids for this weekend’s parade. (Courtesy of Weird Portland United)

Who all’s going to be participating (vendors, performance artists, etc)?

Brian: On the Weird Portland front, we will have photo opportunities with our famous inflatable octopuses, as well as performances by Spencer Sprocket, the Unipiper, face painting, and a couple of surprise guests.

Una: There will also be interactive mermaid spaces, educational booths, performances, art installations, a live mermaid tank exhibit and more! Grab your shells and tails, and come down to the waterfront for a swimmingly good time!

What do you hope folks take away from this celebration?

Una: It is my hope that Portlanders will experience the sense of magic and wonder I felt when I saw my first mermaid. It is also my hope visitors will get a chance to learn about merfolk mythology (and dispel some misconceptions about merfolk), have magical encounters with mythical beings, become inspired, as well as build a stronger connection to water, seek to take a more active role in the efforts of water justice and ecological stewardship of our rivers, lakes, wetlands, and oceans. Save the Mermaids!

Brian: There is a lot we hope folks take away this year in particular. On the most basic level, we just want to provide an opportunity for Portlanders to have fun again and reclaim some pride in the city. We have all been through so much over the past year, and we are finally at a place where a lot of folks are ready to embrace a moment of healing. And seriously, is there a better common thread to bring folks together right now than a shared fascination with mermaids? I think not. The work that Una and the mermaids are doing right now is also just incredible. Between their support of Black Mermaids Matter and the establishment of PDX S.P.L.A.S.H. Month (Stewardship, Local, Arts, Sustainability, and Heritage), there is a lot to be proud of. I hope that Portlanders from all walks of life will look at how the work of the mermaids is and feel inspired to put their own weird passion to a good cause.

A past Portlandia Mermaid Parade & Festival with Portlanders embracing all of their underwater splendor. (📸: Courtesy of Una the Mermaid)

Why is it significant for Portlanders to re-embrace our city’s weirdness through events like this? 

Brian: Events like this define our city’s weirdness, and without them, we would be lost. If we are going to hold on to our weird identity, we have to support weirdness in every form. Luckily the mermaids have crafted an event designed to appeal to everyone, from the merfolk enthusiasts to the curious onlookers, to the diehard PDX weirdos, to the kid at heart in each of us. I’m excited that we finally have a way to come together safely in person again and do something that’s fun, silly, weird, and uplifting all at once.

What does practicing this kind of art mean to you, Una?

Una: I was born in Hawaii and lived there for many years growing up. I have a strong connection to water, and very much missed this connection when moving to the mainland. Mermaiding brings me back to my watery origins and helps me feel a deeper connection with nature and my emotional self. I also thoroughly enjoy making others smile and inspiring them to continue to play and use their imaginations. For many, “growing-up” really means losing your inner child and sense of wonder. Sometimes adults try to squash this sense of wonder and imagination in their children, and this is harmful. I want to help remind them it is okay to keep your sense of magic, as it is this very sense that launches humanity into the creative thinking necessary to solve some of the world’s most complex problems. Play has a purpose.

This parade will have you flipping your fins this Saturday. (📸: Courtesy of Una the Mermaid)

Apart from the Mermaid Parade, what are some other projects / events you’ve got going on?

Una: The Portlandia Mermaid Parade and Festival is pleased to announce that the City of Portland has approved two important proclamations for Portland mermaids and environmental stewards.

Well, the City of Portland has approved two important proclamations for Portland mermaids and environmental stewards. The first proclamation declares that the last Saturday of every July will officially be Portlandia Mermaid Day, an official celebration day of the Portlandia Mermaid Parade and Festival and the culminating event at the end of PDX SPLASH Month. The second proclamation declares every July of each year to officially be PDX SPLASH Month. SPLASH stands for Stewardship, Preservation, Local, Arts, Sustainability, and Heritage. PDX SPLASH month is a month-long series of activities and events focusing on the importance of one of our city’s most important natural resources: our water. Whether it’s water conservation, environmental stewardship, public accessibility and equity, or recreational activities, we are a city that revolves around our rivers and waterways!

Anyone can participate in PDX SPLASH Month, and folks can register their event, or activity for FREE! The listing will then be officially placed on the PDX SPLASH Month calendar and shared with all Portlanders. For more information about PDX SPLASH or to read the proclamations in their entirety please visit their website.

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