When Brian O’Dwyer marches up Fifth Avenue on Saturday, he won’t be alone.
O’Dwyer, the grand marshal of this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, will be marching with several Latino immigrants by his side, highlighting this year’s parade theme of immigration and championing his own work with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, which has offices in Queens and the Bronx.
"I’m the son of immigrants and the grandson of immigrants. I know in particular what this town has done to give opportunities to all immigrants and allow them to make better lives for themselves and their families," said O’Dwyer, who now serves as chairman emeritus of the center. "It shouldn’t be a divisive issue if we all remember where we came from. We’re not pulling the ladder up behind us."
O’Dwyer, the third in his family to serve as grand marshal of the parade, said five Latino immigrants who work with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center will march with him "as a symbol of the solidarity between all immigrants," and added that he appreciated how this year’s theme recognized the work he has dedicated years to.
The annual parade, which first began in 1762, will kick off at 11 a.m. on Saturday — a day before St. Patrick’s Day since this year the celebration falls on a Sunday, the Sabbath. Hundreds of thousands of people will march and millions of spectators are expected to line the Fifth Avenue route from 44th Street to 79th Street, according to organizers.
"When the parade started … the population of all of the state of New York was approximately 200,000 people. We have 200,000 people marching now," said Sean Lane, the parade board chair. "It’s just extraordinary, that history, and obviously we’re very conscious of that. And you stand on the shoulders of all who came before you."
Lane added that the parade’s theme was very close to his heart, having grown up in Ireland himself.
"We stay out of the politics of it, but the Irish, obviously, and the parade [are] an enormous example of successful immigration," he said before referencing a line from Ronald Reagan’s final speech as president, that anybody can come to America and become an American. "And we’re firm believers of that and I don’t care about the politics, that’s just the facts."
And while many are expected to turn out for the festivities, Lane said only time will tell if this year’s Saturday schedule will have an effect on the crowd size.
"From the number of marchers, we could have a significant increase because you don’t have to take the day off to march," he said. "On the other hand, because all the offices are going to be closed, you may not have as many people on the sidelines."
Weather, he added, "is really the biggest factor."
And, like the luck of the Irish, it appears to be on their side — the forecast for Saturday as of press time is partly cloudy with a high in the low 50s.