As with any event that celebrates a history of piracy, the excessive consumption of alcohol and the exhibitionistic exposure of various body parts, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding Gasparilla. But with 400,000 people attending the celebration in 2007, it’s unlikely anything will be – or should be – done about it.
Arguments against Gasparilla are valid enough. During the parade on Saturday night, 28 people were arrested, according to the Tampa Tribune, for everything from fighting to possession of controlled substances. Sixteen arrests were made for boating under the influence, up from 11 last year, according to Tampa Bay’s 10. Authorities treated about 100 people for various injuries, from simple falls to excessive intake of alcohol. Three are in serious condition, and 22 had to be taken to hospitals.
Jose Gaspar, the pirate for whom Gasparilla was named, probably never existed in the first place. He may have, of course, but there’s no evidence to suggest he was a real person. Even if he existed, however, the myth quite clearly states that Gaspar and his “merry” band of buccaneers, like most pirates of the day, were essentially murderous thieves who routinely slaughtered the inhabitants of the ships they plundered. Traditionally, members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sail their pirate ship from Hillsborough Bay to the Tampa Convention Center. The mayor then hands over the key to Tampa.
So the city is not only celebrating murderous thieves; it’s celebrating its own colonization by them.
But there’s another side of Gasparilla: a celebration where families can bring children to have fun. It’s to be hoped they will not see anything unfit for a child’s eyes. Sure, 28 people might have been arrested, but 400,000 people attended the celebration. That’s only seven per 100,000. The average incarceration rate in America per 100,000 is more than a 100 times that number, and most of the average doesn’t consist of people at a drunken celebration where illegal behavior is more likely.
No matter the arguments against it, Gasparilla isn’t going anywhere. As ludicrous as the excess and malfeasance may be to the rational mind, Gasparilla is Tampa’s tradition, no matter how embarrassing it might be for those who choose not to go. It’s not very likely that 400,000 Gasparilla fans will ever convince those who stay home that Gasparilla is a good thing. But it’s even more unlikely that those who stay home will convince 400,000 people that it’s not.