Crowded streets, blaring music and barely there costumes--this past Labor Day September 5, 2011 marked the 44th annual West Indian-American Carnival Day Parade. The parade has been a mainstay celebration on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood since 1967.
On this day Eastern Parkway becomes a sea of sights, sounds and movement. Flags denoting the different parts of the Caribbean group cheering bodies together in blocks of color: yellow, green, blue, black, white, red, Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago to name a few. Calypso, Soca and Reggae beats announce themselves loudly from all directions passing with each new float, street vendor, or personal boom box. Glitter, feathers, beads and ornate detailing adorn the bodies of dancers who march, shimmy, and shake their way down Eastern Parkway.
In 2001 it is estimated that 4 million people participated in the West Indian-American Day Parade; yearly it is known to attract between 1 and 3 million participants making it the biggest Carnival celebration in the United States.
The earliest known Carnival Day Parade took place in Harlem in 1947 and was organized by the Trinidad Carnival Pageant Committee; Harlem was home to the Ca parade until 1964 when the permit to hold the event was revoked. Starting in 1967 the parade became known as the West Indian-American Carnival Day Parade and has been put on by the non-profit West Indian-American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) ever since.
Crown Heights Brooklyn with its historical legacy of a strong Caribbean community (70% of its 155,000 residents in 1994) situates itself as the natural home for the Labor Day Parade and demonstration of cultural pride. The Labor Day Parade is the final event in the West Indian-American celebration. The WIADCA started the week with concerts featuring soca and reggae artists, a gospel fest, a junior parade and a raffle held at the Brooklyn museum.
Flashes of skin, the waving of flags, the merging of voices and music, The Labor Day parade is indeed a Carnival of festivities. Historically Carnival is a season of celebration characterized by parade, street parities, extravagant costumes and gluttonous foods; it marks the countdown before lent. The presence of Carnival in New York takes on a less traditional meaning situating itself mainly as the acknowledgment of culture and a day for fun, music and dancing.
“It’s a good opportunity to see how people from the other islands party without visiting the islands themselves” said Paul Carmichael, 32, a native of Barbados.
(Photo credit WIADCA)