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August 8, 2002

Danc'n and Jamm'n In The Streets

by Latasha Thurston


With 26 days left in the summer vacation, the school year is right around the corner. All the picnics, beach outings, barbecues, and bus rides will soon be over. The blistering heat waves will turn into the bone-chilling cold fall and winter months. The greatest loss that everyone will miss about the end of the summer is the jump’n parties. However, before the summer is over there will be one big party on Labor Day to bring it to a close. This is the West Indian-American Carnival, which takes place in Brooklyn New York on Eastern Parkway. This is when thousands of costumed masqueraders, organized into teams called mas bands (pronounced mass from masquerade), gather at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Utica Avenue in Crown Heights and march down the parkway till they get to Grand Army Plaza in Flatbush.

“Carnival comes from two Latin words. The two Latin words mean good-bye to the flesh. So, it is a time when you let go. We forget for a day all the problems of the city, and we just let go as we say, loosen yourself, have fun.” This carnival serves as a social pressure release valve; a kind of anything goes period,” said Jim Metzner from Pulse of the Planet.

Many of the city’s roughly one million citizens of Caribbean descent, along with thousand of neighbors, day-trippers and tourists, come out to observe the wonderful parade. The Carnival consists of music from all the different Caribbean countries, beautiful decorative floats, millions of flags in the air, and most importantly all the masqueraders dancing to the jubilant sounds of steel drums and the steady throb of calypso, soca, and reggae music. Wearing dazzling, multicolored outfits, ornate headpieces and glittering makeup, the mas slowly make their way along the parkway. In recent years, there have been celebrity singers, such as Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Wycleff, Foxy Brown and more, who get the crowds jumping as they perform their most popular songs on the moving floats.While the thousands of participants dance on the parkway, the sidewalks are packed with vendors selling Caribbean crafts, clothing, and souvenirs. They also sell mouthwatering food, such as roti, curry chicken, oxtail, beef patties, and more. The costumes, music and food all represent facets of the various, Caribbean nations and cultures.

Other events, besides the parade go on during the Labor Day weekend. There are several concerts, costume contest, and the Kiddie Carnival that take place on Saturday of that weekend. Finally late Sunday night at around 2 a.m., the lively procession known as J’ouvert starts off Monday’s revelry.

New York’s Carnival festivities date back to the first wave of Caribbean immigration, in the early 20th century. Small calypso revues and masquerade balls appeared in Harlem in the 1920’s; the events became so popular, they were moved to larger outdoor venues. But because of the cold winter temperatures, the celebrations were rescheduled to Labor Day in 1947. This switch in time signified the shift from its religious to cultural priority. In 1967, a Trinidadian masquerade designer named Rufus Goring (“mas man”) brought the event to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, home to rapidly growing Caribbean community. “There was talk of moving the parade to Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue when Carnival left Harlem,” recalls Trinidad-born Horace Morancie, a consultant to the United States Steelband Association (USSA). “But we wanted it to be a celebration for and in the Caribbean community, so we went to Eastern Parkway. ”The following year, however, unruly crowds looted nearby shops, and the police refused to renew Goring’s permit. In 1969, Carlos Lezama, the president of the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), the parade’s organizing committee, took up the reins and helped set Carnival on track, securing permits and working through the calypsonians and the community, the Labor Day Carnival has evolved into a massive, multicultural event that it is today.

I have been able to experience the parade for about four years now and I have enjoyed every bit of it. You never feel left out at the parade because there are always vendors selling inexpensive outfits and accessories to make you feel like natives of the various West Indian countries. There are millions of people with flags, hats, bandanas, shirts, and more to represent their country. Carnival to me seems like a big cultural pride parade, where everyone is happy to celebrate the country they are from. So if you don’t have anything planned this Labor Day, come out to Brooklyn’s annual West Indian American Day Parade to enjoy the cultural festivities full of people, music, and food to have a wonderful and exciting time.


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