Brooklyn was filled with vibrant colors, rhythmic music, and mouth-watering food on Monday as the West Indian Day Parade took over Eastern Parkway. The annual event, which celebrates the culture and heritage of the Caribbean diaspora, drew thousands of spectators and participants who enjoyed the festive atmosphere.
A tradition of diversity and unity
The West Indian Day Parade, also known as the New York Caribbean Carnival, is one of the largest and most anticipated cultural events in the city. It started in the 1930s as a small indoor gathering of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, who wanted to recreate their homeland’s carnival. Over the years, it grew into a massive outdoor celebration that showcases the diversity and unity of the Caribbean community.
The parade features floats, bands, dancers, and masqueraders representing various islands and countries, such as Haiti, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname, Belize, and more. The costumes are elaborate and colorful, often featuring feathers, sequins, and beads. The music is lively and infectious, ranging from steelpan and calypso to soca and reggae. The food is delicious and varied, including jerk chicken, roti, curry goat, doubles, patties, and more.
The parade is also a political and social platform for the Caribbean community, who use it to express their views on issues such as immigration, racism, police brutality, and climate change. Some participants dress up as political figures or celebrities and poke fun at them with satire and humor. Others carry signs and banners with messages of solidarity and activism.
A celebration of resilience and joy
The West Indian Day Parade was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the Caribbean community hard. Many people lost their lives or livelihoods due to the virus and its economic impact. This year, the parade returned with a sense of resilience and joy, as people celebrated their survival and recovery.
The parade also coincided with the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, which caused severe flooding and damage in parts of New York City. Some parade-goers said they were grateful to be alive and able to enjoy the festivities. Others said they were concerned about their relatives and friends in the Caribbean, who were also affected by the storm.
The parade organizers said they followed the city’s health guidelines and required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for participants. They also encouraged spectators to wear masks and practice social distancing. They said they hoped the parade would bring some happiness and hope to the community after a difficult year.
A prelude to the parade: J’Ouvert
Before the parade started at 11 a.m., a pre-dawn celebration called J’Ouvert took place in Brooklyn. J’Ouvert means “daybreak” in French Creole and is a tradition that originated in Trinidad and Tobago. It involves revelers throwing powdered paint or mud at each other while dancing to steel drums and whistles.
J’Ouvert is also a symbolic ritual that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Africans in the Caribbean. It allows people to express their freedom and creativity through costumes and performances. Some of the characters that appear in J’Ouvert include devils, jab jabs (clowns), moko jumbies (stilt walkers), and midnight robbers (outlaws).
J’Ouvert has been marred by violence in the past, with several shootings and stabbings occurring in recent years. This year, however, the event was peaceful and festive, with no major incidents reported. The police presence was increased and security checkpoints were set up along the route. The organizers said they worked closely with the authorities and community leaders to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.
A cultural legacy for future generations
The West Indian Day Parade is not only a celebration of Caribbean culture but also a way of passing it on to future generations. Many children and young people participate in or watch the parade with their families and friends. They learn about their history, identity, and heritage through the music, dance, food, and stories that are shared during the event.
The parade also fosters a sense of pride and belonging among the Caribbean community in New York City, which is one of the largest and most diverse in the world. The parade showcases their contributions to the city’s social, economic, and cultural life. It also promotes mutual respect and understanding among different groups within the community as well as with other communities.
The West Indian Day Parade is more than just a party. It is a testament to the strength, resilience, joy, and creativity of the Caribbean people.