Labor Day and what it means for Caribbean-American citizens

Photo by: Bess Adler

Summer time in Brooklyn, New York always ended in a big bang, a large celebration, a huge party, what many know as the Labor Day Parade. For me, this always signaled that it was almost time for school, but it always reminded me that I was a part of a large culture. I am a first generation Trinidadian- American and I am one of the many that represented their country during the Labor Day Parade.

To American culture, Labor Day is usually held on the first Monday in September. The history of Labor Day started as a day of celebration by the labor movement. The day is spent recognizing the achievements of American workers in both social and economic areas. The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 by the Central Labor Union in New York City and was celebrated with a parade.

The Labor Day Parade goes by many names: Labor Day Carnival, West Indian Day Parade, and West Indian Carnival. The history of the parade for West Indians was first started in Harlem during the 1920s by Jessie Waddell and her friends. The idea started as a way to stage the carnival costumes at parties and enjoy Caribbean music indoors to get away from the cold New York City temperatures. The need to move the parties outdoors came from the nature of the Carnival theme which included bright colors and the bass-filled music. Thus, the first carnival was held on September 1st 1947 thanks to the Trinidad Carnival Pageant Committee, Waddell, and other committee members.

However, the permit that allowed the parade to run along the Seventh Avenue until 110th Street was revoked in 1964. Carlos Lezama and the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association, five years later, would get approval to establish the parade in its current home of Brooklyn along Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

The unity of all Caribbean islands is what really brings in such a large crowd, between 1 to 3 million each year. All countries are represented in what we know how to do best, which is, partying and having a great time. The carnival hosts a variety of different island music genres from all Caribbean islands; reggae, soca, dancehall, calypso, and more. All islands come from a similar background and want the same goals in life, to live in peace. We celebrate that peace and independence with one another in this parade.

The colorful array of costumes are all created by different vendors, or bands, that have different sections of costumes all with different themes. The costumes are all handmade designs with vibrant colors, sequences, including feathers, jewels, and other accessories. There are 3 areas per section; front line, midline, and backline. Each area costing its own various amount, some between $300 to $600 and up depending on which band you are purchasing from. About 1,000 costumes are made for its masqueraders that will be participants of the parade. The costumes are displayed and picked up from mas camps which serve as the headquarters for the band’s truck to leave from on parade day. The mas truck holds its own DJ area with massive speakers while a smaller pick-up truck holds the food and beverages given to masqueraders along the parade route.

This year, I served as one of the masquerades and, just like any other year, I enjoyed “walkin’ de parkway” and representing for my country of Trinidad. It has been a family tradition to be a part of this parade. During my childhood, I would observe the parade along with my cousins and aunts. My teenage years, myself and friends would find ways to become unofficial participants of the parade (aka hoping the fence, not illegal by the way). This year, however, was my first year and most likely not my last year being a masquerader.

Next carnival trip will be in either Toronto for Caribana or Miami Carnival.


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