It’s that time of the year in New York and the rest of the United States, the last official day of summer.
There is a hint of chill in the air as the labor Day weekend approaches and while the leaves haven’t started to fall from the trees and snow is at least three months away there is recognition that the somewhat carefree days of a long hot summer are giving way to cooler temperatures. What better way to make that transition than to enjoy the Caribbean carnival in New York, an annual festival that’s organized by the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, WIDCA, and that draws at least two million people to the Eastern Parkway thoroughfare in Brooklyn.
For more than 75 years, this Caribbean extravaganza has captivated New York and when it starts on Thursday at the Brooklyn Museum and then climaxes on Monday with the carnival breakfast and the massive parade of colorfully attired revelers backed by the best of Caribbean music the infectious spectacle forces many people to put aside for a day or two their concerns about the economy, issues about immigration, and the despair spawned by discouraging events in the U.S. and the Caribbean, including worries about crime. When it does all of those things, the jubiliation in Brooklyn would have in keeping with the true nature of carnival.
The West Indian creation is a great social equalizer and a spectacular exhibition of creativity and gaiety. It enables people of different economic and social classes to put aside their stations in life and enjoy the fun. The physicians, bus drivers, street cleaners and teachers, not to mention the doctors, cabinet ministers and a preacher or two, not simply mingle but hit the streets to show that “we are all one” or to use the vernacular “all of we is one.” The emphasis is on enjoying the music, parading in costumes and of having a marvelous time. The costumes, created by imaginative designers, tell different stories about times in history or contemporary scenes and often take a page from the bible, life in Africa, pictures dating back to Roman or Greek days, a Broadway show, an aspect of West Indian reality or a futuristic look at life in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada or the United States.
The movement in the waist, the wiggle of the posterior part of the anatomy, the unbelievable headdresses and the extra step of the feet all come together to send an unmistakable signal: all is well with the world for a fleeting few hours.
It is that marvelous gift from the Caribbean to humanity that sours the injection of tens of millions of dollars into New Yoke City’s economy every year. Still, the City and the businesses that benefit from it find it exceedingly difficult to give Carnival the kind of support it has earned and deserves. People from different parts of the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and the United Kingdom flock to the Big Apple, filling hotel rooms, spending large sums on goods and services and otherwise showing that the presence of West Indians from every country in the region adds to the diversity if our city, contributes to the reputation of New York as the world’s premiere cultural center.
What a pity that the City spends so much of its time trying to curb people’s enthusiasm for playing mas. The restrictions placed by the police and others in authority on the vendors who line the streets selling Caribbean food and artifacts by the police are an unnecessary irritant that limits but somehow doesn’t deter but full enjoyment of the amazing spectacle.
Some sections of the major media too relish the opportunity to present the festival as an unworthy part of life in the city instead of an asset that’s even larger than some of the European festivals they support.
Even in these dismal economic times whose origins can be traced to the George Bush Administration and not to President Barack Obama, City and State government officials should find ways to offer financial and other forms of support to WIADCA, to the costume and steel bands and to others who join hands to make the festival such an outstanding and profitable event on the City’s calendar.
WIDACA itself should also take steps to boost the spirit of the various costume bands, including Sesame Flyers so they can enhance their participation through even more colorful costumes. The steel pan, the musical innovation that Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean have given to the world and that is slowly being integrated fully into the international scene also needs more backing from the organizers.
When everything is said and done, Caribbean culture is intricately interwoven in the fabric of the United States and should be recognized as an important asset. Its carnival, music, dance, poetry drama and other offerings combine to make it an indispensible part of life.
On Monday, the last day of the festival, New Yorkers will once again fully enjoy it as participants or spectators, a mere sample of the joys of Caribbean existence.