September 5, 2011

Communal Narrative on Parade at Annual West Indian American Day Carnival

In our social lives, narrative is not only something we tell but also something we perform. Public rituals like parades give us the chance to chronicle our communities in physical space and display the symbols and activities that define us. The words of George Fitch in Colliers Magazine in 1913, testifying to the popular pleasures of parades, are still true today.

The parade is an essential part of the American temperament.  We not only inaugurate by parade, but we rejoice, mourn, commemorate, protest, inspire and argue by parades.  Whenever two or three Americans are gathered together with a uniform within reach, they parade… The test of true brotherhood in any city is the willingness to parade in a white apron, a rooster feather hat, or a pair of baggy pink silk trousers.

Among the most joyous of these tests today is surely the annual West Indian American Day parade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, an astonishing celebration of the colors, music and flavors of Carnival in the Caribbean, held this year on September 5, and an exuberant testament to multiculturalism.

According the festival website, the history of the Carnival in New York goes back to the 1920s, with indoor costume parties in Harlem. The first outdoor carnival parade was held in the 1940s, and the event “has grown over the years from thousands of participants and tourists to over 3.5 million people in attendance since the mid – 1990’s according to then Mayor Rudy Giuliani.”  I went for the first time this year; what a terrific way to end the summer!

Giant headdresses ....
...Lots of dancing
The audience is as important as the paraders
The tastes and smells of jerk chicken, goat curry and grilled corn are an indispensable part of the day!

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