There was talk of possible rain on Labor Day, but Mother Nature smiled on the Caribbean community instead. Thank goodness! We only waited two years to party in the streets again. It was almost too perfect. What started off as an overcast morning gave way to blue skies and sunshine. Only when the procession was over did the clouds move in and rain fell. But after hours of dancing up a sweat, it was refreshing.
Brooklyn has a high concentration of Caribbean people by birth and descent. As I expected, my fellow Jamaicans were out in full force, waving their yellow, black and green flags all over the place. No surprise there. Jamaicans dominate Crown Heights and Flatbush, not to mention parts of Manhattan, Queens and The Bronx. Trinidad and Haiti also had a sizable presence.
As corny as it sounds, I said “hello” to as many Haitians as I could. I’m in awe of their brave ancestors for making Haiti the first Black republic. I did the same with the Bajans, as their island became a republic recently.
The great thing about the parade is how welcoming it is. My friend and I decided to hold off on drinking until we ate, and I’m glad we did. People came with their children in strollers and their dogs with flags hooked to their collars. Vendors selling iceys, cotton candy and nutcrackers were everywhere. White folks lined up with the rest of us for jerk chicken, roti, festivals and oxtail. Mixed with the scent of smoked meats was another unmistakable smell- ganja. You could get a second- hand high from every street corner.
Eastern Parkway was alive with revelry on both sides. The parade attracted locals (excluding the conservative residents of Crown Heights) and tourists from around the world. While I was on the train, a couple and their son from the Canary Islands asked where they should get off to watch. Once the politicians and heritage societies passed through, the mas bands and floats made their debut. Spectators were so taken by the vibe that they moved the barricades or jumped over them to dance in the street. The police gave up trying to stop them.
Looking at all the flags was an experience by itself. Some weren’t Caribbean, but they were connected to the African diaspora. Colombia, Belize, Panama and Mexico all have Black communities. There were a few flags I’d never seen before, so I checked with Google.What was that flag with the two blue stripes, the white stripe in the middle and five small stars? Ah. Honduras.
This year’s parade was special since it was the first one in two years. Past ones attracted over two-million people, but the crowd seemed smaller to me this time. I suppose between COVID and monkeypox, some people didn’t want to take any risks.
I saw two scuffles on the parkway later in the day, but there’s risk of this at every parade. Fortunately, they didn’t last and most behaved themselves.
People set up speakers off the parkway as well, so you could dance away from the procession if you wanted. The music was a dizzying mix of old school reggae, dancehall, soca and calypso. There were the expected party anthems like “Get In Your Section” by Lil Natty and Thunda. “Palance” didn’t play, at least not within earshot, but there wasn’t a single weak link in the music. Nor was there a moment when I wasn’t dancing. I even bounced around while eating an arepa, because those rhythms are infectious.
The New York Times reported that “the theme of the parade was life. It is a reference to all that was lost during the pandemic — the lives, livelihoods and sharing of customs — as well as to a celebration of the West Indian way.”
And I can’t think of a better way to honor life and wrap up summer than celebrating with Caribbean people.