Scenes from the 2015 West Indian Day Parade

Smile! Its the party of the year!

Smile! Its the party of the year! Photos by Madelyn Owens

The West Indian American Day Parade is like no other in NYC. It’s family friendly, as evidenced by the troupes of adorable little kids with impressive drumming skills, or babies on fathers’ shoulders sporting their country’s flag with pride. This is not a 5th Avenue, Manhattan-style parade. The festivities pour outside of the police barriers onto the sidewalks crammed with vendors hawking jerk chicken, Shark & Bake, sorrel punch and roti. It climbs up the fronts of the stately buildings of Eastern Parkway; from old ladies waving Jamaican flags from the 3rd floor window, to shirtless bros dancing with proud beer bellies from the fire escape.

The centerpiece, of course, are the elaborate costumes that parade participants spend all year creating. Glitter, feathers, bold colors, the energy is matched only by the music (every float worth its salt has at least a drummer or three and a wall of amps).

Stoop hangs don't stop for the parade.

Stoop hangs don’t stop for the parade.

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Little ladies, big costumes!

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No false advertising... we heard from, uhhh, a friend.

No false advertising… we heard from, uhhh, a friend.

There is an entrepreneurial aspect to the Labor Day Carnival that is unmatched by other parades. There are countless coolers full of ice cold water, soda, and nutcrackers of all colors and unidentifiable flavor. Food vendors sprawl beyond the designated parade route, and more than one enterprising epicurean set up a grill to serve up jerk chicken, grilled corn and plantains from their front stoop. There was even a big green van brazenly hawking pot-laced lollipops and brownies for a few bucks a pop. The squeamish could pay $2 to use a slightly cleaner and *flushable* port-a-potty just off the parade route.

So tall.

So tall.

Politicians came out to pay lip service to the community, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray, flanked by Santiation trucks decked out for the occasion. Tish James was there shaking hands with the crowd, while Laurie Cumbo rolled through with a huge posse that included cutie-pie Pee-Wee cheerleaders and a crew sporting enviable “BLACK GIRLS ROCK” t-shirts. Team Bernie Sanders was out in full force, along with a wave and a smile from veteran waver and smiler, Chuck Schumer.

One of many activist groups.

One of many activist groups.

The politicians were followed closely, and more potently, by activists from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, anti-gentrification advocates, and The Coalition for Human Rights drawing attention to the civil genocide in the Dominican Republic. The political visibility was all the more compelling against a backdrop of new luxury condominiums that now dot the parade route.

How do you even make a dragon that big and silver??

How do you even make a dragon that big and silver??

The West Indian American Day Parade is my favorite Brooklyn holiday. The very first weekend I moved to Brooklyn, my Craigslist roommates brought me to the parade with a can of Trader Joe’s Simpler Times Lager (at first glance it looks like a can of cream soda, and during the parade most cops will turn a blind eye to an open container anyway.) I gawked at the colors, the people, the music, and had my first roti, which was a life changing experience in itself. I had never seen anything like it.

The Scene

The Scene

I’ve now lived in Brooklyn for six years, with the last three of those spent in Crown Heights. I’ve watched the neighborhood change incrementally, and recently, rapidly. I have to acknowledge my responsibility as a young white professional living in this quickly gentrifying neighborhood, but I also feel honored to take part in a celebration of the cultures that shaped it. So if you’re new here, go to the parade! Try some new food (shark bake anyone?), talk to your neighbors, make new friends. Wake up at 4am and get paint thrown on you at J’ouvert. Don’t let the inevitable editorials that unfairly link isolated acts of violence with this yearly celebration of culture, camaraderie, and love sway your opinion about it if you’ve never been.

These four Queens.

These four Queens.

That being said, we need to preserve and support this community outside of a single parade day, so when the parade is over, keep that love going. Take your newfound taste for curry goat to The Islands or Janelle’s or Gloria’s. Keep talking to your neighbors. And for the love of God and glitter, go to The Pulp & the Bean instead of Starbucks. You came to Crown Heights for the beautiful architecture, the proximity to the museum, the diversity of people, businesses, and food, not for pumpkin spice lattes.

The West Indian American Day Parade represents everything that is vibrant and exciting about living in Brooklyn. It’s a true gem in a city that is rapidly squeezing out all the beauty and color to make way for banks and condos, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Let’s keep the spirit of the Labor Day Carnival going all year.

This girl, now known as The Queen of Eastern Parkway had the whole stretch between Roger's and Bedford to herself at  one point.

This girl, now known as The Queen of Eastern Parkway had the whole stretch between Rogers and Bedford to herself at one point.

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This guy!

This guy!

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One of the feathered beauties shaking her stuff.

One of the feathered beauties shaking her stuff.

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Selfie-explanatory

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Remember: it was 90 degrees outside.

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That's a good wave.

That’s a good wave.

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Ugh, so annoying when children are already way more skilled than you'll ever be.

Ugh, so annoying when children are already way more skilled than you’ll ever be.

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Where can I get that shirt?!

Where can I get that shirt?!

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Check them out.

Check them out.

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We checked: it was just a slightly fancier port-a-potty than the free ones on Eastern Parkway.

We checked: it was just a slightly fancier port-a-potty than the free ones on Eastern Parkway.