New Yorkers from all five boroughs are familiar with the tradition of Brooklyn’s Caribbean Carnival Labor Day Parade. For 50 years, Caribbean New Yorkers have gathered in the borough to celebrate the holiday with elaborate costumes, dancing, music and food. But not many people know the historic importance of the event and why it has become a staple of New York City.
The Queens Tribune spoke with West Indian American Day Carnival Association President William Howard about the role the parade has played in bringing the Caribbean population into the New York fold.
“[It] has its economic value, educational value and political value,” Howard said. “It’s not only important to the West Indian community; it’s important to every community in Brooklyn and New York City.”
According to an assessment from former Gov. George Pataki, more than $157 million is spent during the week of carnival in New York City.
“Income is very important to storekeepers in the predominantly West Indian community because it’s a chance for them to hit a homerun,” Howard said.
All 32 Caribbean countries are represented in the parade.
Both the mayor and the governor—and even the president—have historically used the Labor Day Parade as an opportunity to reach out to the West Indian demographic.
“Last year, President [Barack] Obama had six people in New York for the entire Labor Day weekend,” Howard said. “This year, President [Donald] Trump has one of his senior people on our program Monday morning at our breakfast. They see that, some years back, there were brain drains from these countries, be it teachers, nurses and more.”
Howard said that many Caribbean-born Americans retire and return home. He believes that the government sees the opportunities in having these people return to their countries.
“The federal government has woken up, and sees the importance of having these citizens going back home and becoming spokespeople for the United States,” he said.
The parade, which is expected to draw more than two million attendees, will take place on Sept. 4 along Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights.
– Trone Dowd