SEEN UP NORTH: Carnival a sight to behold!
Minutes before the tidal wave of exquisite costumes, the endless heart-throbbing Caribbean music and the unbridled gaiety of millions of spectators and revellers started down Eastern Parkway, Earl Phillips had an “aha” moment.
“We are going to witness a spectacular display of West Indian culture,” said the Bajan who is also secretary/treasurer, the No. 2 officer, of the Transport Workers’ Union, whose 30 000 plus members keep New York City’s mass transportation system moving 24/7.
Sylvia Hinds-Radix, the administrative judge of the civil division of the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, put it differently.
“Being able to attract more than two million people on the streets for this cultural extravaganza is itself a signature achievement,” declared the top jurist who grew up on Barbados’ West Coast before coming to the United States decades ago to study law at Howard University in Washington. “It’s a source of pride, understandably so, for people from the Caribbean.”
And Harry Belafonte, the internationally famous entertainer and human and civil rights activist whose roots are firmly planted in the Caribbean, and whose music and presence on the global stage, television screen and in the movies made him a familiar face around the world, shared the perspectives articulated by Phillips and Hinds-Radix.
“The West Indian carnival in Brooklyn certainly helps to underscore the contributions of people from the Caribbean to the American way of life,” he said as he got ready to play his role as a grand marshal of the parade. “The West Indian carnival is a sight to behold.”
Belafonte then joined New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Bill de Blasio, the public advocate who is married to the granddaughter of a Barbadian; Bill Thompson, the man who almost defeated Bloomberg three years ago for the mayor’s position; Christine Quinn, president of the City Council, and Trinidad and Tobago’s reigning 2012 road march king and soca monarch, Machel Montano, along the Brooklyn thoroughfare.
But several weeks before the carnival festival was due to begin, uncertainty reigned over the ability of the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) to stage a successful event this year. Weakened by internal strife and the abrupt resignations of its long-time president Yolanda Lezama-Clarke, and several members of its board of directors, WIADCA had another problem: a lack of adequate financing to pay some of its bills and to plan effectively for the five-day celebration in 2012. In the end though, the association put the show on the road, albeit before a smaller crowd.
Timothy Bailey, the Trinidadian who now heads WIADCA, acknowledged the smaller crowd but described the festival as a success.
“In terms of presentation, there was nothing to complain about,” he said. “I think the bands, despite the short period of time they had to prepare, production was good. It was well received by the millions of people on the Parkway. In my opinion and the opinion of some people, the attendance was not as large as it has been in the last four or five years.”
He blamed the fall-off in attendance on some people’s apprehension about the incidents on the Parkway and on the state of the United States economy whose decline hit the pocketbooks of West Indians, revellers and spectators alike.
There were bands from almost every Caribbean country – Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and Guyana.
High on the list of “incidents” was the spectre of violence inaccurately associated with the festival. Last year a woman was shot and killed by a stray bullet as she sat on the steps of her house. But her death occurred long after the parade was over. This year two men died, again after the festival had ended. They were fatally stabbed during boisterous quarrels.
“The violence which was widely reported by some sections of the media didn’t have anything to do with the Caribbean festival,” said Lezama-Clarke. “It’s a problem that arises almost every year despite the fact that the events to which the media organizations refer occurred either before or long after the parade. They all happened quite a distance from it. It’s quite unfair.”
William Watson, a Barbadian computer specialist, said the issue of violence had prevented him from attending the festival for years.
“I went this year with my wife and we had a good time. It was the possibility of violence that kept me away,” he said. “But I enjoyed myself and had a good time.”
Bailey is adamant the problems which plagued the festival this year are a thing of the past.