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SEEN UP NORTH: Carnival’s future in NY


Tony Best

SEEN UP NORTH: Carnival’s future in NY

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It wasn’t simply a taste of Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours.

Actually, it was like a never-ending stream of adrenalin of creativity flowing from every part of the West Indies.

“This event started small but today it is one of the greatest cultural celebrations in our country,” said New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio before he set out with his wife, Chirlane McCray along Eastern Parkway on Labour Day Monday.

Clearly, it’s the one day every year when the eyes and ears of many of New York state’s most powerful public officials from Governor Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio to Police Commissioner William Bratton, members of the United States Congress and the State legislature – Assembly and state Senate – to the City Council – are focused on the sights and attuned to the sounds of the Caribbean.

The mayor, for instance, spoke of his wife familial links to Barbados and St Lucia, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, a Brooklyn Democrat, described herself as a “Jamamerican,” an American with Jamaican roots; New York State Appeals Court Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix spoke about her Bajan birthplace and so did Earl Phillips, the secretary-treasurer of the powerful Transport Workers’ Union, which represents almost 40 000 bus drivers and train operators and conductors who move millions of passengers across the five boroughs every day let the world know he was, yes, from Barbados.

Then there was City Council member Jumaane Williams who reminded the audience of his Grenadian background, and State Supreme Court Justice Sylvia Ashe, who spoke about Trinidad and Tobago and St Vincent connections.

And as if to up the ante, the mayor’s wife walked around waving a Barbados flag.

“Her roots are in Barbados,” de Blasio reminded everyone at least half dozen times during the pre-carnival breakfast. “Chirlane, the love of my life, is doing everything possible to bring us (in New York) all together.”

But if the infectious carnival atmosphere was so absorbing how come the annual affair which attracts more than a million souls – colourful costume bands, individuals revellers, vendors, spectators, and musicians singing or playing – is facing so many serious challenges ranging from financial and managerial problems to internal difficulties that if not resolved could threaten the long-term viability of the cultural extravaganza.

“It is vital that its flavour and essence be preserved,” United States Congressman Hakeem Jeffries told the SUNDAY SUN.

“We must begin to work together to give it the strength and financial and other forms of support the carnival needs to grow even bigger.”

Congresswoman Clarke agreed but put it differently.

“It is dazzling and it involves all of us from the Caribbean, the United States and other places,” she said. “We wish to share this with everyone and it’s important that we have a development plan that all of us can buy into.”

Dr Donna Hunte-Cox, a former director of the National Cultural Foundation who is now the Barbados consul general in New York, attended her first West Indian carnival since 1992 when she performed on stage as a member of a dance troupe at the Brooklyn Museum.

“The carnival in New York is an asset that brings in considerable revenue to the city,” said Hunte-Cox who walked the length and breadth of Eastern Parkway, the site of the parade. “What I saw on Monday I liked.”

She sees a possible role for the Caricom Consular corps in the city in helping to put a case to their governments for support to the massive undertaking.

“It’s something that should be considered,” she said.

“At some point, it should be discussed by the consuls general.”

Bill Howard, the newly elected president of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association that has been sponsoring the carnival for almost half a century, said his organisations was putting its financial house in order, paying off debts, and attracting new corporate sponsors while reaching out to young people to bring a new generation of people into the fold.

“As we see it, the 47th annual carnival that ended on Monday came off exceedingly well and we are looking forward to beginning our preparation for next year, building on the strengths of 2014 going forward.”

It was, he asserted an “unqualified success that brought people together and wasn’t marred by any violence”.

Indeed, Police Commissioner Bratton brushed aside any suggestions that the carnival was violence-prone, concluding that this year it was “bigger, safer and more celebratory.”

Just as important, “the future of the West Indian carnival is a bright one.

As he saw it, “an unfortunate issue is that because of some of the events of the past there were was always a concern going forward” about violence.    

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