2011 Caribbean-American Labor Day Parade in Brooklyn, the Food and the Spectacle
Though its antecedents can be traced to Carnival parties in Harlem in the 1920s, the Caribbean-American Labor Day Parade (there is no official name) began in the mid-'60s. It resembles in almost all respects the Mardi-Gras celebrations held in New Orleans and Trinidad, which occur 40 days before Easter, at the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar.
How our celebration, which now includes an estimated 3 million observers and participants, ended up along Eastern Parkway is anybody's guess. It begins at Schenectady and Eastern Parkway and moves west until it reaches the Brooklyn Museum, just short of Grand Army Plaza.
This stretch of Eastern Parkway is tree-lined and has access roads on both sides, making it ideal for meandering crowds and food stands, and, as the marchers in their colorful costumes pass by, many spectators stop for Caribbean eats at an estimated 250 food stands -- some quite elaborate affairs manned by a dozen or more cooks and sellers, others simple operations involving one elderly lady and a card table. Everyone flies their island colors, and participants represent Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Barbados, Guyana, and Haiti, among other nations. Since most Spanish-speaking islands now have their own national parades, the presence of islanders from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico has declined in the last few years.