Last month, I stopped by to check out two heritage parades: the West Indian Day Parade in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and the African-American Day Parade in Harlem. All parades are fun but sharp contrasts set these two apart.
Emerging from the subway on Eastern Parkway for the West Indian Day Parade, a visitor is confronted with a wild scene on the street. 18-wheelers with speaker systems blast Caribbean music as thousands of people dance in time. The sidewalks and smaller streets that flank the parkway are choked with spectators, food vendors and police vehicles.
The first thing the eye catches is the flags. Thousands of flags of every West Indian nation twirl in the air along with the music—flag bandanas, shredded flag t-shirts, flag capes and the traditional flags poking up from the crowd. DJs from local radio stations perched atop the trucks yell through the amplifiers, competing with similar sound systems on tractor trailers immediately in front and behind.
And then you notice the costumes. Women in 10-foot high peacock feathers and leopard skin; men dressed with black-painted skulls and rags like the undead sailors in Pirates of the Caribbean.
And of course, the food was not to be missed. We chowed on some jerk chicken with deep-fried plantains, ox tails and collard greens. All and all, the West Indian Day Parade was extremely memorable—a dramatic taste of the Caribbean moving through the heart of Brooklyn.
The 43rd African American Day Parade on September 16th was unquestionably tamer. Floats moved lazily up Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard punctuated by marching bands and African drum circles. From my perch at 125th St, neither the number of spectators and participants nor their intensity seemed to rival the free-for-all of the West Indian parade. But this relative calmness can certainly be appealing, especially as far as family friendliness is concerned.