The annual West Indian Labor Day Parade draws close to two million people to Crown Heights, Brooklyn each year. During the seven-hour New York carnival, steel-pan and calypso bands in elaborate costumes march down Eastern Parkway, and vendors sell authentic Caribbean food along the route.
Some of the Caribbean islands represented in the parade include Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Barbados, Dominica, Saint Lucia, Jamaica, Saint Vincent and Grenada. Also represented are South American countries such as Guyana and Suriname and Central American country known as Belize.
Jessie Waddle and some of her West Indian friends started the carnival in Harlem in the 1920′s by staging costume parties in large enclosed places due to the cold wintry weather of February. The carnival eventually transitioned to an outdoor festival in the 1940’s on the streets of Harlem.
The pre-parade festivities begin before dawn with J’ouvert (“daybreak” in French), a festival held before the main event. People often dress up as political figures or celebrities and throw powdered paint at each other, while steel drums and whistles provide the celebratory soundtrack.
Head to Grand Army Plaza around 4:00 am when the high jinks really get going. Eastern Pkwy from Schenectady Ave to Flatbush Ave, Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Subway: 3, 4, 5 to Crown Hts-Utica Ave.