The local news media among others, tend to call the West Indian American Carnival Labor Day celebration on Monday, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the “West Indian Labour Day Parade”.Perhaps, this is no coincidence. The format of the popular celebration has changed to accommodate both the significant increase in participation of political platforms (and non-profit organisations) and the several new police security arrangement strategies similar to those used for other New York parades.
Still, the colourful and extremely well supported event remained a broad expression of Caribbean cultural history, pride and joy, as many revellers now tastefully integrated flags of their homeland into their costumes as headties, waist bands or as leg wraps. Many onlookers, and some who joined and jumped with the bands, wore patriotic combination of clothes and or waved flags.
Truth be told, this symbolic dress trend, is one that has been growing within the Barbadian community. That said, there was at least one reveller, a Barbadian outlier, so to speak and a regular attendee of the annual affair, who caught the attention of three New York police officers – and not for any wrongdoing.
These officers, standing at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Buffalo Ave, when asked, if any of them, by any chance had Bajan connections, one of them without reference to the question, immediately responded.
“You just missed her. The “Bajan Queen” just passed here and went down Buffalo Avenue. If you walk quickly, you can catch her. She is wearing a pretty Barbados outfit.”
The officers did not know Millicent Forde by name, but clearly they knew the national colours of Barbados. Forde is ninety years old. She ‘wears’ the flag or outfits made from her national colours and is a fixture at national events in New York, including the Barbados Fun Day Festival, the Labour Day event, and previous visits of Q in the Community.
“I am thankful for the little pension. Honestly, I wanted to go to the UK with Q in the Community but that is too expensive. So I am glad to be here,” Forde said.
Forde also gave details of the design of her outfit saying: “This outfit was designed and made by a lady, Ms Diane Thomas from the Pine, in St Michael. Did you notice the “boxer” pleats? I love them. I bought the accessories separately. They cost $10 each.”
Millicent Forde’s presence at this event could be seen as a “one man band”, as if she were taking the place of the traditional carnival band representing Barbados, which was absent for the first time in years, due to financial difficulties. She proudly did her bit to represent Barbados.
Ultimately, last Monday’s West Indian American Carnival Celebration was art. This was evident by the cultural open air museum created by the collection of costumes standing on Buffalo Avenue, as revellers assembled. As for the emerging Barbados symbolism, it may be raising another issue – the need for a national dress.
Walter Edey is a former science educator and author who believes that structural thinking is the wave of the future.
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