NYC’s West Indian parade brings cultural pride to rainy day

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Steel bands and revelers sporting elaborate feathered costumes, Caribbean flags and some rain ponchos marched and danced Monday in a West Indian American Day Parade dampened by weather and awash in cultural pride.

The annual parade in Brooklyn is one of the nation’s largest celebrations of Caribbean heritage, a New York take on Carnival celebrations. Brooklyn is home to hundreds of thousands of Caribbean immigrants and their descendants, and the march and a pre-parade street party called J’Ouvert are a can’t-miss tradition for many.

“I’ve been waiting for this all year,” Keiandra Blair, an 18-year-old of Guyanese descent, told the New York Post as she marched in the parade for the first time.

“Rain or sun, I’m still dancing. Nothing is going to stop me.

That’s our culture,” she said.

Roy Pierre, who makes parade costumes for as many as 200 people each year, told WCBS-TV he sees the event as “theatre in the streets.”

Bikini-clad dancers bedecked like birds and butterflies with giant wings, bands with steel drums, marchers waving and wearing flags, and a roster of the region’s politicians made their way along a thoroughfare under on-and-off rain.

With Hurricane Dorian unleashing massive flooding the Bahamas, some marchers’ minds were on conditions there. Mayor Bill de Blasio urged people at a pre-parade breakfast to think of everyone in the storm’s path, adding that “as always, New York City is going to answer the call” for help.

The parade unfolded under security that has been tightened in recent years after past outbreaks of violence. Carey Gabay, an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, died after being hit by stray gunfire while heading to the J’Ouvert (pronounced joo-VAY’) festivities in 2015.

After marching Monday, the Democratic governor told local cable news station NY1 that he continues to love the parade for its celebration of cultural diversity, but “it’s bittersweet for me because it brings back memories of Carey Gabay.”

Policing of the parade has also been an issue at times.

Then-City Councilman Jumaane Williams was detained and handcuffed while trying to get to a parade event in 2011, as was an aide to de Blasio, a Democrat who was then the city’s elected public advocate.

Williams, a Democrat, is now the public advocate and was a grand marshal of Monday’s parade. (The Associated Press)