Saturday, September 10, 2011

To: The West Indian Day Parade and the Question of Culture.

Photo taken from: Huffington Post:

It's clearly been a while since I've written here, I told a friend this week that I would, and I strive to keep things I give, like promises and such. In that way it becomes half theirs, half mine.

Last weekend was the Labour (yes, that's a 'u' in there, get an English dictionary) Day weekend, and as is customary out here in New York, they had a number of festivities and events all culminating in the street parade on the Monday's holiday. I had missed it all last year, so that this year I sought to do all things West Indian.

On the holiday, two friends crashed at my apartment for our quiet version of Dimanche Gras, and we left home around 5:50am to look for the bands. When we found them, we pretty much just stood along the sides, watching the parade, when one of my friends fell under a strain of culture shock. Her argument was that "this is why feminism is pointless" RE: the behavior of some of the women in the street and their widespread demoralization that seemed to be spilling every which way on the street. I'm thinking that this was why I had distanced myself from Carnival in the first place back at home. It was just the sense of defeat that came from seeing women act a particular way in response to men, not just in dancing, mere behavior, even as an isolated factor, and thinking to are the sisters I'm fighting for...right?

but so goes the story of liberal feminism. here is where the ideology and I meet in the middle of the highway and I refuse to stop and let her in my car. matter of fact, I start speeding. This is my own conviction, and I'm allowed to have one of those. That said,

I really wished I had a camera though (Thank God I didn't), there were so many moments that could have been captured, the sunrise, the masqueraders, the music in the bodies of people, it was beautiful. One thing I am most appreciative over is the traditional music they use for J'ourvet. There are no speaker boxes on music trucks. There are riddim sections, pan-sides, iron-men/women and drums. It was the most organic expression of J'ourvet I've ever been part of.

In the afternoon we spontaneously decided to go to the Parkway for the 'last lappe' which closes off at 6pm, and jumped on a train around 4:40ish to get to President street at around 5pm. We walked out to the corner of Nostrand and Eastern Parkway, after crawling through the most tense, congested crowd I think I've ever been in. 'Tense' because there was some heaviness beyond the humid, beyond the bodies, something was just off. We get to the barricade at the end of the street, and 3 seconds after a woman behind pushes against me and when I turn around, there is a tide of scampering people running towards us and then a shot, sounding like hot ice exploding in a plastic bottle. No echo. Contained. Like a body had absorbed the shock of it.

About 3mins later we were on the train platform, waiting to jump on to the next thing that would take us away from there. My hands were shaking, I could barely text my other friend to tell him to turn his car around and head back home. I got back to my neighbood with an off-beat breathing and a quiet panic in my step. First time for everything, maybe.

After having a week to reflect, I started to think of the 24shootings in 24hrs phenomenon that happened throughout NY state on the Labor Day weekend. Why is it specifically this weekend, when everything is dedicated to "West India" that all these acts of violence happen and at such a rate? I started to question whether it was an issue of us having imported so much of our culture to New York and whether it reflects the increasing violence in our own island home societies. I'm not sure how much of the integrative process of young Caribbean men coming into the New York setting involves some kind of introduction or even re-introduction to criminal activity or behavior, but I'm at a loss for words over the hint of the idea that there may be some cultural connection to the violence. I hope not, but I don't want to dismiss it entirely just yet.

All in all, the day had been mostly enjoyable one for me, but punctuated by few mins that could have cost me my life. I think there can be some more substantial evaluation to take place here.