Brooklyn has one of the largest West Indian communities outside of the Caribbean, so it's no surprise that the borough hosts one of the biggest West Indian parties in the nation. Each year on Labor Day, the West Indian Day Parade and the accompanying Carnival celebrations take over the neighborhood of Crown Heights, celebrating locals with roots to Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas, and the many other countries that represent the Caribbean.
The neighborhood is also home to mom-and-pop West Indian restaurants, stores that sell food and other items from the Caribbean, and bars and clubs that highlight Afro-Caribbean music such as reggaeton and calypso. The week leading up to the parade is filled with special events to celebrate the diverse cultures that come from the West Indies, including concerts and special museum exhibitions. So in addition to enjoying the Labor Day festivities, you can also learn about these rich cultures and their histories.
About the West Indian Day Parade
The West Indian Day Parade, the star event of the Carnival festival, is generally held on Labor Day every year. However, the 2020 parade is canceled. Some events will be taking place virtually, such as music performances, so you can still get a taste of this colorful event from your own home. Check the official event webpage as the event gets closer for the most up-to-date information and instructions for how to participate.
The parade should return on September 6, 2021. It's is an unbelievable event with raucous bands, lively dancing, costumes that range from scant to incredibly elaborate feather outfits. You can hear traditional mas bands or steel drums and buy roti or other street foods from vendors.
One of the New York's biggest and most popular parades, this celebration of West Indian culture draws spectators from all over the world. In fact, it has drawn up to 3 million visitors. The parade is preceded by days of pre-events, including a viewing of the steel drums usually held at the Brooklyn Museum. WIADCA, the same folks that run the West Indian Parade, host various events including family-friendly free steelpan workshops all summer long.
The parade route generally walks west along Eastern Parkway, beginning at Ralph Avenue and ending at Grand Army Plaza, near the main entrance of Prospect Park.
What to Do Before or After the Parade
If you're headed to Brooklyn for the parade this year, spend some extra time in the area experiencing some other aspects of Caribbean culture in the borough.
- Enjoy the J'Ouvert Festival: Also on Labor Day and part of the Carnival festivities with the parade is the J'Ouvert Festival. The festival begins near the endpoint of the parade and is a massive street party to celebrate all things Caribbean. Stop by before, during, or after the parade for live music, impromptu dancing, and lots of delicious street food.
- See some Caribbean Art at the Valentine Museum of Art: If you thought Coney Island only housed an amusement park and a beach, think again. This stretch of Brooklyn is also home to The Valentine Museum of Art on Flatbush Avenue, which has a strong focus on Caribbean artists.
- Grab an authentic Caribbean Meal: Looking for tasty roti and jerk chicken? Then head to The Islands located near the Brooklyn Museum. The Islands is a Jamaican restaurant that serves up some of the most flavorful Caribbean food in the city. Other local favorite Caribbean restaurants include Gloria's Caribbean Cuisine in Crown Heights and Peppa's Jerk Chicken on Flatbush Avenue. The lines might be long, but it's worth the wait.