Places that Matter

Original Blackfoot Mas Camp

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Martha Cooper
Martha Cooper
Elena Martinez
Storefront where costumes are made for the West-Indian Day Parade
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Walking up and down the streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn in late summer, one can pass dozens of lots and storefronts that have become home to the many "mas camps" in various stages of preparation for the West Indian-American Day Carnival held over Labor Day weekend. On Church Street alone, the names stand out--"Mango Tree Productions Mas Camp," "Nutmeg Mas Camp," "Veggie Castle Mas Camp," "Klub Carnival," and the "Original Blackfoot Mas Camp"--just to name a few. "Mas" (short for "masquerade") camps produce the costumes, which are an integral part of the Carnival celebration and parade. The parade, held on Eastern Parkway, is the City's largest, attracting two million people and bringing in $300 million in revenue. The parade is modeled after the Carnival in Trinidad, the roots of which are in the pre-Lenten festivities usually held in January or February. These traditions were brought to Trinidad by white planters, who had come to the island from nearby French colonies during the 1700s. In the early 19th century, African slaves began their own processions and Carnival celebrations.

In New York City, the West Indian-American Day Parade actually began in Harlem in the 1930s. As the city's Caribbean community grew to over half a million people, many settled in Brooklyn and the parade was relocated there. In 1947, the celebrations were rescheduled for the warmer months over Labor Day weekend, although some say it was to break the Carnival's connection to Catholicism and to help attract West Indians of other religions. In 1967 the parade was organized for the first time at Grand Army Plaza, and in 1969, the "West Indian-American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA)" committee led by President Carlos Lezama, was founded and has since been organizing the grand event.

Though the parade was modeled after the Trinidadian Carnival, it has always had a pan-West Indian flavor. The Trinidadian traditions and community have traditionally dominated the activities, although there is participation from immigrants from other English-speaking countries of the region. This is gradually changing--one can now see representation from throughout the French and Spanish-speaking Caribbean, including places that do not necessarily have a Carnival tradition such as Aruba, the Dominican Republic, Curacao, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada and Haiti.