West Indian Day festivities go virtual in New York

The sights and sounds of one of the world’s largest celebrations of Caribbean culture will be virtual this Labor Day, as New York City’s West Indian American Day Parade joins the ranks of the other major events turned upside-down by the coronavirus.

Revellers participate in the West Indian American Day Parade in the Brooklyn borough of New York in September 2019. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon, File)

But even though there will be no feather-festooned floats and marching steel drum bands, the New York Police Department said officers would continue to be a strong presence on the streets of Brooklyn where the festival usually takes place.

Officers will be on the lookout for large gatherings that violate social distancing rules and guarding against more of the upswell in violence that has marred the summer in many American cities.

For decades, the annual parade has featured brightly costumed revellers, steel bands and thumping sound systems in New York City’s version of the Carnival celebrations held throughout the Caribbean.

The early morning hours before the parade feature a separate street party known as J’Ouvert, meant as a celebration of freedom from slavery.

But organizers of both events have been forced to adapt this year.

J’Ouvert City International, which puts on the early morning event, is planning a virtual celebration from 7 a.m. to noon, honouring essential workers, Black Lives Matter activists and cultural icons with pre-recorded messages and performances.

The West Indian American Day Carnival Association will host a 12-hour event for Monday, starting off at 9 a.m. with messages from speakers and then going into a multi-hour DJ dance party where registered participants can display their masquerade costumes on Zoom.

“We want people to still be part of the festivities in the best way we know how, and right now virtual is the only option,” said Rhea Smith, a vice president of the carnival association.