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Oral history interview conducted by Bill Pincheon
June 23, 1994
Call number: 2010.019.20
PINCHEON: Ms. Quamina, last time you gave a very wonderful interview. Thank youvery much for allowing me to your house, and to ask you those questions. What I'd like to follow up on are some of your activities of your involvement in WIADCA and sort of like the day to day routine things. Your responsibilities.
QUAMINA: Well, right now, we are in the process of getting ready for our 27thannual Labor Day Carnival on Eastern Parkway. At this time, it's getting kind of hectic, because since I'm the business manager, I have to attend a lot of meetings, along with the President of the organization, Mr. Lezama, and we have 1:00to attend a lot of meetings. We have to meet with potential sponsors. Yesterday we met with the people at the Brooklyn Museum, because we have to get the OK for the back of the Brooklyn Museum on the grounds in order to hold the four nights and three days of concerts that we keep there. It was a very successful meetings. Beside that, I myself have quite a bit to do. Just like the president has his share, I have my share. I do the registering of the vendors, so I have to go out and make contact with the Department of Health for the food vendors 2:00and the Liquor Authorities for the beer and wine vendors. That entails application forms, which have to be filled out correctly and taken back in order to get the necessary permits for them to sell on Eastern Parkway. I also do the registration of the floats that you see on the Parkway. They have to come to me to register, in order to get a permit, to show that they are out there legal. I also do the registration of the signing up of the artists, the contracts. They have to all come to me, and I have to do the contracts. I also go along, and I have to visit the mas camps that's where the costumes are made. I have to visit the steel pan yards that's where the steel bands practice for the upcoming 3:00Panorama competition.
PINCHEON: When you attend the mas camps or the pan yards, what do you look for?
QUAMINA: Well, actually, I'm there to visit. I'm there to visit the mas campsbecause I get a lot of calls from the press trying to find out where the mas camps are located. You know, because they want to go out sometimes and do their interviews. And the pan yards, I also have to go and find out where they are located, because again, the press wants to know. And I get all kinds of calls from all over; not necessarily New York, but Chicago, wherever. And the folks that's coming in, they want to know exactly where they can go to visit. The pan 4:00yards they go to visit to listen to the beautiful sounds. The mas camps, they go for those that are interested in getting costumes to wear on Labor Day. So I have to keep abreast of all of this in order to give the information. Because everybody calls here for information, I have to have the proper and correct information to give them. So that's the reason for my visiting the mas camps and the pan yards.
PINCHEON: Right. When you talked about the artists I think you said artists andgetting contracts for them, do you mean artists who want to set up some of their wares?
QUAMINA: No, no. The vendors are the ones that do that on Eastern Parkway forLabor Day, to sell, the vendors. The artists I'm speaking about are the actual people, the performers that perform for the concerts, because we have four nights for the adults and we have three days for the kids. The four nights, the 5:00Thursday night, we have Caribbean night; where we have calypsos, we have steel band, we have old mas competition, and male and female competition. That's for the adults. Friday night, it's strictly reggae. Saturday night, it's the Steel Band Panorama. And Sunday night --
PINCHEON: Dimanche Gras.
QUAMINA: Dimanche Gras. In the days, the Friday in the day, we have a Save theStudent concert, and I personally run that myself.
PINCHEON: What does that entail?
QUAMINA: I go out and get youngsters, young people --reggae, steel band, dancetroupes, calypsonians --to come out from one to four that Friday afternoon. And all the concerts, by the way, are held at the back of the Brooklyn Museum, on the grounds. So I go out and I get that kind of form of entertainment, and I 6:00have the youngsters come out and perform for the young people like themselves. This year, we are doing a new project along with that, which is we are going to hold a Junior Steel Band Panorama --like the adults have it the Saturday night? We're going to do this Friday afternoon for the kids. We're going to have the young, the junior groups, junior steel bands, come out and compete like the adults do. It's the first time this year.
PINCHEON: Would a group like CASYM be included in the children's --
QUAMINA: Yes, absolutely. They have one group, they're gonna have the juniorgroup compete in junior competition, and they're gonna have the senior group perform the Saturday night with the adults, like they normally do. This particular Junior Panorama was my idea, because I went to a concert at Brooklyn College about six weeks ago. Actually, it was Crew CASYM, and they were the 7:00principal players, of course, and they had different groups from different schools, steel bands, performing, and I was so impressed that later that afternoon, that night, that evening, I went to another function that I was invited to, where Mr. Lezama was, and I met him there. I was so excited, and I said to him, "Look, we gotta have a Junior Panorama. I just came from Brooklyn College, and I heard so-so-soso--" And I was so excited. And he said, "You know, that sounds so good, let's go for it and try it." So that, hence the reason we're gonna have that Junior Panorama this year for the first time.
PINCHEON: You've been really involved with kids. When you started the KiddieCarnival it was the same kind of --
QUAMINA: Yes, that too was out of the same kind of enthusiasm. Normally you had8:00the Kiddies Carnival every year, for years, that Saturday. But it was contained right for the Museum grounds, but in going to Trinidad for Carnival every year, and that Saturday before the Monday and Tuesday Carnival in Trinidad, they would have that day set aside for the kids. All the schools, the retarded kids, everybody. As long as you're a kid. And that year, about five years ago, I stood up there, and I'm looking. I had got in a plane and I came back, and I'm thinking of all the different shows and I said to Carlos, I said, "You know, why don't you bring the kids on the street and give them a day for themselves? Let them have their own little parade and wind up in the Brooklyn Museum ground, and there they would be judged for band of the year." He said, "Oh, Joyce, that's so much work. We have so much to do. Who's going to take it?" I said, "Look, I will do it. You get the permit from the police, get the authorities to say yes, they 9:00gonna give us the permit, and I will structure it." And that's how that came alive. It's now five years, and it's growing by leaps and bounds. Every year we have more kids participate. It's getting bigger.
PINCHEON: In terms of Carnival as a tradition in Brooklyn, do you see involvingall these children, getting them to participate?
QUAMINA: Well, actually, yes. This particular Junior Parade for the kids on theSaturday, preceding the Labor Day, that helps a lot, because we have kids that their roots is Trinidad. They were born there and they came here very, very, very young. You know, and they're from West Indian parentage. Then they have the kids that were actually born here to West Indian parents, so that, too, helps to 10:00make them know a little bit more of their family, their roots, you know.
PINCHEON: Do you think that this continual flux of youth who were born here andwhose parents may be many generations you know, have been here for a long time and then people who are coming, you know do you see this whole infusion that goes on in terms of creating this whole network?
QUAMINA: Well, yes, because like I say, it's growing. It's spreading, it'smoving out. And that we have more and more kids. And we don't only have kids from Trinidad; I want you to know, now. We have kids from all the islands, wherever the parents are from. Either a mother or a father or a grandmother or a grandfather, but somewhere along the line most of us have somebody from on the other side, you know. Grenada, Barbados, St. Vincent, Antigua. You name it. So it's growing, it's spreading, it's moving out. And since they have a lot of carnivals in all the islands, it makes life even easier, because so many kids, 11:00like I say, they come here young, and they may come from Grenada or Antigua, and they're used to seeing the Carnival. So by the time they come here, and they see this, they already have a little bit of knowledge of what it's all about. The ones that were not born on that side and do not know, they're here now, and they're into it, so they, too, are learning. So it's good.
PINCHEON: Right, and even if they don't get a chance to go to Trinidad whenthey're younger, once they grow older if they go back, they have some reference.
QUAMINA: Yes, they know what it's all about. They have an idea already of whatit's all about.
PINCHEON: I think that your position as being business manager, you're in theoptimal position to oversee a lot of different things.
QUAMINA: Yes, absolutely. It's a lot.
PINCHEON: And you also have a real strong sense of wanting to pass this12:00tradition on.
QUAMINA: Of course. It has to be passed on, because we're not here forever. Wehave to pass it on.
PINCHEON: But you're not going anywhere.
QUAMINA: I hope not, because I have a lot of things that I would still like to do.
PINCHEON: Who are the younger people that you have a sense of passing it on to?Is it all kids from Caribbean descent? Who do you feel are the youth that you want to pass it on to?
QUAMINA: Well, like I say, it's for all Caribbean kids, but that doesn't meanthat we leave out anyone. Anyone that's interested in this culture, they're welcome. I'll give you a little story. When this organization had an office on Nostrand Avenue, and it's just last year we moved to Wishco Manor. And as a matter of fact, when I start to do my registration and stuff, I really would like you to come up there sometime in August and get a feel, and you'll feel for 13:00yourself that little procedure that I'm doing.
QUAMINA: When that office was there on Nostrand, there was a mas camp there. Oneof the members, who's a senior member, he actually is a band leader, and he makes the costumes. And there was a kid that lives -- he still lives there --around the corner on Maple Street. And he started to come there in the afternoons, when we're there, because like I say, in the day, the place is closed because they're out looking for the fabric and the materials, so these mas camps basically do not be opened, especially in the week, until eight o'clock, seven, eight o'clock at night. I would be there from about four thirty. I would have keys for the office, too, so I would open up and go in because I had the vendors coming in to register. And he would come in, and he would sit, and he made friends, and before you know it, he started --when Randy would press 14:00the different shapes on the cardboard or whatever, he would cut them out, and he learned to do a lot. And finally, I said to him one day, I said, "Do you want a costume? Do you want to play?" He said, "Yeah, I would like to play, but you know, it's not my mother, it's my step-mother, and she don't have the money." And I said, "Well, would you like me to ask her if she would allow you?" And he gave me the telephone number. When I came home that night, I called her, and I explained to her who I was, and I said he would come. I said, "When you miss him, he's right here, so he don't get into no problems." I said, "You can come and see what's going on." And she did come. And she said, yes, she would give him the permission to participate, but she didn't have the money, just like he told me. And I said, "Look, we'll pay for the costume." She said, "Well, that's fine!" And for about three years, we gave him the costume, and he participated. And this is not a Caribbean kid, now. That's a kid that was born here, in 15:00America. And he's not the only one. He's the one I single out, because he's the one I was very close to, and coming all the time. He's grown big now. He's a fine young man. I seen him one day right on the corner here by the subway, and he called out to me, you know. There's a lot of kids like that. You know, so this is not basically for our Caribbean kids. It's for anyone that's interested in our culture. They're welcome.
PINCHEON: I was just thinking as you were talking, you know, when you weresaying he's not going to get into any trouble, but this must be a really good way in terms of keeping children --
QUAMINA: Keep them occupied!
QUAMINA: Yes! Because it's summertime, they're out of school, and they havenothing to do. They're running on the street. Sometimes the parents have to go to work, and they get bored, and they follow the wrong company, and before you know it, they get into trouble. So places like these, these mas camps, any of 16:00the kids that's interested, they go and they can help. And they learn a lot, too. They do learn a lot. It's for their advantage. And they make the costumes, not make them, they help to do different things, and then they get a costume if that's what they want.
PINCHEON: Right, but then that's also the tradition. They're still learning.
QUAMINA: It goes a long way; because that's a lot that they can learn. You know,it's not even from the text book. It's right there for you to do, you know. So it's good.
PINCHEON: You know, I was just imagining later on, say this child was sitting ina college classroom writing about this. He has his personal experience to draw upon, you know, and of course there will be books, and there will be articles and everything, and there will even be our study, but you know, there's also that personal knowledge that insight can bring.
QUAMINA: Yes, it's their first time experience. They're on the job, right there.17:00The table is there, everything, all the materials, everything is there. So it's very good for them, and actually we do do workshops for them, too. You know we hold workshops for them sometimes --not sometimes, in the summer, we hold workshops for them. And just like we have the youngsters that's into the steel band, they, too, can go, you know, and learn. And that's a fine art. That's one thing I would have really liked to do when I was younger, but unfortunately I couldn't, because at that time when I was in Trinidad a young, little girl, young ladies were not allowed to do that. It was bad enough for young men. I had my brothers, my four brothers, and most of the three first ones --there always 18:00used to be a constant fight in the house with my mother, because in those days, if you had gone into a pan yard, they used to stereotype you. They used to say you're a hooligan, a vagabond, a no-good. You know that kind of thing. That kind of low-life thing, because that's how it was in those days. And it's amazing to see how far that steel band has come.
PINCHEON: You know, today you're business manager, so you've also seen thesechanges in terms of roles that women have played.
QUAMINA: Yeah. There were older women at that time, not too many, that actuallyplayed in the steel bands, you understand. But they were older women. They were able to make their own decisions. But me as a young girl growing up, I had no choice in the matter. I just had to stay away, and that was it. Today, if you look even from CASYM you see they start from nine years old. From nine years 19:00old! Maybe even younger, maybe eight, maybe seven years they start to play the steel pan, but in my time unfortunately, we couldn't do it, because it wasn't allowed in the homes.
PINCHEON: What brought about those changes?
QUAMINA: Well, as time went by, the steel band became more recognizable. Theystopped the fighting, because I want you to know, they used to fight a lot. Each group used to rival. If you come from this area --let's say you come from Flatbush, and I'm from Bushwick, that used to create a lot of friction. And if one person from Bushwick and one from Flatbush had any kind of confrontation, everybody had to get in, so that I from Flatbush --we from Flatbush were not 20:00allowed to go into Bushwick. If we went into Bushwick, whatever we got we had to take, and it was vice-versa. And this is how it went on in Trinidad. You understand? If you was living in Belmont and I was living in St. James, you know, I was not allowed to come to Belmont and you was not allowed to go to St. James. The ones that took the chance to go, some of them suffered dearly because they got a lot a lot of blows. That was in the early days. And then all that started to subside, and then sponsors came in. You understand. To sponsor the bands, because they needed the sponsors. They have to get money to buy the pans, the instruments, they have to pay somebody to tune them, they have to pay the arranger to arrange. You know, and then the sponsors came in, and if you want 21:00someone sponsoring you, you know you can't go on with that garbage. And then the older heads at that time that had that sort of mentality, they got old, they made kids, their kids started to play, and their kids' kids started to play, and that generation was a complete different turn-around. They didn't want to be in this fighting and this riling all the time between rival groups. So as they got older, all of that died off, and then the sponsors came in, and once you had a sponsor, you had to be very circumspect, as you know. So that had to change it a lot. And then, it was in the --what are we, in the 20th century now?
QUAMINA: In the 20th century, that was made one of our official instruments inthe island, the steel band. It was recognized as such. You understand? And it has grown a long way. Then they started not only to play the calypsos, but they 22:00started to play
PINCHEON: We were talking about steel pan and turf wars…
QUAMINA: So then once they got the sponsorship and stuff, and they had thearrangers and stuff, then they started playing not only the calypso, but the jazz and classics and stuff. It had reached the point not where they have a competition --I think it's in November if my memory serves me right --they have the steel band, the festival there, at competition. And then they have the steel pan, last month I think, they had another little competition. They called it pan ramajay. So during the year there in Trinidad, they have a lot of competitions for the steel bands, and then of course, as soon as it comes to Christmas time, they set up and start to practice rigidly for their Steel Band Panorama 23:00competition, which is a very keen competition.
PINCHEON: So when the sponsors came into the picture, did that in itself sort ofintroduce a whole other chain in terms of the relations between these different groups?
QUAMINA: Yes, because they knew that if you wanted someone to spend some moneyand sponsor you and help you with your instruments, your pans, and your tuning, and your arranging, and then even your clothes and stuff --because when they have to go there, they have uniforms, you know. So if you wanted to get all of that, you had to do it the right way, which was get away from all of this barbaric attitude, you know, and act civilized. So, that, like I said, older heads had a lot to do with it. They was into this kind of fighting and this kind of stuff, but they made kids and their kids came along. You know, times change, you know. So everything just turned right around. Now it's a pleasure to be a steel band member. 24:00
PINCHEON: It's also, I think that you said that there was adversity, and theirmusic changed, too. They began to play arranged --they began to introduce more elements like classical.
QUAMINA: Yes, because they had classics, they had jazz, and that kind of stuff,you know.
PINCHEON: But before then --?
QUAMINA: Before then, in those years, it was just the traditional calypso thatyou'd beat out. Calypso tunes. But then as time went by and they started to learn more, they read the music and stuff, so now they can --I mean, you can go to Carnegie Hall and sit down and hear a whole steel band concert. You know, just steel band alone. And the tunes that come out of there are just fantastic. As a matter of fact, last month, I got a call from Channel 5, Fox. I have a very good buddy there, and he called me, and he says, "Look, we want your band to do something on "Good Day New York." And I says, OK. Now they know the band well, 25:00because they interviewed us. Every year they comes out and they do a piece on the band and myself, so they know the group. So I says, OK. So I set it up, and they had to be up in Manhattan, I think six o'clock in the morning, because you know "Good Day" comes on early. So I made all the arrangements. They faxed the stuff to me. I got it to them, and they went up. So I didn't go that morning, but I lead the band, and I put the TV on, and they showed when they are talking. Because it was an ethnic thing. They had different groups doing different things. This was our presentation for the Caribbean. And he --the guy that was interviewing them says --they were playing the calypso, and he said, "This is so nice," and this and that. And off the top of your head, he said, "Oh, can you all play classic?" And they started to play the Hallelujah Chorus. I want you to 26:00know, they, them kids started to play the Hallelujah Chorus. I said, "Goddammit. Go for it, man!" You know, because it's like, "Well, oh yes, I just know that you all can't do nothing more than this." I said, "OK, they're gonna show your butt this morning." And sure enough, they started to play the Hallelujah Chorus. That man was so astounded. So this is only a little part of it. So you know it could be done, and what's done, you know. Because, I mean, these are youngsters, and they play all kinds of classics. All kinds of classics and it's good. It is good. I'm telling you, that's the only thing I'm sorry I didn't learn to do when I was younger, but I didn't have the opportunity at that time. And then I got older, and I came out here. You know, you come out here, and your first years you gotta work. I had my daughter, I had to take care of, put her through college. I didn't have that kind of time. You know, now I'm into so many other 27:00things that I don't think I want stick that. Not right now. I can't handle that. 'Cause that you really have to focus and concentrate on a lot. So I don't want to add that to my agenda right now. But it's nice, you know, I'd stand and I'd look --because Carnival, I went to Trinidad, and my two brothers, my oldest one and the other one, they still belong to the same steel band from all them years, and I stood there for three nights back to back. Myself and my sister went to the pan yard, and we just sat there they have a nice - big bench --and we sat there for hours, you know, listening and watching. And we went to the back, and we look at them, and you know, they're standing there with their sticks, and they just, and it's like nothing, you know? It's really a beautiful art form. And I want you to know, there are a lot of White folks that leave all over, Canada, England, America, and go to Trinidad and play in those bands for the 28:00Panorama. In that particular band that I'm speaking of my brothers belong to, if they didn't have six White folks playing, they didn't have one. I believe six of them I've seen, female and male. Oh, yes. I see them coming with the sticks in their pockets like the others, their shorts and sneakers, and they're going up there, and time to start and they're right there with them playing. White folks. It's a wonderful art form. It's beautiful.
PINCHEON: Earlier, you alluded to the fact that, you know, I didn't have anopportunity when you were growing up to give to these other elements, like, I didn't include classics in my repertoire, and then you talked about, like, you were a wife and mother and you were all this. What was it like then, when you had other responsibilities, and were still doing this?
QUAMINA: Well, actually, that started in Trinidad when I was a young girl. I gotmarried very young. I got married when I was nineteen years old. And it's 29:00something I think of so much sometimes. I had --
What were we saying now?
PINCHEON: I think we had moved back to family life, and --
QUAMINA: SO, then, like I said, I started --Actually, like I said in the firstinterview I did with you that my father had a band of his own, so I grew up in a house of Carnival and costumes and masks. So, it was a very big house and my mother lived on one side, and I lived on the next side. And I got married, and I had --I had three kids, actually you know, but I lost two, you know. I lost two in an accident, in Trinidad, in a car crash, so Michelle was the only one that was left for me. Anyhow, I had my son in the 5th of September in '56, and then I 30:00had my daughter in September, the 26th next year, believe it or not. So I had two little children to take care of. I had a home to run, you know, and that kind of stuff. Well I got up in the mornings early and took care of breakfast. My husband left for work, and then I took care of the kids. And in the beginning years, of course, you have two babies just one year apart. I have to bathe them, feed them, take care of them, and then --it was a very big house we had, so we pulled the crib into there, on the veranda and put them there, you know, and I'd sit there 'cause it's nice and cool, and the breeze coming in, and the machine was out there, and I would work for hours. And then lunch --well, of course that 31:00was after lunch because the morning hours was to cook and to clean and to wash and to take care and get them together. But once that was finished, and my husband came for lunch and he left at twelve o'clock, I was sitting at that machine straight through until about four, five o'clock. You know, I had my mother and my family there. Anything with the kids, they would look after them for me. And I did that until they started to get big. You know, every year, the same thing over, doing the costumes and getting stuff together. So actually, I juggled my domestic duties along with this part. So that's why I'm so seasoned into this, because I did so much of it for such a long period of time. And I wouldn't say, stressful, but under hard conditions, you know, because to have to take care of kids and your home and then do that, too. And when you sit on a machine, you don't want to sit and jump up, sit and jump. You have to sit for hours. Once you cut your stuff off, you just go for hours sewing it, you know 32:00what I'm saying? So that's how that was. And then I migrated and I came here, but I wasn't into the costume business any more, but I was into the culture a lot. I did the costume. I had been out here in the earlier years; I got so busy being the business manager. And my daughter used to participate here. You know she was little, like I told you. And the last time I actually did put my hand into a costume is, what year did she play. I think it was '83, 1983, cause she played in a beautiful, big costume, and it had a lot of work to be done, and I used to go to the office; we had an office on Nostrand. Not the one where we left last year. One a little higher up on 1143. It was very big. So in the 33:00afternoons, I'm sitting in the front, and I'm doing my registration of the vendors and the masks and people and stuff, and after that was finished around seven-thirty, eight o'clock, then it was like a new day for me all over, 'cause I would sit there till about one, two o'clock next morning, helping them, getting her stuff together for her costume. But it took a lot out of me. And then after that, she herself decided she didn't want to use those elaborate costumes anymore. But she plays every year. She got married in June last year and she still played in September, but she used a smaller costume, you know, so I didn't have to put all that effort in that. Because it was a lot, you know, to run around, take care of business, come and sit and do your registration and stuff, and then start fresh from eight o'clock to two o'clock next morning --that was pretty rough, you know? So after that, I just didn't do much of that anymore. But it's not like I can't do it, because if someone --well, I don't 34:00have the time now, as you can tell. But even if someone did ask, you know, to come and help for an hour or so, I'm sure I can still do it. You know, I have that instinct in me that I can do whatever I want to do. So that's how that is.
PINCHEON: Earlier we talked about the sense of territory and turf in Trinidad,and I wondered, does it have the same thing in a sense for Brooklyn? Does Brooklyn seem like a kind of home base for a lot of West Indians? There are a number of West Indian people coming from different islands.
QUAMINA: Oh yes, yes. Brooklyn is --you have a lot of Caribbean people here inBrooklyn, you know, from all the islands.
PINCHEON: So it means a lot to have Carnival in Brooklyn?
QUAMINA: Well, yes. It does. Absolutely. And then, since it has been here allthat time, and everyone gets so used to being on that venue here on Eastern Parkway, it's like everybody look forward to it. They even have guys that sing calypsos about Eastern Parkway. As a matter of fact, last week Saturday, Herman 35:00Horn from --I don't know if you know Herman Horn?
PINCHEON: Everybody's met him.
QUAMINA: He had asked me to be a judge for the semi-finals for the CalypsoMonarch competition. So I went out to Calypso City, myself and Mr. Lezama, but I was the judge. And he asked me to do, so I did the judging. And one of the guys --he actually came first --that was Chalk Dust. He is not only a calypsonian, but he is an historian, and he sang a calypso about misconceptions, you know? And then he also sang a calypso --you were allowed to sing two tunes --about "That Good, That Bad." That is how he --his name of it. And in that calypso, he 36:00was speaking about things that happen here in New York that was good, and he spoke about things that was bad. In that calypso, when he sang it for Carnival time, he didn't have this verse in it at all, but since he heard about the thing with the Jews and them wanting us to move, he made a verse in that calypso. And he sang what's good about that part of them, and then he sang about the part where they wanted us to move from Eastern Parkway and go to Atlantic Avenue. And he finished it off with, "That bad." Well, let me tell you, that man got a standing ovation. Them people got up and they clapped and they hollered, and they scream, and they --you know. But he is very good. So he came first, and two other guys came second --Aloes came second, and Baron came third. It was a nice 37:00show, you know. So I'm saying this to say, even in the calypso part of it, they mention Eastern Parkway.
PINCHEON: It's become a fixture.
QUAMINA: Quite a few guys sang about party on Eastern Parkway, going to EasternParkway. All sorts of things, Eastern Parkway. So it's like a focal point.
PINCHEON: Yeah, and it's entered the culture and folklore, the songs.
QUAMINA: Right, so that's how it happens. It's like an institution in itself.That stuff out there. People look forward. I think if it moved from there it would lose something. Over the years, a lot of people have said to us, "Well, you know, maybe you should go to 5th Avenue, and maybe it would be a whole different, different thing altogether." The things that they can do on Eastern Parkway. Ain't no way they can do that on 5th Avenue. You know that. No way! They come down the street --of course it's Carnival, it's mas they're playing, 38:00so it's not like in a marching band, and you've got a one, two, left, right, left, right, and you're off the street. It's a slow process. You know, everybody, they dance, and they stop. They see you, "Hi Bill!" They see me, "Hi, Joyce!" And then they go back in the group, and then they meet somebody and then they stop again. It's like a slow process. That's what Carnival is. It isn't something that you rush. You no rush this. So, hey, and in 5th Avenue, when you have them police, you gotta march. One, two, one, two, and then you're outta there.
PINCHEON: Right, 'cause you only get those little time periods.
QUAMINA: That's right. Yeah. But here it's a different thing. So that's how thatis. So that's why it's gotta stay on Eastern Parkway, and one of the main reasons why.
PINCHEON: What do you see that some of the youth who will be coming after youand who will be taking over Carnival and working WIADCA, what are some of the challenges that they're gonna face in the 21st century? We talked about the 20th century. What do you think will be new things that they'll have to face? 39:00
QUAMINA: Well, I'll tell you. One thing is, even with us here, we have anexperience that every year you do something that's gonna cost you X amount, and next year when you go to do the same thing and you call the same people, it's more money. So first of all, prices of things keep going up. And I doubt that very much in the 21st century they're going to be coming down.
PINCHEON: Not in capitalist America.
QUAMINA: I don't think so. So that's one thing they're going to have to face. Ifthey will be able to hold on and be strong and fight the other element, and you know who I mean --the Jews --and getting this festival to stay there, we don't know. Because we have put up some kind of fight in order to keep that festival there. 40:00
PINCHEON: The latest incident --the incident that just happened recently--wasn't the first? This has been a long, ongoing thing?
QUAMINA: No, that's for years. Anybody that know will tell you, they don't wantus out there. They make all kinds of complaints and say all kinds of things. But God has been merciful to us, I must say, among other things, that we are still there. Especially after that thing with the Crown Heights with Gavin Cato in 1991, they went to court to file an injunction to stop the Carnival. We didn't even know. We were going ahead gung ho with plans and stuff, until somebody called us cold and said, "Listen! You're making all these big preparations. Do you know the Jews went to court to file --?" We said, "What?!" But it didn't work, see? They didn't get their wishes. So, it's a long years, anybody, the 41:00talk on the street is they don't want us there. I mean, it's one day, for a few hours. It's not like its two days, three days, four days, and it's inconveniencing you. It's one day. You know. Leave us be and let us have a good time. They do what they do out there, and more than one day, two, every time they turn around the street's blocked off, that this is a sea of black on the scene. Nobody bothers them. I mean, so give us a break. We live in the neighborhood, too. We pay taxes, too. So you can't want it all for yourself. But they made all kinds of comments, all kind of complaints, that this and that and that. But I'm gonna give you a little joke. There's a lady that comes religiously. She lives on Eastern Parkway there, too. Between, I think, Brooklyn and Kings --not Brooklyn --New York and Brooklyn. And she told me, she said, you 42:00know, these people don't want us on the Parkway to have our festival there. She lives right there. She says, but do you know what happened? This was about three years ago she told me that. She said, "I ran out of cups and plates and forks and stuff." 'Cause she's a vendor. She say, "And I'm running, looking, trying to see if I could find a little store to find some stuff." She says, "Do you know that in the yard of one where the Jews live, one of them in the yard, had a table out?" They was selling from inside, behind the wall, cups and plates and forks. I mean, capitalizing on this same thing that you don't want. You know. They was selling everything that a normal vendor wouldn't stop to think to sell, which is supplies, because people do run out of these things, like she did. Cups, paper plates, napkins, forks. She said they was selling film. Things that people don't normally go out there and sell. And they was selling that in their 43:00yard. She said, and you say after -she said, because I live right here between Nostrand and --New York and Brooklyn.
PINCHEON: So they do benefit.
QUAMINA: So they benefit, sure. I'm not saying all of them, but some of them. Iwas shocked. She said, you say after me, "I bought it from them." So I know, you know. So that's how that is.
PINCHEON: So it's this ongoing struggle to keep the Carnival presence there andon Eastern Parkway specifically, because it is just such a historical site, and it's been happening.
I'm talking about the challenges that the youth will face in the 21st century,and you talked about --
QUAMINA: Yeah, well first of all, it's going to cost --what we have to contend44:00with now price wise, we know they're gonna have much more to deal with.
PINCHEON: Right. Hopefully funding levels will --
QUAMINA: Well, in funding levels --that's what I'm coming to --in fundinglevels, they may be a little bit more successful than we are. You see, this is a non-profit organization. Everything we get, we have to spend it right back. We cannot keep no thousands and thousands in no back if it's a non-profit. That's one. And two, over the years, we have made friends with sponsors, and we have never tried to squeeze anything out of anybody. An exorbitant amount of anything. Like, we would go, we'd propose a lot, and we'd say, look, this is for fifty thousand. But then they would explain, "Well, we don't have the fifty thousand." But whatever it is, in the end result, it is that we still work along with them. In so doing, some of them were kind enough and good enough to say 45:00that in the next year they would increase. But you know, they have people that take advantage of a situation, and then they have some of them that keep crying poverty every year. It's the same thing, it's the poverty, we don't have.
PINCHEON: OK, I think you were just talking about sponsors and the way that theytake advantage of you.
QUAMINA: So some of them, you know, because we know for a fact, because we lookat the TV and we see some of the same sponsors that we deal with for different games and different things there on the TV, and we know that they spend a lot of money. And we feel that what we have out there is so big. I mean, one little 46:00group of people could over the years work and make this thing grow to the point where you have three million people on Eastern Parkway. One day, one place, and with minimum violence or anything like that. I mean, we feel very proud to be able to do this. And when they do that to us, we feel like we've been used, you know? But the consolation that we have is that we know that the youngsters coming up in the next century, they're not going to take what we're taking. So we have that gut feeling that they are going to get what they have to get. Get it to the fullest. So that's something, like we say that we console ourselves with that. And meanwhile, we go along and we do what we have to do, but it gets harder each year, because like I say, everything gets higher and higher, you know. So those are some of the things that we know that they will have to deal 47:00with in their time. And of course, everything gets better and better, and they may improvise different ways and different means, and you know, they use different strategies. I'm sure that they're going to do a good job of it, whoever that is.
PINCHEON: Right. I think those are all the questions I have.
QUAMINA: That's it? You're sure, now? OK.
PINCHEON: Is there anything that you would like to add?
QUAMINA: No, not pertaining to this. Basically, I'm so happy to do this, thishere is an honor.
Oral History Interview with Joyce Quamina
Joyce Quamina was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1969, she immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York. A participant of Carnival in her native Trinidad, Quamina was a spectator of the original West Indian American parades in Harlem, New York and became an active participant when the parade began in Brooklyn, New York. In 1994, at the time of the interview, she was the business manager of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA). Quamina was the founder and organizer of the Carnival's Kiddies Carnival; an event in which children between the ages of infancy and sixteen participate in their own mas or masquerade parade. She was also a contributor to the Westchester County Caribbean Carnival, in White Plains, New York. After retiring from WIADCA, Quamina continued as a business consultant for the association.
This is the second of two interviews with Joyce Quamina. The first interview was conducted on May 12, 1994. Here Quamina provides a more in depth discussion of her role as the West Indian American Day Carnival Association business manager. She discusses the process of registering vendors, acquiring information for the press and media outlets, and booking the performers for concerts conducted behind the Brooklyn Museum. Quamina relates her experiences initiating the Kiddies Carnival and the Junior Steel Band Panorama, noting the importance of each in ensuring the continuation of the Carnival and as a source for providing summer activities for community children. She provides an assessment of the future struggles of the Carnival, noting that obtaining consistent sponsorship will continue to be central to the Carnival's survival. Quamina discusses the history of the pan steel band in Trinidad and the United States, specifically addressing the role of girls and women. She also relates her opinions of the continuing cultural conflict between the Hasidic Jewish and West Indian communities of Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Bill Pincheon.
The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.
CitationQuamina, Joyce, Oral history interview conducted by Bill Pincheon, June 23, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.20; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Quamina, Joyce
- West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- West Indian-American Day Carnival Association
- Caribbean Americans
- Emigration and immigration
- Ethnic identity
- Race relations
- Trinidadian Americans
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidWest Indian Carnival Documentation Project records