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Michelle Quamina Reid
Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King
July 19, 1994
Call number: 2010.019.21
KING: This is Dwan Reece King, and I'm interviewing Michelle Quamina Reid forthe West Indian Carnival Documentation Project. Today's date is July 19, 1994. OK, Michelle, let's just start. Can you tell me where you were born?
REID: I was born in Trinidad.
KING: OK. When did you come to the United States?
REID: I came here in 1970. Six years old.
KING: Did you come directly here to Brooklyn?
REID: Yes, I did. With my mom.
KING: Can you tell me where you lived?
REID: I lived in Coney Island for a period of my junior high school days, andthen I moved back with my mom, go to high school, Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School. So I lived in Coney Island roughly for a good six to seven years before I moved back with my mom.
KING: What were your first impressions of Brooklyn?
REID: Hectic, fast-paced, but nice. I liked it. I still do.1:00
KING: So you came here pretty young. You were a child. What was your firstawareness of Carnival? How did you first get involved?
REID: I've always been aware of Carnival, because although I came here at sixyears old, I participated in Trinidad when I was yea-high, two or three years old, I was playing mas then, so I've always been involved. Through my mom, I've always been involved in Carnival. Always been aware. I came from a Carnival family.
KING: Can you tell me a little bit about what you remember about Carnival in Trinidad?
REID: I remember my grandfather had what they call a beast band. They dressed upas dragons. And I remember my mother telling me that they used to make the scales for the dragon. You know, like, the fish has scales?
REID: Sewing that from hand, and sewing all the costumes from my grandfather'sband. He was well known. His name was Cosie Jones. And that's how I got so 2:00involved, because we were up, and we saw all the makings of the costumes and everything, so I remember a lot from that.
KING: Do you have brothers and sisters?
REID: No, I don't
KING: Alright. So do you remember your first involvement here with Carnival?
REID: Oh, yes. Definitely. There was a man by the name of Rufus Gorin, and Ibelieve it was in the later part of the 60's, going into the 70's. He started in Harlem, and I had a very good friend, her name was Cynthia, and that was her godfather, and he started in Harlem, and we started playing mas with him. He used to have the music boxes on top of a wagon, and we used drive around the different neighborhoods in Harlem, and that's how I got involved. I got costumes, and I was playing with her individual, like a bigger piece than a floor member, per se.
KING: So you actually participated in Harlem before that shut down?3:00
REID: Yes, I did.
KING: OK. I always think of it as older people participating.
REID: No, I was in that. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun.
KING: OK, so then it comes to Brooklyn in I969? 70?
REID: 70. Yeah, around 70. Because I was here --what happened was, you know,before I moved here totally in 1970, I was always here for Carnival, and that's how I got involved in Harlem, because Cynthia was here, and I'd always be here on vacation. That's how I met her.
KING: Oh, OK.
REID: Yeah. And then she moved to Coney Island, and we were friends from since then.
KING: So you came to visit before you actually moved here, so you knew ofHarlem's Carnival?
REID: That's right, yes.
KING: So by the time you moved here, did your mother get involved with it right away?
REID: My mom came--she was not involved right away. We actually went to a showat the Brooklyn Museum just after Mr. Gorin had passed away and Mr. Lezama took 4:00everything over, and we were just coming for the show, and Mr. Lezama approached my mom about participating and being chief judge, and that's how everything started. That was in -- '79 going into '80, like that, 1980. And my mom got actively involved. She's always been into Carnival from home, but not actively until Mr. Lezama approached her.
KING: So how would you, over the years --because you've been able to see itsince it started in Brooklyn, particularly, and your perspective growing up. How have you seen it change? What were some of your favorite activities? Did you continue to play mas with Brooklyn's Carnival?
REID: Yeah, what happened was, for Kiddies Carnival I was much younger then, andI used to always play the big individual pieces. And I mean, I remember, it was 5:00lots of fun, because then it was in the growing stages, and now it's like, even more better, because there's a lot more participation from all islands, actually; not just from Trinidad and Tobago. From all islands. Guyana, Haiti. Everyone is participating, and I've seen it grow, and it's excellent. I think it's grown, and I mean, it's like, what? Twenty-six, twenty-seven years now, I think, and it's really progressed well.
KING: Do a lot of your friends participate?
REID: Actually my cousin Rachel participates, and yes, a lot of my friends. Likethis year we're playing with Sesame Flyers. So every year --it's an every year thing --we look forward to Labor Day every year. So yes. And I try every year to involve other people, my other friends. Like, I have someone new now, one of my colleagues; she says she wants to participate this year, so it should be really good.
KING: So your friends, are they from Trinidad as well, or from different backgrounds?
REID: Oh, a diversity. I have friends from different nationalities. I have6:00French from Trinidad, Guyana, Haiti. This young lady I was just talking about, she's from Panama, so I have friends from all over, really. Jamaica, you name it. I have friends from all over.
KING: So a lot of them are also interested in it as well?
REID: Oh, yeah. They come to the shows that we have in the back of the BrooklynMuseum that we have on Thursday through Sunday preceding Labor Day, and they come and they really enjoy themselves.
KING: Do you go back to Trinidad regularly?
REID: Actually, I haven't been to Trinidad in about three years, but yes, I usedto go on a regular basis, because my grandmother is still there. So I used to go on a regular basis, and play mas, with my mom.
KING: Oh, good.
REID: With my mom, yes. I participated there as well, yes.
KING: One of the interesting things we're finding is that Brooklyn's Carnival,the West Indian Carnival here, is unique to this community particularly. And based on your experience growing up in Brooklyn, how do they differ? I won't say compare, not to say that one's better than the other, but how does Carnival in Trinidad--? 7:00
REID: Oh my goodness. Well, I mean, although the Carnival here, like I said,it's progressed nicely --I mean, Trinidad and Tobago is the home of Carnival. I mean, so it's very difficult to compare, because it's headed totally differently because first of all, in Trinidad, the NCC, the Carnival Committee, they participate and they pay for everything. And here, it's just basically the West Indian American Day Carnival Association attempting to get sponsors any way that we can. So it's a big difference. They have the help of the government and the government gears everything: the shows, payment of prices, everything. So it's a big difference. And the costumes, although they're elaborate in Brooklyn, I mean, Trinidad, forget it. I mean, we have the old time, old time mas guys doing a lot of research through history books, I mean, to get everything together. So it's really a big difference, because like I said, Trinidad & Tobago is the home 8:00of Carnival.
KING: Can you just describe for me, since we're doing kind of a documentationand some of this information will be available for people to read, what actually happens when you play mas. What do you do? And actually, also what it means to you.
REID: Ok. When we play mas, it's just coming together as a people, I mean, in afestive manner. I mean, you just want to show off your costume. You want to show off what you're portraying. One year I played a steel pan woman, and the guy that designed my costume, the hat was in the shape of a steel pan, and I had this very, very big-- I mean, this really, really big skirt. Carnival is just about joy. Having a good time. Different nationalities coming together, in peace, just having a very good time. That's what it's about. It's just a big, big celebration, and celebrating histories prior to the 90's through research and whatever. So it's just a festive thing. Just a festive thing. 9:00
KING: Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement in Carnival; like wehad talked a little bit earlier about the variety of ways you participate?
REID: First of all, I assist my mom was with the vendors. I mean, years ago, thevendors used to set up on Eastern Parkway free of charge, but I mean, we actually need as much money as we can possibly get, so we have to charge a fee. So I assist my mom going into the city, like Health Department, ABC Board Liquor Authorities to get the necessary paperwork and the permits so that the vendors can come in to us and pay a fee, and then we'd issue the permits the Saturday or Sunday prior to Labor Day. And furthermore, my mom has geared something new now. It's called, you know, Be Aware of School, you know, children, school awareness. 10:00And that's the Friday, in the day. So I assist her with that, with getting the artist so that they can come in and basically telling children stay away from drugs and stay in school. So that's geared towards the stay in school program. And then in regards to the Kiddies' Carnival, being that I participate so much in mas, I'm a judge for Kiddies, Carnival, looking for spirit of Carnival, portrayal of your costume, and just the whole theme of what that band is playing. So that's basically what I do.
KING: Let me ask you, talking about being a judge, you specified you look at howthe costume is portrayed --what do you actually look? I mean as a judge? What are the critical --?
REID: OK, let's say for instance you're playing Queen of England, then we'relooking for that theme of Queen of England. Queen of England wears a crown at times, and she has the big ball dresses on. We're looking for that. We're 11:00looking for the carriages; we're looking for the King of England, the prince, the princesses. Those are the things we're looking for that's geared to England. The setting of England, if you will. Maybe a castle, maybe someone would have a big costume that demonstrates a castle and the Queen's horses and the Queen's servants. That's what we're looking for. We're looking for a specific theme that says this is the royalty of England, that's what we're looking for. Then we're looking for the Spirit of Carnival, how well you dance your costume, how well you portray who you are. Maybe you're walking around waving like the Queen of England, and then you start dancing. Those are the things that we look for. And we also look for neatness in costume. You know, your costume has to be finished in its entirety. There shouldn't be any wires exposed and folds. Everything should be covered. We look at your clothing, how neat it is. Is it appropriate for what you're portraying? We look at your shoes --is it appropriate for 12:00portraying the Queen of England? Those are the things we look for.
KING: Can you give me another example? Something that may not be as obvious.
REID: OK. Let's say that you're playing the devil. Ok, if you will. We all knowthat the devil is portrayed with, you know, somewhat of a straight Pinocchio nose. The ears stick up; you're looking for the stake, like in a fork, but with the upward manner, with the fork shape. We're looking for a tail of the devil, and we're usually looking for you in red, fiery, you know, hot. The devil. That's what we're looking for. And we also, when someone portrays the devil, we're looking for the devil dance. And a lot of the devils from Trinidad, they beg for money, and if you don't give you money, they'll spray you or throw something on you. We're looking for that type of portrayal of a devil. You know, you're doing demonic things. And that's what we're looking for.
KING: Have the themes changed? Have you seen them change over the years?13:00
REID: Absolutely. Every year. Every year, the theme changes. One band playedArabia, Nights of Arabia. And of course that was with the --the things that the Indians wear, I forgot what you call it. And the short midriff tops --
KING: Right, I can picture it.
REID: Yeah, and the things that the Arabians wear, and they have the stuffcovering their face half way, and it's usually a lightweight material so you stay cool. One band played Going Back to Devils. The entire band was only a devil theme. The kids had the devil mask on, they had their little tails, and they wore black that year and not red. Everything black, with their little spiral tails hanging out, and they had their forks in their hand. And then another band, Hawks, played Hawaii. You have the stuff over your neck like when 14:00you get off the plane in Hawaii. They had that. They had the sarong skirts, they had the short tied-up tops, and your -- you had a band around your head with a little flower, really dainty looking. So those are things that I remember that bands have played in the past.
KING: How does one learn --maybe it's just part of your background --how doesone learn to play mas? Let's use kids as an example. Do they just do it after attending it? I mean, how did it pass down to you from your mother?
REID: Usually, what happens, being that my mom was so involved in Carnival inTrinidad, I went everywhere. I was in the mas camp. I heard the music. Then on the street, I was playing that, and I saw the adults dancing, and I did what they did. I mean, because Calypso has a certain beat, and you can't help but get into the festive mood, and move. So that's how I learned. I it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be of Trinidadian birth. I mean, there are 15:00Americans here that were born here, and their parents are West Indian, and they learned from their parents. They learn from their grandparents. They learn from their cousins growing up. You just look and you learn. You just move. It's just a movement thing. You can't help but to be in a festive mood. So that's basically how I learned, from hanging around the mas camp with my mom. Those are things that I remember. Wee hours of the morning with my mom, sewing costumes, getting people ready for Tuesday morning playing mas, everybody's lining up outside the mas camp, waiting for the trucks to move off to go to the Savannah, in Trinidad. That's where they have all the shows. So those are the things that I remember. It's just something that you learn, really. I think anybody can learn to dance the Calypso, please. You can't help but to.
KING: You just kind of get affected with everything that's going on.
KING: From your perspective, who are the most important people involved in Carnival?
REID: In New York City?16:00
KING: In New York City.
REID: I would say my mother. I'm maybe biased.
KING: Maybe you can share why.
REID: I would say my mother being that she's so business-oriented, and once yougive her a project, you can be sure that that project will be done in its entirety. I mean she goes out on a limb. I mean, sleepless nights. The phone rings until all wee hours of the morning. She's just an active person, and she loves what she does. It's a joy for her. She doesn't get paid. We're all volunteers. I think it's just embedded in her, and it's just something that she loves to do, and she loves to give her time back to the community as best she can. And the other individual I'd say that's extremely important is Mr. Lezama, of course, because, I mean, he is the president of WIADCA. And him too, he's very, very active, for older distinguished gentlemen, he's very, very active. And, I mean, it's not easy to head something as big, in Brooklyn, as Labor Day, 17:00especially without the help of city; monetarily, I must say, not in their support. Of course they do support us. It's a very big job. And although we may have a very big membership, it's only a few members that you really see that's active in doing the work. So I would say, Mr. Lezama and my mom, who's the business manager. They're really, you know, the ones that head everything.
KING: Let me ask you this. Do you think that Carnival gets enough recognition inNew York?
REID: I have to tell you, I wish that it would. There's so many stations outthere, and I think that they don't really get into and really give Carnival the recognition that it should be getting. I mean, there's so many other parades that's not as big as West Indian American Day Carnival, and we don't get enough recognition. I think it needs to really be displayed on the radio more with ~-I mean, LIB does it, but there are other stations out there besides LIB, and I think they really need to push it more, and I don't think it has enough recognition, and it should. We're the biggest thing. Two point five million people, I'd say, yeah, we should be getting the recognition, and we're really not. We don't get that much play on television. You just see a little --if 18:00they're showing the news, you get a little news flash of some of the costumes, and not even for a really long time. If you get five minutes, you get a lot. So I would say, yeah, it needs to be --
KING: Why is that, you think?
REID: To be honest with you, I really don't know. I really don't know why wedon't get the recognition for being the biggest Carnival, I really don't know. I mean, I don't want to get into the issue over West Indian versus other cultures. I really don't want to do that, because I'm not that type of individual. But I really honestly don't know. I wish I knew the answer, but I don't know. 19:00
KING: What kind of changes would you like to see, or do you foresee?
REID: For Carnival?
REID: I foresee -- I mean I wish, I should say, that we had more than one day. Imean, because the day's over so quickly. I mean, it's from 8 a.m. to 6. I mean, because in the past, the time was too late, and then people would tend to act up. So, I mean, I would love to see au expansion besides Eastern Parkway. Let's go down Atlantic Avenue. Let's take it further. Let's go down to the Promenade. Let's take it all the way down there and come back around and come back up. I'd like to see it expanded more.
KING: I've heard to some degree that it's gotten so large that the current routeis not enough, and sometimes it gets to the end, and there's still some people who haven't been judged.
REID: That's correct. There's some people that's left out. And I think it's sounfair, especially after people paid so much money of their costumes. Thousands 20:00of dollars, the Kings and Queens have paid for participation and getting their costumes; also the individual. And the floor members pay a substantial amount of money as well. Costs can range from one hundred up to about five hundred dollars for a floor member depending on how elaborate your costume is. So I would say a definite expansion would be good, and more than one day, please. I would say, more than one day. So everyone can be recognized, can be seen, can be judged. I would say more than one day. Maybe I'm being impossible, but I'm looking at more than one day.
KING: So when you say more than one day, I guess, the climax is always,obviously, it's Labor Day. But the festivities that develop beforehand, how is that viewed in the complete picture? How does that compare with what goes on in Trinidad?
REID: Actually, there's not much of a difference, because the shows that headedin the back of the Brooklyn Museum on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 21:00nights, we have the same thing in Trinidad. We have the shows preceding up the judging of the individuals, the Kings and Queens. So basically, in that manner, there's really no difference, because we do the same thing in regards to the shows. So there's really no difference.
KING: Now, is Trinidad's Carnival more than one day?
REID: Yes, it is. Trinidad's Carnival, actually, well the festivities startweeks in advance. The people are, you know, but the Carnival itself, we have two days. We have Carnival Monday, Carnival Tuesday. Carnival Monday is usually geared to old mas in the morning, when you put on ripped up clothes whatever you want, and then later on, if you choose to, the costume you're gonna wear on Tuesday, you can wear it Monday evening and display it, and wear it on Tuesday again. So we have two days in Trinidad.
KING: Have you gone any other places besides Trinidad for Carnival?
REID: Recently, we went to Junkanoo in the Bahamas. My cousin-in-law is heading22:00that, and it was really nice. They don't wear costumes, but they have a show on the street with different artists, like, they had Orange Americans, and Tony Rebel. They had people singing and stuff, but they don't really wear costumes. They're now beginning to gear up for Carnival, their Carnival. And I've been to Carnival in Boston. That was years ago. It's not as big as ours, but it was good. I participated one year, and they're in costumes. They go around the park and come back around. And those are basically the only two carnivals that I've been to thus far.
KING: I've heard that more and more are beginning to pop up. Particularly, I'mtalking about, in the United States.
REID: Yes lots, in Atlanta. One of my friends went to Atlanta, and she said itwas beautiful. Jamaica, yes.
KING: Somebody told me California?
REID: I've heard, but I'm not sure.23:00
KING: I don't know if I want to say LA or not.
REID: I'm not sure what part of California, but I heard that, and then there'sFlorida, Miami, yeah. That I know about. And of course, basically, London, England. England as well, has Carnival. And those are basically the carnivals that I know of.
KING: Let me see. I've asked some of these questions. There's something elsethat just popped into my mind--What kind of problems regarding Carnival have come up over the years, in your perspective?
REID: You know, in everything that you do, there's always someone that comesinto the woodwork, and feel that they can always do it better. So every year it's something different. Someone different trying to head up another organization. It's a whole other Carnival, not on Eastern Parkway because we 24:00have the permit for that, but somewhere else, trying to cut into what you're doing. There's always someone trying to say that they can do something better. Then we had the issue with Jewish people. I mean, we don't have issues with them, but it seems to be a problem with them in regards to us having the Carnival on Eastern Parkway. I mean, listen, we all live here. Ok? And I don't see any reason why we should shift anything from Eastern Parkway, where it's been for years. So we've been having a pretty, pretty tough time with them throughout the years. So I have to say that there's different other little groups that pop up here and there, that try to get into the woodwork, and try to see if they can get into what we're doing.
KING: Are there other people that are members of WIADCA who are your age?
REID: There's one more young lady, but she's not really actively involved. Idon't really know if she's a member, so I don't think she's actively involved. 25:00It's basically myself.
KING: The reason I ask, one of the things…why you're being interviewed is alsothe generations, different generations. There's obviously your mother, Mr. Lezama, Dr. Stanislaus. It's a different generation. And you also hear this talk about passing down the legacy, continuing things. But do you have any different kind of perspectives, I mean, from a generational kind of stance?
REID: Basically, I have to say to you, like you said, we're a totally differentgeneration. I mean, at times, you have to be passive, but at other times, you can't be passive, and you just have to say, "Listen, this is the way it is". And you know, my mom and Mr. Lezama, I mean, all of them forceful people. Don't misunderstand me. But sometimes what they would let slide, my generation definitely would not let slide. Because I would everything on the table, and 26:00that's the way it's going to be, especially if it's the right way, and I know it's the right way, that's the way it's going to be. I mean, yeah, in everything you have to compromise, and you have to bend, and we're willing to do that, but half of the nonsense that they take, I don't think my generation would take. I really don't.
KING: Do you find yourself asserting that at certain points, now that you'regetting more and more involved?
REID: Absolutely. I do that all the time. We have meetings all the time, and inmeetings, you're not always going to agree. And yes, I tend to give my opinions, and half the time it's totally different than what the members think, but I feel that listen, we're in the nineties, and we have to--you know--be more forceful at times, and I try to tell them that. I said, you know, be more outspoken. Be more assertive. Let people know, listen, West Indians are important, too. We're not just here on the side corner. We're here, and we want to be recognized more, 27:00and we need to be recognized more, and we're the biggest Carnival in New York City, and we need credit for that, and I think that's something that I'm always stating, and will continue to state.
KING: Well how many people are members; totally, not necessarily active? Howmany people are members of WIACA?
REID: I think we have a good twenty, maybe twenty-five members, twenty five tothirty members.
KING: And then how many people are active? You can describe what active is forme --
REID: If you mean active with regards to attending all meetings with the chiefof police, mayor's office--
KING: You can break it down if you want to.
REID: OK, that I'll have to do. In regards to really attending meetings that'sgeared to getting the Carnival on its way, I would say Mr. Lezama, Miss Joyce Quamina, Mr. Errol Payne, Miss Angela Sealy, the treasurer at times. She tries 28:00to make meetings. Dr. Stanislaus, of course. Myself when I can. And that's basically it.
KING: So the other people who are members, are they kind of members in name only?
REID: Mm-hmm. Well, you know, that's in everything. You have the people that'sin the forefront, and then you have the people that's just in the background, at their choice, of course.
KING: What have you learned about Carnival, participating from theadministrative point of view, 'cause a lot of people don't see this side of it? They're playing mas or they're working with their bands.
REID: What I would say with you is it's never easy dealing with the public. Imean you have some people that no matter how you explain, or how nicely you explain, they're just ignorant to the facts and arrogant. So it's very 29:00difficult, and you have to have patience. So that's difficult. And meeting sponsors, that's also difficult, because their budget is usually set for the year, and you have to show them ways of putting their money into the Caribbean community and what they can get out, the mileage that they get out of the Caribbean community. So that's also difficult. Whenever you're dealing with the money issue, that's always difficult. It's like pulling teeth. The other thing is prize awards. Being that our organization is a non-profit, like I said, it really depends solely on sponsors. Sometimes we get the money so late, you know, the prizes cannot be paid on time, and you know, we feel really badly, but you know, we're a non-profit. So that becomes difficult, because I mean, people need their money. They deserve it. They participated, they won, and it's only right, and they deserve their money. So that becomes kind of tedious, and you know, 30:00kind of frustrating in the monetary sense. So that's difficult. Getting the bands to leave the Parkway on time, getting down to Grand Army Plaza, trying to say to the band leaders, listen, you know, your band members are paying so much money, let's try to get out there early. We have it from 8 AM to 6 PM. Let's get out there early. Let's move off early so we can go down and come back around, and your members can display their costumes again and feel good about themselves. That's kind of difficult at times. So I think basically that's what we're looking at.
KING: Do you know of any other events that aren't sponsored by WIADCA that occurduring Carnival? Are there people who take the opportunity that Carnival's going on, the Labor Day festivities for the next four days, and try to have their own events during the same time? 31:00
REID: Definitely. That's something that I was telling you about.
REID: I don't think --this was maybe two or three years ago. There was a group--I mean, the name is so insignificant I really don't remember --and they were trying to have a mini-Carnival in Medgar Evers…the parking area. And needless to say, it was not successful. There was no one there. Because evidently, we had shows going on in the Museum, and everyone knows, listen, everything's going au at the Brooklyn Museum. So that was unsuccessful. In the costume sense, if you're thinking about Carnival I mean, and during Labor Day time, of course there are other groups, but these are organizations. They have parties and stuff, so you can't really compare that to costuming and things of that nature, so I mean, that doesn't affect us. But of course they make money, because everyone wants to get into a festive mood; go to a Labor Day jam; hear Calypso, 32:00Reggae, whatever. So in that way, people do make money, yeah.
KING: What kind of statement do you think Carnival makes to Brooklyn, to NewYork City?
REID: I think that Carnival basically says, listen, we're West Indian people. Welove to party, we love to have a good time. Put us all together, no matter our nationality, our creed, our race, and we're just in a festive mood. We just want to have a good time. We just want to have a big party. We just want to dance and be merry. That's what I think Carnival says. To me, that's what Carnival says. It's just a big party with different nationalities involved, coming together to have a good time.
KING: Let me play devil's advocate for a second. Based on your definition, usingyour example of what went on, the dispute with the Lubavitch community and the 33:00control over Eastern Parkway during Rosh Hashanah, when the Labor Day festival is held; some people would make comment that Carnival is not that important. Rosh Hashanah is one of the highest holidays, and we should be respected. How would you respond to something like that?
REID: I mean, you have to be fair. I respect their holy day. I mean, we allshould. It's their right. However, Carnival, they may not think is important, but it's important to us, as our nationality. This is part of our heritage. This is not something we're doing just for the sake of partying. This is our heritage. It's all the way back from Africa, when they were playing their drums and putting on their costumes. This gears all the way back to Africa. This is our heritage, and this is the way we know to demonstrate our heritage. And we're not trying to disrespect the Jewish community in any way or form. We just want to celebrate our heritage and have them celebrate their holy day, and we just 34:00want to do this in peace. I don't think that our day is any less important than their holy day, and that's basically my feeling on that.
KING: So what's the solution? I've heard rumors of how things are going to work.
REID: I mean, basically, they're on the other side and due to an understandingwith the mayor's office and the police department, that part is blocked off anyway. There are police officers over there. We're not going to go into their domain. We're basically in the middle of Eastern Parkway. It's a big difference. They're on the side street. How does that interfere? I mean, they could come in the back streets. We have Union Street, we have President Street. There are back streets of the Jewish community where they reside. I don't see a problem. I really don't see a problem. We're not there to harass or to disrespect them in any way. We're just there to have our day. And they're there to have their day. 35:00I don't see why there should ever be a conflict. In anything you should be able to compromise. In anything that you do. Life at times is a big compromise, whether you want to admit that or not. I really don't see a problem.
KING: What do you think about the fact --and this is probably a leadingquestion, the more I look at it --but I mean, about the fact that Carnival brings so many people together. I mean, it's not just Trinidadians. It's Jamaicans, it's--A lot of people seem to be invested in it. A lot of people from different islands, a lot of African Americans, you even have Whites who attend. You know, as someone was telling me, different people, slowly, more and more people are getting involved. Canadians. How do you feel about that, because I'm sure that it's a little bit different than Trinidad's Carnival, because it's in that country, and it may be different than a lot of the carnivals in the United 36:00States, because one of the things about Brooklyn is that we have so many diverse people here, and all living together, and that makes this Carnival unique, just of that one reason.
REID: My feeling on that is whether you Panamanian, Haitian, Jamaican, PuertoRican, Trinidadian, whatever your nationality, the fact is, you're still West Indian. You're still West Indian regardless. And even if you're not West Indian and you're American. We're all Black, regardless, right? So I really don't think it makes much of a difference. I really don't. I mean, in any nationality, you're going to have conflict, right? But on that particular day, we're not looking for conflict; we're just looking to have a good time, and recognize each other, and recognize each other's culture, because we have a new band. This year 37:00will probably be the second or third year. Panama, OK. They're costumes are not as elaborate as our costumes, however, it's really, really cute, and they demonstrate their culture, and they have the right to do that, and I think that's really nice. We have the truck that comes down the Parkway playing Jamaican music. They don't have on costumes, but yes, they are a part of it, because they're also West Indian. We have Americans that come down playing rap. Yes, they are a part of it, because they may not be West Indians, but they're Black, and they want to participate, and they want the festive mood. So we all tie in together as one, no matter, you know whatever your nationality may be, I think we all click as one, as Black people, whether West Indian, American, or what have you. I think we're all one in one way or the other.
KING: What kind of American influence --you have been in Trinidad's Carnival atleast semi-recently --do you see in Brooklyn's Carnival that would differentiate 38:00that with something else?
REID: From the Carnival in Trinidad?
KING: Yeah, that makes it have that American flavor.
REID: OK. The fact that we have American groups participating, the Legionnairesthat head off the Carnival. We don't have that in Trinidad. It's just strictly bands. Just strictly bands, so that's totally different. And we have a lot of floats without costumes as well. With just music. In Carnival, basically the floats you see is just costume band after costume band, because the bands are so big they have three or four trucks. So that's a big difference. That's a big, big difference. And you usually don't hear any American music or rap music that day, in Trinidad.
KING: Oh, yeah. Definitely an American influence.
REID: SO that's definitely a big thing, a big difference.
KING: OK. That's basically all I have. Let me ask you, I mean, backtrack a39:00little bit, about playing mas. What have been some of your favorite roles to play, and what kind of research have you done? When was the last time you've done it?
REID: Last year.
KING: Oh, last year. OK.
REID: Last year it was fun for me, I mean, as every year. We played Baila Baila.And that was actually an island costume. Talking like a down home island costume. It was wrapped skirts, sarong, very colorful, red, green purple, pink, different colors, and we have on a yellow top, a yellow short cropped top. Our heads were tied like the African ladies tie their heads. That was basically fun for me as a floor member, because I mean, the research that the gentlemen did, I think he was going back to the days --the slavery days when the slaves would be 40:00out in the yard, and usually when they started dancing, they'd tie their skirts up, and usually their heads were tied with a scarf, so I think that's the theme he was looking for. That was fun. And what I really remember that was really, really great was the year that I played Steel Pan Woman. That was particularly fun. I mean, it was the biggest of the biggest costumes that I've ever worn, and my hands also went into making that costume along with the designer. So it was really, really fun. I really got to see the costume develop, and see my handiwork on my costume, cutting out the different ornaments, and cutting the steel pan so we could paste it on, and putting on the gold braids around to make the shape of the steel pan. I think that was the best costume that I ever had. It was very well made, well worn, and I think I portrayed her very, very well. 41:00
KING: So it's kind of like playing a part. How did you decide how you were goingto play?
REID: OK, that type of costume that I had on, it had wheels. I mean, you reallycan't jump up, like if you're a floor member, that's a costume that you have to display very gracefully, you have to circle the stage so that the judges can see both the front and the back of your costume, see that display of this big steel band and this big flared out skirt with little steel pans around it, and do it, you know, with a miniature you're a steel pan player. So, I think that's something that you have to be very graceful with, especially when you have wheels. It's something that you can't jump up and shake up, like if you were a floor member. So I think you have to be very graceful when you have a costume with wheels.
KING: What's coming clear to me is that there's a lot of technique to it,because in one thing, you've got to make sure that you're showing off the costume, but the other time, they're also looking that you're playing the part and doing the theme. 42:00
KING: And to add some kind of artistry, so you're not just like there and this.
REID: Exactly, you have to, definitely. I mean listen, playing mas, especiallyas a King and Queen and individual, it's a show. It's all about theater. Theatrics, if you will. That's what Carnival really is, because when you go back in the history books, deciding what theme you want for your particular band, it's all a big show. It's really theatrics, but you're not on Broadway. You're on Eastern Parkway, so it's all a show, really. Some costumes you're graceful, some costumes you're just jumping up, because that's what it takes. Listen, if you're portraying a grasshopper, if you will, something in the wilderness, something wild, you're gonna jump up and have a good time because you want people to know, listen, I'm a grasshopper. I'm busy. You know, I have to jump up and really show myself as what I'm portraying. So there's a big difference in costumes.
KING: Are you going to play mas this year?
KING: So what's --
REID: Sesame Flyers. I'm playing a floor member in the moonlight lovers section.I'm playing --my colors are purple and pink. My skirt piece is shorter in the 43:00front, longer in the back. Sort of a show girl sort of costume. Cropped top, spandex, and I have this beautiful wide brimmed hat, if you will. Sort of like a show-girl Broadway sort of thing. It's really gonna be fabulous.
KING: So how do you go about finding which band you're gonna --do you work thesame band every time?
REID: Well, actually I just switched to Sesame Flyers last year. I used to playwith Randy Brewster, and I switched to Sesame Flyers. So I mean, every year you don't have to play with the same band. Maybe you go to another mas camp and see the costumes that you like, and maybe you'd play with that band. I mean, there's so many mas bands out there. There's Hawks, there's Sesame Flyers, there's Borokeete, there's Coffee boys, there's Black Creation. There's so many, I mean, and the themes are so different. You just go from mas camp to mas camp, find a 44:00location, and you decide what particular theme you like, what costume you'd like, what section you'd like to be in, and you make a payment, a down payment, and you pay for your costume and pick it up.
KING: Oh, Ok, cause I never understood I know there are people in differentbands, but how it actually worked. So the camps are there, people, you sell them for anybody. You just go and look and see what the designs are.
REID: You go look at the pictures. The pictures are on display, and you say,listen, I want to be in section number two, that's the baila baila section. They take your name, phone number, address; you give them your down payment. They have index cards with the sections, the different sections, and your name goes on that list. You pay and go pick up your costume.
KING: So by that time, by the time the camps are gearing up, the band leadersbasically has a theme. He's got it outlined, here are the sections, the costumes. So a lot of that work.
REID: For instance, this year, they know what their theme is, right? Theyalready know what their theme is, I'm sure, for next year, or they've done 45:00research. They do it years in advance. So it's not like, "Listen, oh next year is here, I wonder what I'm playing." No. They always know a year ahead of time, or maybe two years or three years ahead of time, what that other theme is going to be, cause they've done research, and they know.
KING: I've done a lot of theater, so this is really analogous to that, becausein doing your research, you do your theme, you research the whole story or whatever the thing is, you do your little act, you have your characters.
REID: Yes, and they have something that's called different sections, becauseeach different section is geared to a different theme. So there for, you break it up into sections, whether it's sections of a hundred or maybe twenty. It depends on how big your band is.
KING: What's the largest the band has been?
REID: Oh my goodness. Three to four thousand. Borokeete's alone, three to four46:00thousand, five thousand. Hawks, I mean, really.
REID: Yes. To the point where they need four and five trucks, because you haveto realize, you can't have one truck for all those people.
KING: No, no.
REID: You definitely can see you have to have three, four, or even five trucks,so you have each truck in the middle, so each section --you know where there's two or three sections ahead that have that music, so that you can dance going up Eastern Parkway.
REID: Yeah. Lots and lots of people. Thousands and thousands of people. Mm-hmm.Sometimes the bands are on stage for hours upon hours and nightfall even comes because there's so many people.
KING: That's amazing. OK, well, is there anything else you'd like to say or justhave on the record?
REID: The only thing that I really, really have to say --I mean, I don't have47:00many mentors, if you will. I have to say that my mom, I have a great deal of respect for my mom. I mean, my mom is the biggest role model. There is no other. I think my mom is the biggest role model due to her determination, her perseverance, her patience, her understanding, and just the things that she does for the community, for the West Indian community that needs help, for any community that needs help.
OK, I'll just end with saying my generation coming up, and sometime in the nearfuture having children, I hope that I do as excellent a job as my mom has done 48:00in rearing me. And that's basically all I have to say.
KING: OK. Well, thank you, Michelle, for the interview. This is now the end.
REID: Thank you.
Oral History Interview with Michelle Quamina Reid
Michelle Quamina Reid was born in Trinidad. In 1970, she immigrated to Brooklyn, New York with her mother, Joyce Quamina. Reid had participated in the Carnival in Trinidad and, at the time of this interview in 1994, was a continual participant of the West Indian American Day Carnival parade, in Brooklyn. Her involvement included active membership in the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, where her mother Joyce was the business manager.
In this interview Michelle Quamina Reid reminiscences about her participation in Carnival as a child in Trinidad and her experience of the West Indian American Carnival, in Harlem, New York. She discusses the origins of the West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn; how her mother, Joyce Quamina, became involved in the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA); and her own playing of mas. Reid was a judge for the Saturday event, the West Indian American Day Kiddies Carnival. She assisted her mother, Joyce Quamina, in registering vendors for Labor Day and in Be Aware of School, a program founded by Quamina to bring awareness to the importance of school and staying away from drugs. She provides an in-depth description of how the costumed bands of Carnival were judged. Reid contributes opinions on the importance of Carnival to the Caribbean heritage, the conflict that arose in 1994 with the religious Jewish community of Crown Heights, and how the different viewpoints of the next generation of WIADCA volunteers may affect the future of the Carnival. Interview conducted by Dwan Reece King.
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.
CitationReid, Michelle Quamina, Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, July 19, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.21; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Reid, Michelle Quamina
- West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- West Indian-American Day Carnival Association
- Caribbean Americans
- 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