West Indian Immigration and Carnival: Coming to Brooklyn

Jen Hoyer

In the summer of 2017, Brooklyn Connections was delighted to have two of our student alumni join us as interns. Over the course of seven weeks, these interns learned about archival research and chose a topic of their interest to dig into in the Brooklyn Collection. They assembled some of their findings, and we're excited to share them with you on the Brooklynology blog! This post is by Emilia Boothe.

Caribbean immigrants have been coming to New York in small but significant numbers ever since the 1960s. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (also known as the Hart-Celler Act) had a great impact on West Indian migration; it removed 1921 restrictions which had limited annual immigration to a percentage of each nationality's existing population in the United States. For many people, the changes introduced by this 1965 Act opened up new possibilities for immigration and presented an incentive for a better life. The Hart-Celler Act resulted in a great increase in the number of West Indian immigrants coming to the United States. Their culture is visually represented in neighborhoods such as Flatbush, East Flatbush, Canarsie and Crown Heights.

This chart shows a breakdown of immigrants to Brooklyn and where they migrated from, in the period of 1983 to 1986. We can see that 62% of immigrants to Brooklyn in these years came from the Caribbean.

Chart of immigrants to Brooklyn, 1983-1986
Fleury, Linda. “New Blood For The Borough.” New York Newsday, 11 Nov. 1987.


These communities host an annual carnival on Labor Day, known as the West Indian Day Parade or Carnival. Carnival is a colorful, creative and lively aspect of Caribbean culture. The Carnival is a multi-day event that includes attractions such as floats, costumes, soca and dancehall artists, and the annual steel pan competition: Panorama for adults and Junior Panorama for teens and children.

Photo of woman at West Indian Day Parade
Shabazz, Jamel. West Indian Day Parade. Brooklyn NY, 1998.
A woman posing for a picture wearing face paints, body glitter and costume.


Years ago, the costumes weren’t as ornate and grand as they are today. Face paints and body glitter were commonly used during festival time. Some parade-goers prefer to not wear costumes, but do represent their country wearing flags and masks. Other people prefer to take the more flamboyant route when it comes to costumes. Bright colors are what Carnival is all about.

Newspaper Article about 2003 Carnival, showing two girls in costure
Casimir, Leslie. “Carnival's Ready to Roll.” Daily News, 31 Aug. 2003.


In 2017, the West Indian Day Parade is on Monday, September 4, starting at 11am along Eastern Parkway from Schenectady Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. More information about the parade, and the entire carnival weekend, is available on the West Indian American Day Carnival Association website.

Emilia Boothe is a rising sophomore at George Westinghouse CTE High School. She enjoys playing video games and chatting on the phone in her spare time. When she gets older, she wants to work for a big company like Sony, Microsoft or Apple, in graphic design or computer repair.

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