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Jean Alexander

Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King

June 27, 1994

Call number: 2010.019.03

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KING: This is Dwan Reece King and today is June 27, 1994 and I'm here interviewing Jean Alexander for the West Indian Carnival Documentation Project. We're going to start with just a few basic questions about your background. Where were you born?

ALEXANDER: St. Joseph, Trinidad.

KING: And how long have you lived here in Brooklyn?

ALEXANDER: All together about twenty-six years.

KING: When was the first time that you came to the States?

ALEXANDER: In January 1963.

KING: And how long did you stay?

ALEXANDER: One year, and I came back again in 1968, and then I spent another year and came back permanently January, 1971.

KING: So when you came the first couple of times and stayed for a year were you kind of testing the waters or--

ALEXANDER: Yes. The first time I came my husband was taking a course and it was 1:00a one year course and he had never stayed away from Trinidad before and he wanted me to be with him. Otherwise he said he would fly back.

KING: Oh. Ok.

ALEXANDER: And the second time, I came myself with him and he went home and I stayed, because I really wanted to see what it was like living over here instead of just visiting, which is a far different thing. And we decided to come back in 1971 to live. We got-- we had gotten all our green cards and things like that. We came in with proper documentation, the whole family.

KING: What were your first impressions when you came here?

ALEXANDER: In '63 it was nice and clean, with something--far different from what it is now. And you hear all these stories when you don't live here, especially 2:00those days and, about America, the land of opportunity, and you thought about, you know, "I will live here and have some of that opportunity", which didn't exist in Trinidad. And it was in the back of our mind in '68 when we came back again that maybe we should move over here, because our family was just growing like crazy. I had six kids, plus four step-children, and we weren't able to make it home. I never worked in Trinidad, so it was just one salary. And over here you had much more opportunities to further you education, to get a job, and to live. Especially food stuffs were much, much more inexpensive here, than over there. And we thought it would be better to make the transition, and we did.

KING: Have other family members moved up here since then?


ALEXANDER: My sister.

KING: Your sister?

ALEXANDER: Yeah. I sponsored her when I became a citizen about eight years ago. And she's living here now with me. Not with me, but that's the only, only other relative, aside from my children and step-children, and now my grandchildren.

KING: Oh okay, okay. So when you moved up here did you go to Manhattan first or did you come straight to Brooklyn?

ALEXANDER: Manhattan.

KING: Manhattan?

ALEXANDER: Yes. We lived on Broadway and 72nd for a couple of years, then we moved to the Bronx to a larger apartment, and then we moved to Brooklyn.

KING: And you've lived there for how long?

ALEXANDER: Nineteen years.

KING: Ok. Well, let me jump back a little bit. Your childhood, when you grew up, when did you first start getting involved in Carnival?

ALEXANDER: My childhood, when I was very young I remember my father had a huge truck and every year--he was the eldest of fourteen children--and he had lots of 4:00nieces and nephews and sisters and brothers, and because he had this big truck, he would put a covering on it and at Carnival time, Monday and Tuesday in Trinidad, he would load us all on the truck, hundreds of us, he would pack together and it had these shelves on the truck and the big people would sit up under the shelves and the little ones would sit underneath and we had food and we'd go to [unintelligible] and go and stay, because he had a lot of friends who would play the mas themselves. He didn't play.

KING: Okay.

ALEXANDER: It would play "Jab Jab" and "Jabmolassi's" and "Midnight Robbers", "Sailors". So they encouraged them to go and he would take us out. That was my first involvement in Carnival. We didn't get to play Mas.

KING: You didn't want to or--?


ALEXANDER: Um, not at that early stage. No. You know, I'm East Indian, and a lot of East Indians did not participate in Carnival at that time, and especially the Hindus. My father is Catholic, and we got involved, but at a distance. The East Indian culture is-- The most religious day of the year is around Carnival.

KING: Oh, okay.

ALEXANDER: A lot of people don't understand that. They think that East Indians don't get involved in Carnival because they're Indians and it's most predominantly Trinidadian. In those days it was mostly Blacks, but that's not the reason. The Hindus, who are the majority of Indians in Trinidad, it's their most religious day. The Catholics and the Presbyterians got involved, but not as seeped in as the Blacks then. Now, I would say the last twenty years, Indians, 6:00it doesn't matter if their Hindus, Catholics or Presbyterians or whatever, they get involved in Carnival just as everybody else.

KING: Why do you think that change happened?

ALEXANDER: Because the religion has not been able to hold the younger generations together, like they did in the past.

KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: And they could grow up, and life is much more free now. Parents can't control you as much.

KING: So they do--

ALEXANDER: So they do what everyone else is doing, yeah.

KING: --what interests them.

ALEXANDER: And besides that, um, I don't know if you have any idea about Carnival in the Caribbean, especially in Trinidad. The middle class families didn't get involved as much as the lower class, because remember it was the slaves who first got on the streets and started-- and the rich people were in trucks. And so then, the middle class now, they saw Carnival not as something 7:00they would like to be involved in long ago. It was something to just watch--

KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: …As spectators. Um. When they started getting involved in Carnival they would get involved in the nice, like upon a higher bracket: the balls, the costume parties, the private parties, and so on. And then recently, in the last twenty, twenty-five years, the young, the children of those people started actually playing Mas and coming out on the streets like everybody else. I never got to play mas in Trinidad. As a matter of fact, this year, 1994, was the first year I ever played mas.

KING: Really?

ALEXANDER: And I was forced to by some friends that I was staying with.

KING: You still didn't want to?

ALEXANDER: When I came from Trinidad I didn't want because, it was, it was drummed into you-decent women don't show their bodies on the streets. And this was ironic, because that's exactly what I did. Whether I wanted to, I was forced 8:00into it by some friends who I was staying with there. Actually they rented a Mask and bought costumes for me, brought it home, and my friend said, "You have to take care of me today, because.."--and he's married, and his wife was right there--he said: "I drink and get drunk and I do all kinds of foolish things, so if you're there you're going to take care of me and make sure I don't". So, it was a line he just threw on me that I felt, you know, okay, okay, I'll put it on, but I didn't want to.

KING: So how was it?

ALEXANDER: It was good. It was tiring, but it was good.

KING: Would you do it again?

ALEXANDER: Um, maybe.

KING: Maybe? Oh that's interesting.

ALEXANDER: But I, I actually got involved in Carnival when I was about eight years old myself. I remember when I was little, where I lived in St. Joseph there is a red clay.

KING: The dirt.

ALEXANDER: And clay, you must know, it sticks together.


KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: And we have something called "old mas" in Trinidad on Monday mornings. We would make faces with dirt and put paper, newspaper or brown paper over tape and make like a frame, stick it together with flour and water.

KING: Somewhat like paper mache?

ALEXANDER: That's right. And make that face in all different-- You can represent a cow or goat, a human face, an African mask, all sorts of things. You could put horns on it, make little round pats like horns with the paper and stick it on there. Make a nose, ears, whatever and when it's dry you take it out and paint it in whatever form, with teeth, and this is the mask. So I would make masks for my little friends who lived around. And then when, I got married when I was fifteen and I would make for my children and my stepchildren. My step-children 10:00were older. And I would fill them, put on my clothes on them or their father's clothes and take the corn tassel and make hair for them or rope, the face, put on the clothes and stuff them up, [unintelligible] like the girls had hips and put a pillow on their stomach and one on their butt and give them a broom or a shoe box a doll or something. And we had bands of kids going out at four, four-thirty in the morning, going to the neighbors to sweep their yard and tell the neighbors when they come on--and a lot of dogs used to bark at that--tell the neighbors that they would be finished sweeping the yard, and the neighbors would come out and give them money, five cents or ten cents, to see. We would maybe say it's Queen Elizabeth in the cardboard box or some nice beautiful person. And the kids got involved in that way where I lived, from the time I was 11:00little to when I got married. Now these would be the poor kids--

KING: Okay.

ALEXANDER: --mostly, okay? The richer kids, their family would have them be involved in the costumes, the beautiful costumes that you would see in the kiddies' Carnival. There were two different layers of the humanity. I didn't have the money to get them dressed in the pretty clothes, so I would make them.

KING: That's interesting. I still--you know, this was the first year you've played Mas, what kind of costume did you wear?

ALEXANDER: You wouldn't want to see.


ALEXANDER: It was a bikini.

KING: Really? You must have wanted to try it maybe a little bit to get talked into it.

ALEXANDER: No. No. I didn't realize it was a bikini until they brought it home.

KING: Well you were a good trooper. We should always try everything once, I 12:00always say.

ALEXANDER: Some of the members with the organization saw me to and it was like: "What the hell are you doing?" And you had to walk miles and miles in all the streets and everybody could see you. But everybody else in the band looked the same way.

KING: Okay. So you weren't alone.


KING: So it sounds like your children got involved fairly early.

ALEXANDER: Yeah, but since we moved over here, I have not been able to get them to be involved in Carnival as much as I did at home.

KING: They're adults now?


KING: But they're just not as interested?

ALEXANDER: No, they don't live with me really. Only my son, and he's a policeman. He actually works the Labor Day Carnival beat.

KING: But doesn't--

ALEXANDER: No. The kids would come and be onlookers. I thought when my-- one of 13:00my daughters wanted to learn to play the steel band and we couldn't find a teacher for her during the daytime or the early evening would be very, very late. I think she had gone once and my husband was totally against her coming home so late. She would get home at like 11:30 in the night.

KING: Wow.

ALEXANDER: And she was very young then so, that was the end of that. That was one of the problems we had then, at least when my kids were growing up. There weren't places readily available for children early hours to teach them things like the culture, like I enjoyed. I was never allowed to learn to play steel band. I saw it all my life, because right next to where I lived, in St. Joseph had a steel band yard. As a matter of fact there Gypsum Merrill, the man who manages Gypsum Merrill's steel band. He's one of the, one of the few steel band 14:00tuners and arrangers in Trinidad and very well known. They're from like where I lived, those people, but we weren't allowed to get involved in the actual committee, because I was a girl maybe, I don't know, or they, they're the kind of people my parents--or I don't know what the reason was. But after I got married, at a young age, I, that was not priority at that point.

KING: Yeah.

ALEXANDER: Then I had children, had to take care of them, make ends meet.

KING: Yeah. So you got here in what year, refresh my memory 19--?

ALEXANDER: First time in '63.

KING: '63. Did you--so at that time Carnival was still in Harlem.

ALEXANDER: But I didn't--

KING: You didn't know about the Carnival at--?

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I didn't know about it.

KING: So when did you first know about it?

ALEXANDER: I first found out about Carnival--just about 19 years ago.

KING: Okay.

ALEXANDER: The first year I moved to Brooklyn I heard about it and I came and I 15:00looked at it and all I saw was people. And it seemed to me it was very chaotic. And being that I am from Trinidad, I would have thought Carnival would be like that, like Trinidad Carnival. And a friend of mine, who was at that time, editor with the Daily News, he introduced me to Carlos. His name is Burt Walker. He introduced me to Carlos right after the Carnival. I was already a member of the Trinidadian-Tobago Alliance, Director of Public Relations for them, and he told how it was I would be able to help him, because he knew I was could write press releases and was good with P.R.. He thought that was how I would be able to help him, and get the word out and help organize which is really what I wanted to do. I got the word out. I did all the duties of a P.R. person. I got involved in the 16:00marketing--oh gosh, so many different things, that I wasn't able to help them organize the Carnival. It wasn't only the Carnival, it was the whole, the whole structure of the organization itself, and that I couldn't handle.

KING: So were you originally a member of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, or just kind of helping out?

ALEXANDER: No, because they're like, here years, so I helped out and I became a member 18 years ago, a general member, and a few years ago I became a member of the Board of Directors.

KING: Okay. So how did things slowly change over the years? You said the first time you saw it, it was a lot of people. It was chaotic.

ALEXANDER: It's still a lot of people, colors have changed greatly. Because I was Public Relations, I was able to--and my involvement in other groups in New York, Trinidadian-Tobago Alliance particularly I found that if they, some of the 17:00members in the Alliance did not approve of how Carlos ran the Carnival. They saw Carnival as an arm of Trinidad and Tobago and what they saw here; his is what I heard from them. It did not project a positive image like they wanted to see and they did not get involved at all. As a matter of fact he would tell you that he had a hard time from them. And I started trying to bridge that little gap between the two organizations as the P.R. person for both organizations. I had a strong influence in Carlos, and Carlos, when I say Carlos, I mean as in the West Indian Carnival and the Trinidad-Tobago Alliance coming together. At one point--the West Indian Carnival was one of the Trinidad-Tobago Alliance Organization members there, 18 organizations and West Indian Carnival was one. 18:00Carlos, now he's no longer a member of the Alliance. They had a couple difficulties that he pulled back. I tried to get them together to bring a little bit more cohesion between the main Trinidadian and Tobago groups and West Indian Carnival, because I saw they stayed away from each other. And not only in terms of organization and department, but the people themselves they shunned them in the beginning. Now, now they don't do that anymore. They shun them only because they probably wanted to see a few things more like it was in Trinidad, and he didn't do it that way at that time. But now he has done, slowly, he has done a lot of those things that those people wanted to see. Not all, but a lot. He goes to their events and they come to his. A lot of them--look at Hawks, for 19:00instance, Hawks International. One of Carlos's--the man who used--he had a lot of things, negative things, to say about Carlos and the West Indian Carnival, Desmond Chase, years ago. Now he is president of Hawks International which is one of the biggest bands in Brooklyn that they started at Carnival. And they're very supportive too.

KING: That's interesting. Well you said that, I think that initially, that certain organizations, weren't happy, that Carnival was not necessarily like it was in Trinidad. How has the Carnival itself changed over the years? Is it more like the Carnival in Trinidad? Is it distinctive here in Brooklyn?

ALEXANDER: It is distinctive, but initially when the Carnival began it actually, it is patterned after Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival. The nights of the shows behind the Brooklyn Museum. It's just like the pre-Carnival activities in 20:00Trinidad. And then you have the march on the street. It's not really a march, it's a dance really. That is Trinidad and Tobago's input in Carnival. Plus all the artists who perform. Most of them are from Trinidad and Tobago, the best artists, because we, the community, many Trinidad and Tobago members would go down to Trinidad and Tobago every year for Carnival and then we come back here. We, the organization members, see who is performing there, and we bring, we sign them up to come here and perform for Labor Day. Some other island kings and queens get to perform too, but not as much as Trinidad and Tobago artists. A little bit more of that should be done.

KING: How has that changed, a little bit, because I now there are certain nights; there's a Reggae night now, and there are events for Haitians and involving people from other islands.


ALEXANDER: Yes, we tried with the Haitian night. It didn't work like we would have liked

KING: How did that not work?

ALEXANDER: We didn't get the support of the Haitian community. The Haitian community is quite large. We actually reached out to them, but maybe we didn't do it the right way. Um. The Haitian people are close-knit, but they don't speak English and we can't communicate with them as much. Maybe that's, the communication between the two groups of people has a lot to do with that. Not, not only Haitians, you know would, but anyone who speaks foreign languages. Its, the communication of how you get over what it is you want to them. The end result is very difficult. I can't speak Creole and neither can anybody in the organization. So we would have had to have somebody who could speak Creole who 22:00would have had to get their media involved. They have their own newspapers and radio stations and all that there. Their community network is a lot different from ours, and when I say "ours" --the English-speaking and Caribbean. And we weren't able to get to them to make them understand what we were having, and how it would be put over to them to make them feel involved enough to come and participate. I think that had a lot to do with the failure of that part of it. Besides that Carlos, I know he has, over the years, lots of different communities have been involved. And when I say communities, we had the Brazilian aspect of it. We had the Spanish aspect of it--not enough, but still we tried. And when if it's not successful he would just not do it the next couple years.


ALEXANDER: But mostly Trinidad and Tobago has carried the Carnival.


KING: Okay. Do you see--

ALEXANDER: In terms of the people who work in the organization, in terms of the people who attend the shows, in terms the artists. This shouldn't be so. This should be a little bit more spread out over the Caribbean. I think, um, maybe very soon that will happen. It is there, but it's not as much--

KING: Not as much as you think it should be or could be? So you think most people who do attend Carnival are from Trinidad? I mean it's a large number of people--

ALEXANDER: Not on the streets, I'm not talking about in the streets --at the back of the museum.

KING: --playing in the band in the back of the museums. What about on the streets, what's your sense, do you have an idea of who's there?

ALEXANDER: On the streets, I would say the majority of the people who actually are in costumes and the band leaders are from Trinidad and Tobago.

KING: Okay.

ALEXANDER: Okay? Now the spectators, they are a mixture of everybody you could 24:00find from wherever.

KING: Do they come; now I know people come just to Brooklyn from places outside the country.

ALEXANDER: They come from all over the world. They come from all over the world and this is no lie.

KING: Do you think you get a large number of people from New York itself?

ALEXANDER: Yes, oh yes, definitely. We have a large number of people who come from your Black Americans, White Americans, other Caribbean people who come. You know being a public relations person you get to hear a lot of the complaints, as well as the praises. Some of the complaints I have gotten all over the years until very, very recently that, the crowds. The place is so crowded. Imagine having three million, two and a half million, two million people on what is it 25:00about 30, 35 blocks. That's a lot, a lot of people and a lot of people just can't stand the crowds. They would like to see it a little bit more spaced out. But we have not gotten to that stage yet. They would say to me: "How come you have mostly artists from Trinidad and Tobago? Why don't you have other islands?" And I would like to see that. And I think that will come. Somehow or other we have to get that in there. One of the aspects of that is the Reggae Night--

KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: --we had Bob Marley. The last place Bob Marley performed publicly was there at the Museum. He was a guest artist.

KING: Oh I didn't realize that.

ALEXANDER: That's right. I was there. I saw his long stretch limousine come in, Bob Marley came out. He was the guest artist.


KING: You see, so Reggae Night has a following.

ALEXANDER: Reggae? Oh yes. We recognized that Reggae Night had a following very early in the game, and We were--this was one way we brought in the Jamaican community. Now the Jamaica didn't have Carnival like Trinidad and Tobago all their lives. They had, I'm not sure what they call their celebration, but Reggae is Jamaica. Everybody knows that. And to get the Jamaican community involved in the Carnival we brought the Reggae aspect of it in on the Friday night. This has been probably, I'm not sure if its ten years, I didn't check the record, but it's been quite a number of years. Almost all the artists that had been performing in New York for the last ten years or so, good reggae artists have 27:00performed in the back of the Museum for us. And now Jamaica itself has Carnival and it is Trinidad and Tobago who were asked to come into Jamaica and make the costumes and help them sponsor the Carnival in lots of different ways. It's not something that Jamaica naturally did.

KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: Trinidad and Tobago themselves were the ones who went there, were asked by Byron Lee in there, to come and put on the carnival or them. And now the Jamaican people is beginning to be much more involved and understanding about Carnival.

KING: Okay. One of the interesting things I think, and I think lots of people recognize this, is that the Carnival here in Brooklyn has the opportunity to bring so many people from so many different islands together, which I think is symbolic of what a lot of people are expressing to you like "Why don't you have this for us or this that represents this community"--

ALEXANDER: --So that we would feel part of it too.

KING: Yeah, I mean because it's the one--if you're going to the Caribbean you 28:00have this island here and this island here and everyone is following their own cultural traditions. But here in Brooklyn, you have such a wide diversity of groups here.

ALEXANDER: They come. They come, but most of them come as spectators.

KING: As spectators.

ALEXANDER: Yes, but we would like to see them get--and it's not that they're not getting involved, now I am sure Joyce probably mentioned this to you and if she hasn't, I think she definitely knows and Carlos knows too --we have lots more non-Trinidad and Tobago people playing Mas than we ever did.

KING: Really?

ALEXANDER: Yeah. We have lots of people, little kids from Barbados and Grenada, Jamaica, I'm sure other islands, and Native--not Native Americans but Black Americans and some White Americans too, but that was not the case many years ago.

KING: --when it just started out.


KING: So maybe people are becoming more familiar with the traditions and learning how to play.

ALEXANDER: People are becoming much more familiar with it. It's enjoyable. Anything that's enjoyable would catch on. Anything at all: music, food, dance, 29:00whatever it is. If you go to a dance and you look at people dancing and you would get up and want to dance too, but if you see everybody being bored and suddenly, I mean what's there, right?

KING: Right. Let me ask you this question--What does--and its interesting your background seeing that you didn't play mas when you were growing up and you got your children involved--, but what does Carnival mean to you? I mean, because you're very involved in it here.

ALEXANDER: Carnival is an expression of my cultural heritage. And because I am not in Trinidad everyday, wherever I go I want have that feeling. It's--you have no idea the joy and the satisfaction that we who are involved in Carnival get from it. And I have been involved in lots of different kinds of culture, but Carnival 30:00itself, and Caribbean culture, to me it's the most vibrant, it's the most invigorating feeling that you can have. I worked on Broadway for about twelve years. I was in charge of [unintelligible] I was able to see cultural shows all over the world when it came to New York. I've seen every single play in New York. I could have seen almost everything that came to the Garden and Town Hall, at Radio City. But I got the most satisfaction from seeing Carnival whether it was Carnival in New York, Carnival in Trinidad, in Miami, in Montreal, in Toronto. I've never gone to London. It's a bad time.

KING: The timing's always off.

ALEXANDER: Yes. But that feeling I never got from anything else. I've seen all the Indian shows that come out of India and Pakistan and come to New York. I get to see them. So I have the involvement in culture from lots of different areas. 31:00Not only American culture and Indian culture, but Caribbean culture. And I can tell the difference in the way I see when I attend them. I can see the areas that we, the Caribbean community, is lacking in the way we portray our culture, but I can also see the good side of it. I would like to see the level of performance and artistry and professionalism come up to the other people who come here, because I have seen how they portray their acts at--whether it's the Garden or Carnegie Hall or Radio City and I would like to see ours get to that level too, but I have no idea how long it's going to take. I hope it comes about.

KING: What do you think about--because I've noticed in meeting with various members of WIADCA that there's this interest in passing on the legacy and making sure the tradition continues. I had a -- a couple of weeks ago I met someone 32:00who's from Trinidad and she made a comment to me. She said she doesn't bother to go to Carnival here because it's just not the same it is at home, so why bother. Are you--?

ALEXANDER: That's ah--

KING: It just can't compare. So, and you know this is someone who's a younger person and--

ALEXANDER: I wouldn't say it can't compare. I would say to her-- you know if she feels that um, it's not of the level that she would like, she should join here and try to make it come up to that--that's the reason I joined. And the legacy, the opportunity to pass on the cultural heritage, this is what the whole world is made out of. I mean if the, whether it was the people from--it's what--Carnival started--not the same as what we know now, but--centuries before Christ. In Egypt it was taken out of Egypt and taken to Rome, and then from Rome to Europe, and then from Europe it was brought to the Caribbean by the French. 33:00If these people didn't hold onto what they knew, how would we have what we have now? And if we don't hold on to what we have now and teach the younger generations, how would they ever know what Carnival is? And what their cultural heritage is? It's extremely important. And if she would have--if she would think really, even if the Carnival is not like what she knew in Trinidad, she should help make it be a little bit better and come along to what she would want.

KING: Are younger people getting involved?

ALEXANDER: Yes, yes. Now that we have Kiddie's Carnival on the streets, many more, I mean hundreds of thousands of people, if they're not actually getting involved in terms of being a part of the masqueraders, the young masqueraders, they look on and they see and the next year they want to play.

KING: And what about on the business end of it, and trying to keep that going?

ALEXANDER: The business end of it, I think a lot of big corporations. And this 34:00has many aspects--the reason this is so. Many of the big corporations whose products we use, like the liquor, the services, the stores-- everything that we would need; the food, all these different areas of Carnival; the costumes, the different fabrics and all that; the people who own the mills, the fabric mills, the people who own the big corporations don't come to Carnival. It is summer time. It's the last part of summer they actually, most of them are away out of the country.

KING: Um-hm.

ALEXANDER: The big media people, they're not looking to see what's going on in Brooklyn on that day. They are away, maybe playing golf or vacationing or something. These people are the ones who should know what Carnival what is going 35:00on in Brooklyn. They don't know. Their underlings maybe they--topics like this. They also are not in New York. They don't see it. And this Carnival is not on the media now that all television stations. They don't get the opportunity to see what Carnival is. It's the people who live here and who visit from outside of New York City and other states who see what Carnival is. You know, you have, we have to get, those top people up there, the owners of all these big corporations to recognize what Carnival is really, to see that their products are being utilized by us. When we get that to happen, then Carnival will go somewhere. It has begun to get a little bit more attention than it did 20 years ago. I remember when I first got involved in public relations, I asked a lot of the top media why they didn't have Carnival on television, because, I got all 36:00kind of stupid kind of excuses. "That's Brooklyn" and "It's holiday time" and "People aren't watching T.V." and "People are out of the country", all sorts of excuses. But I think really, deep inside of somebody's mind, it was that it was a Black event and they didn't care. It's not only a Black event. It's an event that utilizes millions of dollars of products that these people make, and they make money from us. And once they get to recognize that then we will be able to do something much much better than we do now.

KING: It always strikes me as strange that the number of people who come to attend Carnival and the amount of coverage that you see locally, you wouldn't 37:00know it. I mean if you're outside you wouldn't know that it's there. And you know there are all kinds of other events that get news coverage and it seems like such the topic to be interested in for a lot of organizations and newspapers and why it's still not recognized or acknowledged to it's full extent. I don't know what the answer is but it does strike me as slightly curious.

ALEXANDER: I realized in Canada, we go to the Toronto Carnival every year, the Toronto Carnival is the same age as New York's, by the way. We go there and the government has a station on television that actually they position themselves for a number of hours at a certain point where I think they judge the costumes. And that is being directed to all the homes whether there's two hours or three hours. Now this particular station is partly funded by the government, so they are allowed to do that. I brought this up with Bill Fyffe from ABC a number of 38:00years ago. And we met with them you know, I told them about what goes on in Canada and he told me well you know "Let's talk". We had a number of meetings that came out of that talk. They actually hosted a reception for us at the Lighthouse Restaurant. And I put over my proposal to them. What came out of it is that day, there were a number of different shows that nationwide on ABC and they couldn't have both shows, they couldn't-- If they found sponsors, well you know what kind of sponsors we're talking about-millions and millions of dollars--

KING: Right, right.

ALEXANDER: --for a couple of minutes that would cost. Now this would be a couple of minutes only. But out of that did come a segment that ABC did a few years ago on the Parkway early in the morning and they followed up with New York News on 39:00Saturday night, you know about 7:00?

KING: Okay

ALEXANDER: A few years ago they did the documentary that came, came out directly from that meeting I had with Bill Seuss.

KING: Oh, now when was this--a couple of years ago?

ALEXANDER: Probably four years ago.

KING: Four years ago?

ALEXANDER: Yeah, I'm sure Carlos has a copy of that tape. But they actually went around to the neighborhood before Labor Day and got a whole bit of the background and the building and the costumes and interviewed the store owners and all that and then they finished it with the back of the museum, the four nights. And it was condensed nicely into a half-hour segment. But that grew out of that initial talk I had with Bill Fyffe on why couldn't ABC do something like this that Canada had.

KING: Things are always much harder to do in the United States. I must say that. There's so much bureaucracy and money and politics.


ALEXANDER: Money and politics, but as I said, if these people Were finally able to know what was happening behind the scenes in Brooklyn on Labor Day and prior to Labor Day, recognize the kind of money that is being spent by Caribbean people. You know we have weeks and weeks of pre-Labor Day shows in Brooklyn that utilizes so much soft drinks, the beer, the alcohol, the cigarettes, the food

KING: Umhm.

ALEXANDER: I mean somebody's consumed it. Some millions of people all over the few weeks. If it was-- if they didn't have Labor Day in Brooklyn, there wouldn't be all the pre-Labor Day festivals at the Labor Day fest that utilizes all these products and services. These people wouldn't make that amount of money.

KING: We talked about media support and recognition and acknowledgement. What about political support and involvement?


ALEXANDER: [Laughs] Political involvement has been there always. We could see all the politicians from the time I knew myself getting involved in Labor Day I have seen all the politicians who are in New York, they come. You don't even invite them. They come. Now we have this, a little higher plane. I don't think Governor Carrey ever came to Labor Day, but Governor Cuomo has been coming for three years now. The mayors always come. Whether it was Dinkins-the people loved Dinkins like crazy.

KING: Is this mayor going to come?

ALEXANDER: I'm sure he's going to be there. That's a definite. I think he recognizes now, not only him, but I think all the politicians and that is one of the advancements of Labor Day Carnival. Politicians have recognized the work of these millions of people. I'm sure they 42:00all look at it and say well it if these people could vote, we would be in heaven. I mean a lot of them could vote. A lot of them have become citizens like myself. A lot of them are not yet citizens. A lot of them are--we are trying to them to understand that, the use of becoming a citizen. Not only that you could vote, but you could participate in so many other different aspects of the policy-making of the government.

KING: Let me ask you this, because a question just popped into my mind. Is the Carnival here in Brooklyn different than the one in Trinidad? This is the sense I'm getting and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but there's --the politics at stake, there's empowerment, there's you know, recognition of the economic power of this community. I think when I went to Dimanche Gras show last year you know, there were people giving out leaflets about voting, things like that. It's also, 43:00it looks like an opportunity to establish the Caribbean presence in New York City--


KING: --and that it's a force to be reckoned with. Now in Trinidad, is it more just the cultural statement or do you see those same activities?

ALEXANDER: It's more of a cultural statement. In Trinidad and Tobago we have had Carnival almost 200 years now. All the politicians play mas.

KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: The whole country plays mas, so nobody--

KING: It's part of the culture.

ALEXANDER: I mean it's-- here, it's just as common as Christmas. I mean nobody needs to take the opportunity to make a political statement because it's the whole country's involvement. Here we don't feel as much as part of the whole country's involvement. We are here as a separate group. And just by coming together, these millions of people--we don't take it as a political statement, but the politicians take it as a political opportunity. When Carnival, and I 44:00think this is one of the reasons Carnival has not developed and has become organized as it should, it's because the people who were involved in Carnival came from Trinidad, or wherever they came from, some of the other islands, it was a cultural statement. They didn't do it because they wanted to make an impression on somebody. It's something they wanted to--just an extension of their culture. So that is a drawback in a sense, because if you don't do something with a direct positive focus other than just enjoying yourself. Like you go to a party, you go to a party to enjoy yourself. You don't always go to a party, some people do, you don't always go to a party to meet a politician or a perspective mate or something. You go to enjoy yourself. It's almost the same thing transferred.

KING: So I don't think in that sense-- that that would make--


ALEXANDER: Over here we have that political impact. Because there's the potential for great political impact and we don't have that in the Caribbean, especially Trinidadian people, where you know what the whole Structure of the economy is.

KING: Because in a sense, that could pretty much dictate how Brooklyn's Carnival develops. I mean it's--.

ALEXANDER: And that shouldn't be you know. It's --it is good that politics don't get a rooted foothold in Carnival, because then every four years or whatever it is, the politicians change, City Hall might be a new mayor every four years, so if you made it a political connection there, the strings that I can you imagine the chaos?

KING: Yeah. I guess I'm also using the term 'political' very loosely, in that it's also empowerment--

ALEXANDER: It's an opportunity that a lot of the politicians get to meet and see people, to greet them, get the people to see who their political representatives 46:00are. That being so, the community should gain from it. Not that the community sees these politicians once a year, because that's exactly what is happening. This is the first year things are going to be a little bit different because the Governor ordered the Crown Height's situation so the multitude of Caribbean people plus some of the problems that we face and there's now something--a temporary Office of the Caribbean Comprehensive Center--which is a direct input of the Governor and his office, but this is not-- This has not been going on a long time. This is just recently. But that's not enough. That's like putting a Band-Aid on a, a huge deep cut.

KING: Right, it's just a temporary measure. It's not really going to solve it.

ALEXANDER: Not at all.

KING: What kind of things do you see that Carnival could do to serve the 47:00Caribbean community in the future. Or what changes do you see happening?

ALEXANDER: Changes for the Caribbean community in general?

KING: Or for Carnival itself based, you know, rooted in the Caribbean community that's here.

ALEXANDER: I see Carnival getting more and more involved with the people from different countries, including Americans, black and white and yellow, whatever color they come in, because we have been getting involved with people calling us from Germany, from Japan, from all over the world and if these peoples and their own ethnic groups are here and they know that their media people or their government is being involved in some way, whether it's just visiting, they would come out and be spectators maybe a few years--


[Interview interrupted.]

ALEXANDER: --Carnival also being of course to bring the Caribbean communities together. It's a time when people look forward to seeing their friends their relatives. I'm sure their relatives who visit from out of the country, relative who live within the different U.S. States. It's also a political opportunity, as well as an economic opportunity.

KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: There are lots of different things that can happen. Carnival could become more streamlined. Maybe we need many more blocks. I don't know, to ease that congestion on the Parkway. I see Carnival getting much more support from the Government, because once we can document to the Government how much money.


KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: How much taxes. Do you think the Government, the New York City Government pays one point or one million dollars in police salaries for Labor Day for nothing? I am sure they know that they make many more times that, but if we can find a way to document exactly how much money--and we can tell them that you made 20 million dollars off of the Carnival and all the activities for one week or a week and a half, then we would be able to bargain for much more, and that they will feel that they have--it's a duty. Part of what we are doing is part of helping the city. Carnival could also be a year-round business, teaching people how to make the steel bands and the costumes.

KING: Now that's happening separately right now.

ALEXANDER: Yes, that's where the economic involvement could become much more--a 50:00larger area of the Caribbean community can be actually involved in this costume-making activity. Not only the costume-making, but the dances, all different aspects that would flow out into Labor Day Carnival, and these could be little cottage industry during the year, providing jobs, providing training. The Government would actually get to see how this is benefiting the community and keep them together, get them involved instead of being hanging out; being there on the streets hanging or out doing bad things, whether selling drugs. If people have things to do they won't be out there selling drugs.

KING: Let me ask you another question. You talked a little bit about Toronto, but how does Toronto's Carnival or Brooklyn's Carnival differ and what things are similar? You, you attend Toronto regularly?

ALEXANDER: Toronto, yes.


KING: Regularly?

ALEXANDER: As a matter of fact I was in Toronto in 1968 when the Carnival started.

KING: So they started the same year this--Brooklyn's started which was in Harlem.

ALEXANDER: Yes. Brooklyn started. The few--I'm not sure which--wait a minute--Brooklyn Carnival is September--theirs is the end of July. The same year, but a few months, a month or two months--you know-- difference.

KING: A month--

ALEXANDER: Yeah. Their Carnival has government support.

KING: Has it always?

ALEXANDER: No, not from day one, but the Government finally recognized that-- Now most of the people that go to Carnival in Toronto they stay at hotels. They don't have--all Trinidadians in New York don't have relatives in Canada, so therefore we would stay at hotels. I have stayed at hotels lots of times. I have relatives too, but if I carried friends from here, I would stay at the hotel. So the hotels began to see that they are filled around the Carnival period and they 52:00started coming together. Now the hotels have the own little industry over there. All the guest houses are filled, not only with Trinidadians, but New Yorkers coming over there and other states. If you drive up to Toronto Carnival, you would see at different toll booths, you would see New York--not only New York, but U.S. State license plates from all over the United States going over there for their Carnival. And not only that, they have a very easy way of measuring all the US money that the banks change. We have to change our currency when we go there. So this is a way that they keep track of how much money comes into the city. The restaurants, the rails, the car companies, the bus companies, not to 53:00mention the actual costume; the fabric store that sells all these costumes, the wine, the beer, the liquor, all these. These are big companies that make money, so they have an easier way of tracking how much comes into their country than we have of tracking ours. We use the same currency here. The whole United States uses the same green bill. There's no way except if you were to ask each person "Did you come here for Carnival?" or have a coupon system, or something, but there's no 100 percent fool-proof way of finding out how much money is spent here, because of Labor Day Carnival. You can track it through the airlines or the rental cars or the bus companies or some of the visitors who would tell you if you conducted a survey, but the majority--you won't be able to get it.


KING: Let me ask--this is a question I'd asked a couple of weeks ago and you alluded to it--where do people actually stay when they come for Brooklyn's Carnival?

ALEXANDER: Most people stay with relatives, most people. Remember we have to carry--

KING: Because we're talking about a large group of people, I mean this is the largest group of people outside the Caribbean here in New York, so--

ALEXANDER: A lot of them have families that have homes or apartments and they stay with, but some people stay in hotels. Now, they stay in hotels. I don't know how many stay in hotels in Manhattan. We don't have that many hotels in Brooklyn.

KING: Right.

ALEXANDER: So there's not that over-flow for the hotel industry to get involved. If we would make Carnival on a different level that we can market it as a part of tourism. But that is light-years away.

KING: Would you really want to do that? I mean, wouldn't it change the essence 55:00of Carnival?

ALEXANDER: Yes. It is surely going to have to change if it would become a tourism part and I don't think that's the best thing for it.

KING: I mean so many times things like this you start to juggle between the integrity of the original event or performance, what have you --this goes across the board-versus supporting it and making sure you have the income to keep it going and readjusting, constantly readjusting, I mean is it safe to say that Carnival is doing well right now?

ALEXANDER: I guess you could say it's doing well. It could be a little better. It doesn't have to go to Manhattan or we don't have to have the sort of hotel industry in Manhattan. Maybe we can have some more hotels in Brooklyn, but what would you do with the hotels other than Labor Day? I mean you have to look at it in the long distance.


KING: Well we don't have a lot of hotels period.

ALEXANDER: Yes. And there's no sense just building hotels, just to accommodate tourists or visitors or relatives for Carnival time.

KING: But you also think, you know the consequences if you bring in more people, then the complaint that people have that it's too crowded and you've got to find more space, and negotiate space or who lives where, and it's very; there's kind of a domino effect.

ALEXANDER: A lot of people hope that--the hotel industry and others in the tourism business have suggested that the Carnival be moved to Manhattan, because there it would be easy for the tourists who come in who stay in Manhattan to see the Carnival and be part of it. I think that would be a disaster.

KING: Why?

ALEXANDER: It's no longer going to be a Carnival. It's going to end up being a parade. And Carnival could never be a parade. This could never be the Irish Day Parade or whatever kind of parade. There's no marching in Carnival. There's 57:00dancing. There's, you know, people like to stop and display their costumes for their friends and relatives and for the judges to see. How could you do that in a march?

KING: How would you explain, if I were just someone coming off the street or from another state, how would you explain to me the difference between Carnival and a parade?

ALEXANDER: I would tell you first, now the word "Carnival", a lot of people have this image in their head of Carnival as clowns and rides and all that. This is not it. This is not a Mardi Gras. Really, it is something that you could find-- It resembles New Orleans' Mardi Gras. It resembles Rio's Mardi Gras. But we in Trinidad call it Carnival. It's a time of dancing on the streets to nice, 58:00scintillating music. That music, if you just stand there, it would seep into your body and make you dance. It would make you move. I don't think I have ever seen anybody who actually was standing close to nice Calypso music and who didn't move. Even recently, Commissioner, what was his name?

KING: Kelly?

ALEXANDER: Commissioner Kelly. I was standing near to Kelly and when the music passed him, I saw him moving. He didn't move as much as um, he could have, because he was Commissioner of Police. So this is, this is just one example. Nobody at all and really be close to Carnival and not move and dance, and if you have on a costume you want to show what you can do in this costume, you can, there is something called "dance the costume". How could you march? It's 59:00different. It's not a parade. It's a parade in the sense that you parade in your costume if you're a masquerader, but it's not a parade in the sense that you would be marching to any kind of formation.

KING: Right. Is there anything to it--a part of Carnival being part of Brooklyn's identity and vice versa?

ALEXANDER: Oh yes, definitely.

KING: I mean if you transplanted it in Manhattan--

ALEXANDER: No, it's not going to be the same. It is part of Brooklyn. Carnival on the Parkway, it overflows into the peoples' yards. It overflows on all those streets, all those service roads, into the people's yards. A lot of the people who live on Eastern Parkway are Caribbean people, who live off the Parkway, Caribbean people who are actually having a nice "fete" with music and food and friends, having a nice party in their backyards, and then they would walk over 60:00to the Parkway to see the costumes, and the Masqueraders and their relatives and friends. You wouldn't be able to do that if you moved it to Manhattan or anyplace else.

KING: Because the heart of the community is here.

ALEXANDER: Are involved in it.

KING: They are involved it.


KING: To transplant it, even just to another borough--

ALEXANDER: No way. The other boroughs they want to have their own, but not the kind to go moving out of Brooklyn into another borough.

KING: Has there been any thoughts along those lines about other boroughs? Like, I know there's something that goes on in Manhattan. Oh it escapes me.

ALEXANDER: The Caribbean Cultural--

KING: Yeah, right.

ALEXANDER: But that's not on the streets. That is in the park in Lincoln Center, somewhere around there. Somewhere in mid-Manhattan. It's Marta Vega's--

KING: Yeah, right. Okay. Well, I've asked a lot of questions and you've been 61:00telling me quite a bit. Do you have anything else that you want to say or express?

ALEXANDER: Other than um--somehow or other we, the organization, West Indian American Day Carnival members, I hope that there's some way that the membership can be trained in terms of understanding the worth of having a professionally run entity who sponsors the Carnival. That it is going to be a year round business of organizing the Carnival, of all pieces, just like an ordinary business, whether that business is Merrill Lynch or whoever it might be, have it organized in a business fashion, you know, the first day in January you are 62:00going to be doing so and so. You know that the day after Labor Day Carnival or for a few weeks you will be involved in the collection of funds that was not collected, have a staff who would be doing certain things, have different departments. That is something I would love to see happening one day.

KING: Well hopefully it will.

ALEXANDER: I hope--out of this might be the beginning.

KING: Well it's a start, I mean sort of documenting everything. It's always the first step. Do you do anymore mask making with your grandchildren or anything like that that you did as a child?

ALEXANDER: No, I don't have the time, but being involved in Labor Day, my children, my own children grew up, actually, I think they resented me being involved in Labor Day.


ALEXANDER: They told me that when they grew up.


KING: Really?

ALEXANDER: Yes, because I was always away at meetings late into the night. I was never there to help them do their homework, because I would be, after work I would be going to Mr. Lezama's house or to the meeting areas whether the Trinidad-Tobago Alliance or Labor Day Carnival, and I was never home in the evenings and they resented me not being home, because my cultural involvement took me away from home.

KING: Does that have anything to do with maybe they're not wanting to participate in Carnival as much, or is it more so maybe because their formative years, for the most part, were here.

ALEXANDER: --here. Yeah, yeah.

KING: So, it probably is different values--

ALEXANDER: I didn't bring them with me because it's hard to be carrying kids along with you when you go to all these meetings and are involved in things. And a lot of people I know recently--a few of the members of Labor Day Carnival, particularly Dr. Stanislaus, who have known me long before I got involved in 64:00Carnival told me he didn't even know I had children.

KING: Wow. And you had six of them and four step children.

ALEXANDER: Yeah. They saw my son when he was grown up and they were quite shocked.

KING: Wow. Do your kids go back to Trinidad at all?


KING: Would you like to see them more involved, I mean as far like the cultural heritage--?

ALEXANDER: Sure I would like to see them much more involved than they are, but they all have their own families, they don't live in New York City, some of them, some, one lives in Florida, one live in Cherry Hill, another one live in Teaneck. It's hard for them to become involved in what's going on in Brooklyn.

KING: Oh yeah, well they're not necessarily here. But it also seems to me that, people who are involved, you really have a strong commitment to it, because, you 65:00know, you're working regular jobs and then you know, if your part of the WIADCA, you're doing that, or if you're a band leader, you're doing so many other things because this is so important to you, or if your making costumes or--

ALEXANDER: And nobody's paying you to do these things.

KING: Exactly, it's because it's a labor of love. It's part of who you are, so it's something that's important for you to do.

ALEXANDER: I have gotten much of the satisfaction that I have over the years out of being involved in cultural activities, whether it was the Labor Day Carnival or the Caribbean-American Center. The Caribbean American Center and me didn't just start six years ago, that started 20 years ago. We would meet in different people's homes. A woman by the name of Leona Barnsley, who lived in Fred Samuel's home; Fred Samuel died now, he was one of the politicians in 66:00Harlem. I got involved with this woman, going out for Charlie Rangel. We tried to get people to vote for him, and knocking on doors and for Charlie Rangel, Bill Patterson, Percy Sutton. All those people I've known for over twenty years. me, being involved in…I used to be much more involved in politics, but then I got involved in culture and community and my political involvement kind of waned. When Jimmy Carter ran, I was on the hospitality committee, meeting people at the airports, the delegates and all that. That's why my kids resent me not being home. If I wasn't involved in West Indian Carnival or the Trinidad-Tobago Alliance or some political party, or having to go to fund raising or give out fliers. But those are the things gave me more enjoyment than 67:00the jobs that I got paid for. And that's why I did it and I left my job at the Daily News to come and work at the Caribbean Center, because it gave me a little bit more freedom to do for Mr. Lezama and West Indian Carnival what I couldn't do while I was on the job. When I started putting that project together, with Bill Fyffe at ABC, I was working with the Daily News, and my boss had call me because the phone would ring, the phone number that I gave as contact was his line. I didn't have my own phone. And one day he told me, "Say you know something, maybe you should sit in this office", and I-- he was laughing, but I knew he didn't --it wasn't a joke. So I recognized a long time that I would have to have a little more freedom to deal with what I like doing.


KING: Can you tell me, just briefly, a little bit about what you do with the Caribbean-American Center?

ALEXANDER: The Caribbean-American Center is a non-profit community organization. We serve the five boroughs of New York and the other areas with free services and job training, employment, educational opportunities, whether it's people trying to get a GED or college education, I have people fill out forms for food stamps, college applications, housing applications--I'm a paralegal. I do free immigration counseling. Right now I am almost at the end of the Visa lottery.

KING: Right, you told me about that.

ALEXANDER: And, people ask me for every kind of information you can think of--government agencies, the Consulates, the tourist boards, the Ambassador's Offices, people who need a hall to have an event call us and ask us whether they 69:00need a steel band or something, or we would direct them. If they need costumes to put at an event, they would call us. You name it, people ask. Sometimes I think I'm an encyclopedia.

KING: Sounds like you're a great resource person for that, too. So you're working primarily with a lot of newer immigrants as well?


KING: Are you seeing a lot of people coming into the community?

ALEXANDER: A lot of community people are people who have been here, and they're not aware of the services that are there. A lot of people just don't know how to go about looking for a job. What they need to have in hand before they look for a job. They don't know how to prepare resumes. There are some people in the Caribbean, you don't have as many different aspects of social life here as you have over there, whether it's Jamaica, or Trinidad, or Barbados or wherever. They-- people call the Caribbean Center. One woman called me a few days ago. She 70:00said, she called one of the radio stations, I think it was KISS, for something and they directed her to the Caribbean Center. So it's not only predominantly Caribbean radio stations and the media who know about us; other people, other main stream people.

KING: Well if they don't know the answer where to go, maybe you will, that kind of thing. Hopefully you will.

ALEXANDER: Or when I don't know, then I direct them to other people.

KING: Right. So this can also be a resource for people like, you know if they're newly arrived and they don't feel very comfortable, what resources, what cultural resources, what communities should they live in to feel at home. I'm sure Carnival could be one of those things; to at least have something to--

ALEXANDER: Oh yes. People have been calling me about Carnival. I tell you--I don't know where people haven't called me from. Even the convention centers right here in New York, they call. The Times, the Daily News, the Post--

KING: They call you.

ALEXANDER: All the newspapers call me…

KING: --not necessarily, well okay--


ALEXANDER: --because they know I am public relations over all these years. I mean, a guy from the Post called me last year about a few days before Labor Day. His name was Donald McDonald. He said "Jean, where's the news release for this year?" I had forgotten, because the Post was going through their reorganizing problems and I didn't send it, and he said "You send it every year" and he's calling me asking me where is this release?

KING: Because you've got those regular contacts.

ALEXANDER: And the Post, you know, they're not known for community involvement. So--but I like doing it.

KING: I can tell, I can tell. And I wish you all the luck.

ALEXANDER: I wish I could do more.

KING: Well it sounds like you're doing quite a bit. Well I think we'll wrap up this portion of the interview today, and hopefully some day after I get a chance to listen to everything you'll be willing to let me talk to you again and ask more probing questions about a lot of the things you talked about today, if 72:00that's okay with you.

ALEXANDER: I hope you can understand half of what I said, because I know that I speak fast.

KING: Oh, pretty much. This is a good microphone. But this concludes the interview. Thank you very much.

ALEXANDER: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Read All

Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Jean Alexander

Jean Alexander was born and raised in St. Joseph, Trinidad. She is of East Indian descent. Married at fifteen, she traveled with her husband and children twice to the United States in 1963 and 1968 before permanently immigrating in 1971. The family moved to Brooklyn in 1975. Alexander is a long-standing member of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) and was the public relations officer for the Caribbean-American Center.

In the interview, Jean Alexander discusses the role that class played in how one participated in Carnival in Trinidad. Introduced to the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA) in 1974, she soon became involved in the organization as its public relations director, a position she still held in 1994 at the time of the interview. She reflects on the experience of Carnival and considers the economic resources the Carnival annually brings to New York City. She notes that the contributions of the Caribbean community have not been fully acknowledged by the government or the media. Alexander suggests that WIADCA should be a year round institution that can serve the community; providing resources for job training and employment and addressing the need of the organization to involve more people from other Caribbean islands. She also discusses the cultural conflicts that have occurred among organizers and finishes with a description of the activities and services provided by the non-profit Caribbean-American Center, of which WIADCA was an affiliate. 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.


Alexander, Jean, Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, June 27, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.03; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Alexander, Jean
  • Lezama, Carlos
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
  • West Indian-American Day Carnival Association


  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Ethnic identity
  • Music
  • Trinidadian Americans
  • Trinidadians


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Toronto (Ont.)
  • Trinidad
  • Washington (D.C.)


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West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records