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Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King
October 19, 1994
Call number: 2010.019.16
KING: Good morning, or is it afternoon? It's still good morning.
LEZAMA: Good morning.
KING: Okay. Obviously you know what this project is all about as you arePresident of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, right?
KING: Okay. I think the first question I'd like to start off with is … how didthis all start for you?
LEZAMA: Well, I used to be a steel band person. Before I came here I used tobe…I used to have a steel band, playing with others. I learned to play very 1:00well and with others. And then when I came here I … I remember the time when I first started, I saw a group of fellows doing the same things that… in my class…what I've been doing and you just sort of get attracted to it.
KING: And you came here in the 1950's?
LEZAMA: Yes, '54, right.
LEZAMA: And then we went ahead and it started off in Harlem so to speak. And theCal group [unintelligible] we used to do little gigs at different places, people wanted a steel band, they would call me and then I would get together a rehearsal of some of the fellows and we'd go off to these various places. Of course that's how we started and then…they had the festival in New York, there was a parade every September. It was started in New York really, in Harlem, off 2:00Fifth Avenue…not Fifth, Seventh Avenue. That was the route that the parade and so on…some reason. The parade…more people, more Caribbean people come and reside in Brooklyn and so it was shifted from there on. Um, let me take off…
KING: Pausing the tape. [Interview interrupted.]
KING: We're picking up the interview again, and we were discussing your earlyinvolvement in Carnival, and how you got involved and… How did you, once Carnival started here in Brooklyn, I mean, how did you get into the center of everything, I mean, was it something that you… I mean how did this begin?
LEZAMA: The guy…there's a man; his name is Lionel [Rufus] Gorin and he's dead3:00now anyway. And so when the first parade started…and what he used to do is this: he used to go and get a hall where all the paraders would end up. And after it reached to that hall, everybody would go up in that hall and end the festival with a…with a lively affair, a nice dance or some sort of thing, with the music going and… having that same off-of-the-street, into-the-hall type of thing. And that's how it used to be done.
LEZAMA: But after he met, I saw this guy needed help and I start to position thefolks. And when the parade was going on a police came to over: "Who's the man that's leading this?" Everybody pointing to me, because I tried to line…and I said "Well listen, get to the side, a car will be by, I have nothing to do with it". 4:00
LEZAMA: But this is how they all point to me: "That, that's the fellow, seehim". So I tell him, "Well, it's alright fellas, get to the side and let this car pass" and sort of…this is what I was…that was my function. And everybody point to me, and so after that…well the next year I get more involved with this man, with Lionel Gorin.
KING: Now these are the early days…?
LEZAMA: The early days, yeah.
KING: …or the tail end days in Harlem? Early days here in Brooklyn?
LEZAMA: No, no, no. After it moved to Brooklyn.
KING: After it moved to Brooklyn?
LEZAMA: That's when I really… I played as a participant in Brooklyn with the pans…
LEZAMA: …as part of the paraders. But after it moved to Brooklyn, that's howit happened, you know, this guy would rent a hall and at the end of the…at the…at the end of the parade he would take the people to these halls, you know, these dance halls…big enough. Then there might be a fee…I don't remember… a fee for…and then a lot of people will come in, pay whatever they feel, maybe a dollar, two dollars to one-fifty, whatever it is. But um, this is 5:00what used to happen, but that's after the parade, you understand?
LEZAMA: And then this happened…the next year, well I'm getting more involvedwith him and so…but he died. And then we decided, the Organization that he had, we had a meeting and they say, "Well, let us have an election and… to run this." And I ran and I was favored, you know, nobody…there are other people who ran, but I got the most votes and then I became the President. And still is the President by…each two years we vote, we have elections, but it seems to me that really, as you get more, more…there's a lot of, there's a lot of work inside… I put into it in there, I imagine, but a lot of people shy away from this position, but I keep taking it all the time. 6:00
KING: So it was kind of…I mean in the early days by chance…you just happenedto be…
KING: …in the right place the right time, or just in helping out…
LEZAMA: Right, just in helping. That's how I become…there's no special skill,nothing, I mean, I… Everything I do, everything I learn there's people says, "Well you have to…you can't run a parade because…there's…". Mayor Lindsay is the one that help us to get on to…get organized, which was…we know nothing about organizing. So he said: "Well in order to have a parade you have an organize…you have to have permits and you have to have…." And Mayor Lindsay explained to us that in order to get services, you have to be chartered and also…so we went and get our charter and everything else. And that's how this all started. So I got this charter. Everything that is required: I went to police, I went to hear sanitation…to all and that's how it built up. Then I learn how to, to meet with the different groups, who you have to see and before the thing started, all I would go and start making arrangements beforehand and 7:00get everything in order. So before you know it the permit is in hand ready to go. So wherever we stayed that…you know… But then, I…I didn't like the idea of going from one place, you have the parade there in the big hall…I never liked that idea.
KING: Now where was this hall? Whereabouts these early…?
LEZAMA: On Nostrand Avenue…you see that hall on Nostrand Avenue? That's onefor example.
KING: Okay, okay.
LEZAMA: There's other halls. Suppose that around the parade day, the paradetime, you can't get a hall. You have to find somewhere else. So wherever it is, you would, you would lead the congregation to that place. Say, like it's down here you start up here… Say it's over on Nostrand Avenue, start down Nostrand, up to the hall things like that. And these are the areas we go from place to place. But after a while I find that it should be one spot, whereby anybody around the world, anybody coming, they know it's that one spot. And that's how 8:00Eastern Parkway come into being. But to get Eastern Parkway was quite a doing. There was a group of people, white folks, that you have to meet in Borough Hall that make the decision…have the say-so, to say whether you will get this place or not. So, I talked to them and convinced them that, that you…you pay…they figure Eastern Parkway was too big for a…for a small group. Now in 1994, it's too small for the same group, don't you think so?
KING: Yes. It's a very tight space.
LEZAMA: Alright so…
KING: It shows how things have grown.
LEZAMA: And so this is how it happened, I mean, I get involved, I don'tknow…just get involved. I can't explain you, I mean…
KING: No, it's one of those things. It just sounds like it just happened, andyou know, it's part of fate.
LEZAMA: Maybe I came here out of fate, maybe at the same…and then…whoever9:00hear somebody running the show repeatedly…people was in here 28 years, but we still do it. "How come all of us are you still the President, how come? There's no election there." We do have every two years election, and we put back the same officers, because the members are satisfied with what's going on.
KING: Okay. Let me back-track a little bit. Just your, your own experiencesgrowing up. You played pan and that's how you…you were first really involved. But that point when you first became president, I'm sure that you had a vision or idea of things that you'd like to do. No?
KING: Did it just kind of develop as you went along?
LEZAMA: First I told them: "Listen, I'm very unorthodox in the things that I doin my life. And if I have to do that, if I have to run"…they asked me to do it. The members said: "Well, why don't you…you seem like…" And I said, "Well, I hope you, you'll follow my dictates, because I'm very unorthodox, I do 10:00things in a very unorthodox way. The way I handle my business is very unorthodox. You don't know where I'm coming from really, but, if you choose to follow I will lead this group." And that's how… I had a frank talk with everybody and this is how it turned out.
KING: Umhm. Um…
LEZAMA: In other words, you were asking me if I had an idea. There was no idea.There was nothing.
KING: So you just started from scratch.
LEZAMA: From scratch.
KING: Were there any experiences in your past…
LEZAMA: No, nothing.
KING: …that you wanted to try to…
LEZAMA: The only steel band…I…what I wanted to do when I came here…Iwanted to follow…I wanted…I'm a machinist. I was a machinist, but then I went to get the true…I mean, you have to go to school to get all your documents and everything. I get a diploma certificate. They don't give degrees in machinery work and so, as you know. But… I end up with some track that make a proper living. There's other things I wanted to do. I did in the dental field. I wanted to learn that too, and get that done. I also went in repair television 11:00and get that done. So, while doing this and while working, I found time to lead the parade too, every year. And this is what I…don't ask me, I have no kind of formal experience, nothing, no training, nothing, it just happened.
LEZAMA: You, you ever…you ever hear anything like that before?
KING: Well, you know, you just do what you have to do and sometimes…
LEZAMA: No, but, I mean you…you know people maybe go to school to training tolead, to do this or do that. There's no such thing. That's right--very unorthodox.
LEZAMA: And that's why…you're asking me now for certain documents…I have todig it up. It's nothing formal, it's nothing…you're looking for some form of formality to get it all organized. No, it's nothing like that.
KING: Well, my question actually wasn't like, formality or training, but it'smore kind of…what I was…what I was really trying to get at is your personal experiences, like if you, you know participated in Carnival as a child…
LEZAMA: I did that, yes.
KING: …or as a young adult. When you had this opportunity, were there12:00things…you know, a lot of times there are things that you really enjoyed that you might wanted to have replicated here, or did you ever kind of have like an idea in the back of you're mind and how you wanted to see this Carnival?
LEZAMA: No, no… Nothing like that. Yeah, the idea is that I enjoy Carnival, Iwent, I grew up in Trinidad and I had some education over there as well and so Carnival time comes, we enjoy…do the same things everybody else do, but I never envisioned that I would be having the spot that I have.
KING: Oh, this kind of role in a…?
LEZAMA: That's right, a spotlight. I mean…and everybody seems to think that itis such a big thing, but to me it do look like nothing. This is how I view it. Like it's…I know the time when you have to go and take your permit out because I've been doing this and I struggled with it for many years, so you must know, you must learn something from that. And this one is no particular idea, no kind of a…an area where people feel that this is what you exactly want to do in 13:00your life. You know it's nothing like that. It just happened so.
LEZAMA: You believe me?
KING: Umhm. Sure, yeah. Is there…
LEZAMA: No formal training.
KING: Oh, no, no, no…I know there's no formal training.
LEZAMA: No kind of a….it just, just…
KING: So you just…
LEZAMA: …it just happened.
KING: It just happened? What would you say are some of the differences, I thinksome sense, from when Carnival was in Harlem and came to Brooklyn? I mean…it was more in indoor halls at that point…
LEZAMA: Yeah, it was indoors.
KING: …and you started to.
LEZAMA: No, what happened is the story on that is that this lady…she…theparade got outside because on Carnival time they used to give these dances.
LEZAMA: In Trinidad, they used to have competition; one band competing againstthe other for prizes and awards: cash prizes, awards, trophies and stuff like that. And she conducted this the Sunday night, because the Monday is Carnival in Trinidad. And over here she conducted this Sunday night, because Monday's a 14:00working day. And then in Carnival, February time when falls our snow is about fourteen inches high, or all kinds of this, you can't go outside. You can't play Carnival outside. The people used to take their costumes and whatever they have in bags and took it to the hall.
KING: Oh, and then get dressed there.
LEZAMA: …and then get dressed there. And then they compete against…and whenthe dance was over, put their clothes… It's cold. And so she had an… She envision an idea, "Well why don't we do it in September, the end of September. Hold it on a day that it will be constant. Not Christmas which fall on this day and then the next day." She want a holiday that it will…and it seemed like the first Monday of September fall right. Because every first Monday of September is, is…what do you call it…Labor Day.
KING: Labor Day, so it's always a consistent holiday.
LEZAMA: And then you have that consistent see fall where you have Sunday,15:00Monday, Saturday and on. But we know why we have it as a program Saturday. We start to move…the Saturday. We went to… There's a hall on… in Manhattan… Manhattan Center, is that what it is? There's a hall there in Manhattan Center that…where all big dances and so…we used to go and hire that hall in Manhattan. There is a lot of people used to…we tried to envision it just like how it used to be done in Harlem. But then when we moved to Brooklyn, we started to shift: Monday the parade, Sunday night we wanted to have an affair for the Monday.
LEZAMA: And then, well, we move out since it is conducted in the fine halls inBrooklyn, because that…but the halls in Brooklyn were very small. Manhattan was a big, big hall, so you had…you employ two bands and so on and then you have big dances there. And so this is what happened. So we went and we um…we 16:00shift to Brooklyn. And we had it…then we went to the Brooklyn Museum. We managed to get the Brooklyn Museum together and we were able to have connections where we could have the ball on Sunday night. And then when we looked out of the yard, we saw this big yard out there, so we decided to do it outdoors, like we do it in Trinidad, because it's still summer. And sometimes you have good or bad weather. You never could tell. But then we shifted these as …as the program…as we see fit. Thursday night we have…Saturday we have this and then there was not room to do everything. So we moved…or we keep moving, moving it until we end up on Thursday. So we start our program on Thursday, Friday we do something else, the reggae, Saturday and we do the steel band, and Sunday night 17:00we come up with the Dimanche Gras show.
LEZAMA: And Monday the parade. That's how it started in the beginning.
KING: It started out with all those days in the beginning?
LEZAMA: No, no, just Saturday and Sunday.
KING: Just Saturday and Sunday.
LEZAMA: And then we moved to Friday.
KING: Then Friday and then…
LEZAMA: And then Thursday, because there was not enough room to do everythingand that's how it worked also.
KING: Can you talk a little about…
LEZAMA: …and all this was engineered just by common sense. We figured thatthis…you have a big program, an elaborate program, but it's not enough time to do it, so we moved it to another day. We…and so we're up to Thursday now.
KING: When was the first year that the parade was held on Eastern Parkway?
LEZAMA: I, I, let me see…this picture is in '72.
LEZAMA: '72, but sixty-something, sixty-seven, somewhere say in the sixties.
KING: So how many people participated?
LEZAMA: A handful.
KING: A handful?
LEZAMA: There's …maybe, maybe …was seven thousand people. But first of all,18:00it didn't start there; it started at Brook…on this…what's that street going down by the Park… Prospect Park West.
KING: Oh, oh…um.
LEZAMA: Prospect Park West.
KING: I know what you're talking about. It started over there.
LEZAMA: from the…from…the Parade started from Grand Army Plaza…
KING: Army Plaza…
LEZAMA: …on to Bartel-Pritchard Square, on that…Prospect Park West.
KING: Okay, okay.
LEZAMA: Prospect Park West, on that street on this side of the Park. And we wentinto the Park.
LEZAMA: And then we celebrated in the Park, but the people refused to go in thePark now. When we got it on Eastern Parkway, we get it from down Buffalo. First 19:00of all, the parade started from Eastern Parkway, Grand Army Plaza, down to a …that, that park on…down near…near Utica…the other street down there…that, there's a park around there, we went in there. But then it was so congested, we decided to take it from the opposite end.
LEZAMA: And…But we wanted to go in the Prospect Park. We went in about threeyears, we went in, but then we had problems with that park, because we put…we deposited some moneys down in order…if the Park did not meet the requirements of the Park, they will take…we lost our deposits.
KING: Oh, like your deposit?
LEZAMA: Our deposits, yes. And it happened twice. And so we just…we couldn'tafford it, we, you know. Then we had to…could you imagine…we cleaned up 20:00Eastern Parkway. The members, a handful sent in members trying to clean up Eastern Parkway, sweep and all… We've been through a lot of things; I don't know…maybe the Almighty had a hand in this thing. It had to be because I mean…whoever hear of such a thing… [Laughter.]
KING: Well, you do what you have to do.
LEZAMA: And, this is the way how…and up to this present day…1994 was someyear, when we had problems with the Jewish community and stuff like that. But everything resolved up and worked very well, I believe. This…
KING: Do you…?
LEZAMA: …is for you, the outsider, to tell us how we're going.
KING: Everything came off well. You know, I…I was around; you know inJanuary…no, no, no …it's almost been a year since I heard about when this started and…I think…the letter and everything. It has almost been a year. 21:00And it seems like everyone…everything went according to plan. There were little bumps along the way, but… I'd be interested to see… Just, now that you've…I don't know if you've had a little time to sit and reflect or if you've been too busy, just with other things, but just to…this past year particularly.
LEZAMA: Well, it was a rough parade.
KING: Was it rough?
LEZAMA: Yes. You expect something…whoever goes up against a Jewish communityand win? Just forget it, you know. You don't win these people, these people have the best: they have the best lawyers, they have money, they have everything, you know? Small community, but rich in everything they do. What could I tell you?
KING: Do you look at it as a victory of sorts?
LEZAMA: Very much so. Who ever go up against Jewish people and win them? Nobody.But it's because of the strength and determined minds of people, ordinary folks. 22:00We have nothing. You think we could…you know what the battles that went down, you know about the fights that we had at City Hail, you know the fights we had at the Borough President's Office. I get into a fight with a guy, I tell flat out. I say, "Listen, do you own Eastern Parkway? No." I say, "We certainly don't own it." I say, "Are you a tax payer?" "Yes." "We are tax-payers too. And we have a right to it. And so therefore we're not moving". We were there…we…after 26 years, what judge in his right mind is going to say, "Well listen…" Where's the justice? What happened to justice? I told them just so, and that attitude is it.
KING: Correct me if I'm wrong, though, it seems like in some sense, this yearsentiments have been expressed prior, particularly I think…a wish that…just to see Carnival disappear.
LEZAMA: Ah, this is what…
KING: …that this is what brought it to a head. I mean, first it was the23:00whispers that it was Rosh Hashanah, and then Carnival and that kind of issue. But then it seemed to blow up …that there's a little undercurrent…
LEZAMA: Yes, that's right.
KING: --and this is an undercurrent that's been going on for years.
LEZAMA: to discourage and to move us away from this area to them, because theyhad plans, they know what kind of a… happenings will take place in this area. It takes…
KING: So it wasn't just like a temporary suggestion, this is…
KING: …because you could sense that, I mean, the more people I talked to…Ithink the second letter that came out in the summer…
LEZAMA: That was bad, that was bad, that was bad.
LEZAMA: They wanted us to do this and wanted us…and making so much demands,you remember?
LEZAMA: That letter, that enraged a lot of people. And they were keeping theirfingers crossed and hope that we don't buckle under and, and, and…just give in. You know such…these people don't own this place. Do they own it?
KING: I mean this is something we're all supposed to share.
LEZAMA: Okay, this is the attitude you have to take. We are tax-payers, right?They are foreigners just as we are foreigners. The average one of them comes from Russia and all these different places from Europe. Who are they?
KING: So let me ask you this: Is this the end?
LEZAMA: No. I don't think so, because they're going to come up with somethingagain. As long as I remain the President of this Association, they'll have a hell of a…they'll have to destroy me somehow. We're not going to give in. We encourage my people to give in to nothing. There's…they are not owners of Eastern Parkway, these people. You have to be able to coexist, and learn that and learn it well.
KING: Are there compromises you think that you had to make…
LEZAMA: No compromises, no, no…
KING: …no, that per…
LEZAMA: No such thing. No. I don't even want to hear that word, compromise.There's no such thing. The law says that we're entitled to this. I want what is 25:00entitled to us. We're not begging for nothing. This is the type of thing that we're doing. We, we, we are taxpayers, and we have a right to the use of Eastern Parkway. Period. No compromise, nothing. And then when you do that, you leave your people at a very…disadvantage, without respect, without nothing. One day, every five minutes they're having something out there. And they have a lot of parades that they do there, all during the year, these Jewish people. They, they run a Carnival…such…a Carnival like us, but they come down Eastern Parkway, sometimes they go and…In the middle of the Parkway, put chairs and all kind of hold up the Parkway for hours.
LEZAMA: Big celebration right…that's why you see that big…that big affairthere with all that happening to it. They dug down in the subway and all this 26:00type of…. and how do they do it, again because of your mighty power and money and everything that will cause it. What one day we have you can't…you know what I mean? What are you trying to tell me?
KING: I don't know. Is there anything that you've learned, particularly fromthis year, because it's been so difficult and you tell me, you don't think it's the end. That something…there's always going to be something.
LEZAMA: Well, we are going to keep on Eastern Parkway, the traditional place tokeep our parade. As long as we're not…did not interfere with that we're in good business, unless another holiday like that come up again and they have to go through well. They have experiences, they know what to do, and they'll spend whatever the City has, but it…to me it looks like you're catering to those people, because of their voting power…what have you.
KING: How did the politicians deal with this…just in general, I'm not talkingabout anything in particular.
LEZAMA: I, I had very little help, but there's one woman that could tell you,and Dr. Stanislaus I could tell you, that assisted very, very well and was 27:00determined just as I am, Una Clark, a beautiful council woman. I had a lot of supports from her…but she's always…as a matter of fact at 4:00 this evening I have a meeting scheduled with her, because we're going into the City, because we had a press conference on…a few days after Labor Day, we were called in by the mayor. ..
LEZAMA: …to get congratulated two people. And emphatically stated, that'swhere he quoted three million people.
KING: Three million?
LEZAMA: Three million people…over, he said….and in his words, "It's abeautiful and attractive affair" and he wants to televise, and he'll assists us to get it televised, because more people ought to see this. It is the first time 28:00he experienced it and… The year before he was running for office, he came; I invited him with a lot of flack I got from a lot of people. And they booed him and so I even went to his ears and tell him "Listen, you're running for office, take it and run with it. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". I told him in his ears that. I don't know if he ever remembered that. But then, I greet him as president, I greeted him and so on and came back this year and spent about five hours over at the Museum there. The only…the only mayor that spent so many time…such long time with us. The rest they come and they go right away. They have a few speeches and they leave right after. He spent about five hours. That's a lot of time.
LEZAMA: Five, six hours with us….waiting 'til the bands came up. But it took along time, because when they get there, they went off, they're in a big hurry, a 29:00big speed. But you have two-years old children, playing costumes, with costumes on, every costume's on…they couldn't keep up with that. So when the trucks ran, everybody came up and they saw the band's enthusiasm and everything and they liked what they saw. And they told us at a press conference they would like to have it televised and they will assist us in doing so.
KING: For next year?
LEZAMA: For next year. And this is the meeting I'm going into on Thursday totalk to him. And when I told him, I said: "Mr. Mayor," after he congratulated the two communities and it was my turn to speak, I thanked the mayor's office and all these officers and so on and tell them, let me say something, you're choking Carnival, and by that I mean we need more space to celebrate our festival and that's what I'm going in to him now, because when the parade reach to the Brooklyn Museum…
LEZAMA: …at the starting point there were paraders still leaving there so30:00which means you're going to bring it to a stop. Can't attend… you need more space for, for, for …for just playing our costume and having a wonderful time.
KING: What direction would you like to go into?
LEZAMA: We're going down the…I would like to go to, to, to Flatbush Avenue,down, make a right, on Grand Army Plaza…
LEZAMA: …Down…town and into Atlantic.
KING: But still have like the judging stand…
LEZAMA: Right there.
KING: Oh, just let people keep going.
LEZAMA: They keep on going and when you reach Washington, or maybe Bedford, Youstop. You don't stop. The parade officially ends there, but I do not want the music to stop, because if it should stop, everybody's blood get…becomes cold and cannot. I will not be able to carry these last costumes and everything else. So the music has got to continue until you reach to the camp. This is what I 31:00want to talk to them about. How is that?
KING: I wish you luck. I mean you need more room, definitely.
LEZAMA: Space we need.
KING: It is crowded.
LEZAMA: We have to get space. And what that will do too, it will stretch theEastern Parkway people all along, so they'll be able to view.
KING: Yeah, it's very difficult for people to get…
LEZAMA: More people will be able to seize two tickets too, I mean…
KING: So right now you have people behind people behind people. I mean you onlyhave this much space, everyone's crowded here, if you stretch it out that means there's more space for people to…
LEZAMA: And if you stretch it out more people will go along and will be able tosee it. How is that?
KING: Makes sense, makes sense. I wish you luck.
LEZAMA: I just keep coming and I'll say this…
KING: Hey, that's what it's for, you know, you have to see what's going to workand how you're going to keep things going.
LEZAMA: This is what, this is what I envisioned and one thing…I go to bedthinking of Carnival. I get up thinking of Carnival. All during the day ideas 32:00and thoughts keep coming to me on Carnival.
LEZAMA: This is how…this is my life, I don't know.
KING: What are you…if you were just kind of thinking like you're… you try toshare things with your grandchildren, things like that. If you had to reflect over your years, are there any highlights or things you're particularly proud of?
LEZAMA: Well, the reason why I keep that scrap book is there's many things thathappen…so that one could remember. You have to just read it. I don't have to tell the story.
LEZAMA: It's there. The newspaper will tell you the different things, articlesand all this kind of thing…this is there to let you reflect exactly what's going on: the problems that we had in 1991…
LEZAMA: The problems that we had in 1994…
LEZAMA: …with the two big groups clashing each other and this was quite somedoing, I want to tell you, so all that is on documented. It's on the papers… 33:00
KING: Right, right, right.
LEZAMA: …different reflections and like you're interviewing me, now, I imagineyou will write down somewhere all this information you're gathering from me. All this…when it comes out on paper, like somebody interviews me and that, I did that and this is how it's going to happen. The children will be able to read, what their grandfather did and that's why I'm doing it.
KING: But if you had to talk…if you had to even just…I know it's hard tokind of capsulize 28 years of experience…or any changes that you've seen, or…?
LEZAMA: No, not yet …hold on, hold on.
KING: You want me to stop it? [Interview interrupted.]
KING: We're picking up the interview again. We were just talking about the yearsthat you've been involved in the Carnival Association, I mean you're going on your 28th year and um…any of the changes that you've seen, particularly in between the interaction with Brooklyn and Carnival and the West Indian community 34:00here. If there's anything that you'd like to share…in your perspective, changes that you have seen, or evolutions or anything like that.
LEZAMA: Well, there's natural changes will take place as the years go along.There's nothing you could…you could do, because of…things like what happened in the past. There must be areas where…to avoid certain things that happen, confrontations such as this, they will know how to handle it. Changes in that way show there's other things…the things will come up for that particular…you know…to change, this is where I view it. And everybody, in doing certain things, they have to prepare themselves for various changes. I mean this is a changing world. You can't have the thing going on for 25 years the same thing over and over. You can't. There must be some form of…of, of, of 35:00changes and whatever, whatever comes by…
LEZAMA: …you prepare to, to, to, you know…to take whatever risk, whateverchances or…because everything is…nobody's perfect…it's not…There's no particular thing that's especially for parades like this and so on. Carnival is different to a parade in Manhattan, but we have to call it a parade, because this is the way we all are guided. This is the format that you have to present. If it's not called a parade, you will not get the things that is…you're entitled to. For example, we are chartered under a "parade." It's a Carnival in the true sense, but, but it has to be called a parade.
KING: For legal purposes, here, you have to…
LEZAMA: A parade, because if it's not called that, it's something else, and…according to the City Charter, you'll get nothing. You'll not get any police coverage, you wouldn't be able to get sanitation coverage, you know. 36:00
KING: I never thought about that. I mean, I know the difference, but I neverthought about why you had to call it one over the other for purposes of just getting the services you needed.
LEZAMA: Right… right…the services needed, because this…we are charteredunder parade. Parade…if you check where all the big parades in Manhattan. There's a…there's a…there is a parade…it goes along with different things that you're supposed to be getting.
LEZAMA: Police coverage… you're supposed to get sanitation coverage, and…and the other coverage of the utilities of the City. Because if you're not a parade, if you're not chartered under that, you get nothing. You have to pay for all your services.
KING: Oh, it's a very strategic move.
LEZAMA: Well, I happened to learned all this on my way up, so…
KING: …no better way to learn.
LEZAMA: So they…you see these are the things, you know, you know about, or you37:00have to know and the different things that happened in the past and what's, what's…what's legal and what's not legal. So you have to, you have to understand what's going on.
KING: Are there other things that you've learned in putting on Carnival that…?
LEZAMA: There's a lot of things, a lot of things that you have to learn and wehave learned as we move up, many, many, many things. Many, many things.
KING: You go back to Trinidad yearly, don't you?
KING: Uhhuh. Are there things that you see that you try to bring back here?
LEZAMA: Well, the reason why we do go: to bring back the programs that they havethere and establish and do the things exactly that…what is, what is…the music, the way they do things and so on. And we learn a great deal. But in America it's far different to the way they…the nation in Trinidad, they don't have to go and take out insurance for that. There's a blanket thing: everybody enjoys themselves and whatever happens, you're on your own. But over here, 38:00you…there's a community and you have to, you have to go according to whatever the law requires. And then for example, they don't have a parade like we would…we'd have a parade and we'd have dignitaries, we'd have a Grand Marshall… it's nothing like that. Every band go on the streets and we all gathered. It's just the amount…five…one band guy carries five thousand people, eight…six thousand people…some small band, medium bands, some are just a handful, things like that, but over here we have to accommodate the, the City, give them a Grand Marshall and all that sort of thing to do, flags and you know. You don't have that over there. So these are the two things that make it different to ours. Right now we're up to …the Lion's Club get all the, all the flags of the Caribbean. And it…these are….it happens automatically, I don't know if they do it elsewhere, but it automatically happens… 39:00
LEZAMA: Yes. Don't you see…you didn't see it?
KING: I saw it. I did see it, uh huh.
LEZAMA: Flags and all that…people have no time with flags over there.
KING: Huh. Are there…would that be…do you…I trust you go to some of theother Carnivals in America, in the States?
LEZAMA: You've been there?
KING: No, I haven't been to anything other than this one.
LEZAMA: Where are you from anyhow?
LEZAMA: Oh, you just came into town here?
KING: Oh no, no I've been out this way for several years, but I grew up there.And I…I'm from the West.
LEZAMA: You went to school there…what college?
KING: I went to school in California, yeah. Um…
LEZAMA: No offense, eh?
KING: No, no, no. But some of the other Carnivals that occur in the States, likeMiami and Boston…
LEZAMA: I just came from Miami Carnival.
KING: How does Brooklyn's Carnival differ from those Carnivals?
LEZAMA: Well we have more people for one.
KING: We have more people, uh huh.
LEZAMA: You're talking about three million people against maybe less than amillion or whatever in a small Carnivals.
KING: Is there any other ways…or just the way how the Carnival is played out?40:00
LEZAMA: Same thing.
KING: Same thing?
LEZAMA: Same thing, same idea, because we all come from the same place and thegoings on is the same thing that like…in Trinidad. Trinidad is the mecca. We go there for information, Calypso and all that sort of stuff. We go there for all that and then try to employ the same things that they do there, try to do the same things, bring it as close as possible.
LEZAMA: The only thing I…the only difference with our parade is we have allthese flags and all these Grand Marshalls and all these dignitaries. That's the only difference. They don't have that there. A band just goes out in the street and plays music and it's beautiful. You're enjoying and clapping…sometimes you want to follow the band and this is what it is. That's what we have, nothing else.
KING: Can you talk a little bit about what the Association has done to, to reachout to people from other islands? I mean I know Carnival is based in Trinidad.
LEZAMA: Well, they…
KING: I mean if you…
LEZAMA: …they of themselves have Carnival everywhere. And the word "Carnival"is like…there's a magic in that word. And once Carnival is to start, everyone 41:00seems to want to come and get…
KING: Pausing the tape. [Interview interrupted.]
KING: We're picking up the interview once again and I think we were talkingabout…the Association's perspective or…attempts to reach out to people of different islands, to make Brooklyn's Carnival a carnival that reflects the diversity of the Caribbean. Have there been any specific attempts to do that or…what's your reflection on how Carnival is moving in that direction?
LEZAMA: Well, everyone in the Caribbean, anywhere the sun shines in theCaribbean, there is Carnival. And when this day comes, everybody just mere utterance of this word, everybody seems to move. It seems to me, it's a magic word. And every time it is mentioned, people get in a big frenzy. They try to do 42:00everything they can to outdo each other when it comes to Carnival, because that's a self expression, an expression that makes them so happy for one day at least. And they will go all out to do whatever they have to do, because this is the tradition. That's what they live for. This is what…that year…when that time come around, they really, really display it in everything in one of the best manners that they can …they can find.
LEZAMA: And this is what…Jamaica is the first country…the last to comeabout. And they never, they never thought about Carnival, they were reading of it, but now they have a Carnival, and they love it. The whole country is getting invested with Carnival…they want to be a Carnival over, all over. And so this is something new for them, but it's catching on like wild…wild fire. And that's the last country. There's other countries like Jamaica…I mean like Barbados, Antigua and all these different places have Carnival before. And just like Trinidad Carnival. But the whole Caribbean right now, is all Carnival. 43:00It's…it has to do with finance as well.
LEZAMA: …because during the course of that time, there's a lot of fund-raisingtake place. Everybody seems to be making: the government of itself, travel arrangements, all kinds of things, people…and wherever people is moving, there's money spending. They have to eat, they have to sleep some place and so this is where…just like some of the money…the revenues that we get, people come from all over the world to see…to come to Carnival. Last night I was at a meeting and I was told a fellow was somewhere in Africa and he saw the Eastern Parkway Carnival, came over and CNN, and a whole bit came over about it…and even spoke where I…some…I had somebody interview me while the Carnival was going on and so on: "Here is Mr. Carlos Lezama", and different things like that. So worldwide, there's…this Carnival is being seen all over. And for the first 44:00time in Trinidad and Tobago, although they have a Carnival, somebody taped the Carnival from Brooklyn Carnival… They never thought, they thought…
KING: Oh really?
LEZAMA: They thought that it had shooting and all this type of thing with, Imean, has connected with Carnival, but to the…to their great surprise that it's not like that, nothing like that. They seem to enjoy it and they…they…for the first time…this guy, the one who taped the Carnival over there…there were two, three showings in a week.
KING: Uh huh.
LEZAMA: This is just to see the enthusiasm to see how Carnival has grown…
KING: So this is kind of…
LEZAMA: …out of Trinidad.
KING: …the first time a lot of…
LEZAMA: …with the same people who, who left Trinidad and come abroad.
LEZAMA: So they used to think that Carnival to them was their thing and they ownCarnival. It's no longer. Worldwide have Carnival. In England there's a big Carnival and in Canada there's a big Carnival and so all over the United States, every little province, there's a Carnival, and once there's a few West Indians 45:00get together, there's a Carnival. So there's a big changing world here but of course Brooklyn is the biggest.
LEZAMA: The Mayor, who is the CEO of the City, says three million, and I have togo by what he said.
KING: For this year, three million?
LEZAMA: Yes. He said that. And he's willing to help us now to tele…have ittelevised. Where does that… how does that grab you?
KING: It sounds like progress in getting the respect. That's another questionthat we ask a lot of people…do you think that Brooklyn's Carnival gets enough recognition?
LEZAMA: I think so, because now we're making all the, the major papers and allthe different things… I think it's, it's grand.
KING: Um, let me phrase this question in a weird way. If you were toexplain…pretend I'm …a better choice, maybe someone totally alien to the 46:00project, pretend I'm maybe a Lubavitcher neighbor. How would you… I can't understand from my perspective why Carnival is so important to you?
LEZAMA: To me?
KING: Yeah. Why is this event so important? Why is it such a big deal to hold iton another day?
LEZAMA: You mean, oh well….Carnival was…is a certain day. It was decided on,and is the most convenient day that we see to make it comfortable for us to operate. If you move it over, everything else have to move. The various programs that we have…it would throw everything out of whack. Like the Thursday program, you have to move it to Wednesday. And who is in town around that time? There's a lot of things…there's a lot of reasons why it could not and will not 47:00be held, no other time they play it. Monday has it's choose. Remember I told you?
LEZAMA: That the Monday…they choose Monday because they wanted a daythat…why…a special holiday. It had to be summer, because Carnival is always making these skimpy costumes and everything. You cannot operate in the winter with that. And this is what you have against you. But the only day they could have came up with is the fact that the Labor Day falls on the first Monday of every…and so there's no changes there. The dates, the days and everything remain the same, so you… [Interview interrupted.]
LEZAMA: …it seems like it's a birthday for the Caribbean people…that's their48:00birthday. When a birth is celebrated? On the day that it was born, and that is what it is. We can't…there's no other proper explanation I could give other than to say that one have to respect it's birth…the day that it was born and that is why we feel so…about…and we'll be stern to shift in any way. I don't see how it could. This was a major project. It did happen didn't it?
KING: I'm…I'm just playing…I'm role playing…
LEZAMA: I understand…
KING: …to get…
LEZAMA: I understand what you're saying, but I am telling you, no matter whocomes along, it remains the same time, same place, same date.
KING: How would you explain…let's say I'm that same person…how would youexplain its cultural significance, because maybe…?
LEZAMA: Its what?
KING: Its cultural significance, because maybe to me it seems like it's just a party.
LEZAMA: No, no, no…It's more to it. Listen … Carnival means an expression of49:00self. All year 'round, you're doing the same thing monotonous…monotonous…
LEZAMA: Monotony. It becomes an ongoing thing.
LEZAMA: Six months seem to be tired of this thing. So when that particularday…don't you see the light, the enthusiasm…
LEZAMA: …the different things that take place during the course…youexperienced it this year, even if you never experienced it the other years. You see the light it brings about, the show of people get…from the babies in arms right up. They're excited, they want to be in the costume. Don't you…this house is…we…The…the…I mean…it's…it's some idea that's been going back and forth in this house, this…full up of people, children, grownups, meetings…all kinds are taking place right in this very room here about Carnival. Everybody's excited. It brings out the best. You find the 50:00friendliness: everybody greets each other and they smile for each other and want to…I mean this is what Carnival really do. And above all, you spend the last dime to make sure that you entertain. There's all kinds of things about Carnival I could tell you that, that. ..It's…it's an expression of feeling it brings a happiness to you. It brings…it's not, it's not an ugly affair. It brings smile. You want to attend. "Hi", say "Hello", and all this stuff, "Where are you from?" stuff like that. All these different things come about because of the name of Carnival. I think this is a very significant thing in our life. And this is what it means to us, please.
KING: Yeah, it's interesting, I talked to a couple of band leaders and one ofthe things they felt particularly about this year is that…you know the police crack-downs on noise… 51:00
LEZAMA: Right, right, right.
KING: …and they felt that it really cut into the enjoyment of the camps, youknow, the music, the food, the celebration, because it's not just…it's not just Carnival it's the whole preparation that's part of it.
LEZAMA: Years of….
KING: And they were very disappointed, um, it just kind of dampened the experience.
LEZAMA: This quality of life…I don't know what is really going to happen. Itmay…it may interfere with some of their spending and that…because the amount of money it takes to bring a band, it's not, it's not very easy and, and we were very disappointed at all corners. Sorry to say….
KING: I… some band leaders were saying that their numbers even went down…
LEZAMA: That's right.
KING: …as a result a… It was a chain effect. And I don't know if, if the…Idon't know how far this quality of life went throughout the Borough or throughout the City…
LEZAMA: Well it was interfered with and I'm going to speak about that, too…I'mgoing to…I'm going to…I'm going to speak to them. These are the people that…the quality of life interfered terribly with our, our festival. It bring 52:00down…it's, it prevented a great lot of happiness to take place. I don't know if this is going to continue or whatever it is, but I'm not looking for no special service or to be cause of Carnival looking for …to break the tradition of the City Council, whatever they vote on or whatever. But I think it is…it does interfere with our way of life and, and it's kind of a … But if you don't want to bring up no negative things like that to the people if they want to tell advice and all this kind of…something has to be done somewhere. And I want to speak about it to see if they could get a hint over, because we didn't… We suffered a great deal. I mean it's not like when…I couldn't, I couldn't… now J'ouvert another thing.
KING: Umhm, right.
LEZAMA: J'ouvert… I had to go and speak a great deal so that they couldallow…they could have stopped it, because you see there's a law in the books that says you cannot operate from ten in the night to eight in the morning 53:00making noises.
LEZAMA: When is j'ouvert?
KING: It's at…early morning.
LEZAMA: Early 2:00 in the morning, preparations 3:00, 4:00 in the morning.You're disturbing the peace right there. But this is what the tradition is.
KING: You know the thing…
LEZAMA: I got around to it by speaking to the chief and so on. I was able tobring a committee together to…and let them have their J'ouvert. But I don't know if this is only for this only one year, I don't know. You see, you have…when a law is in a book; you can't do anything to change it.
LEZAMA: Unless they, they, they revise it. Or another election, a vote is takento…to…for this special thing, I don't know. I don't know if they're going to do that for the Caribbean people. But I certainly as hell is going to try. I don't interfere with that, because I know…if anything go wrong, you have no insurance to cover that, because you don't have a case. There's a laws in the 54:00books that says you can't operate.
LEZAMA: Now how the hell are you going to have insurance? What insurance companywill pick up that?
LEZAMA: Do you understand what I'm saying?
KING: Umhm. I'm stopping the tape for a second. [Interview interrupted.]
KING: We're starting up again. Just in connection…what we were just talkingabout before, I wanted to make this comment: The thing that strikes me…and my first question would be first…in…I don't know, with the problems that you had this past year with the Lubavitch community, was there ever any forum where people got a chance to discuss, or was it basically through letters?
LEZAMA: Yeah, well a discussion took place. We couldn't see eye to eye at all.
LEZAMA: This guy definitely didn't want no part of it, didn't want to comearound and for miles around, he don't want this happening or whatever. Who's he…think he's god or something?
LEZAMA: Look, please, this is what happened. This was a terrible thing. And asthe Commissioner said, it's a very vibrant community, both people are 55:00strong-headed. Both the Caribbean people and the, the Lubavitchers, they're strong-headed…two groups are very…and you'll come up against that… they didn't think it might have worked, but they take a chance. That's what the Commissioner said. And the chance that he took, he give this fellow a star. He got commended for it. The police who was in charge, Michael Markman, he gave him a star. I was to the ceremony, they invited me, you know, last Friday.
KING: For dealing…handling this?
LEZAMA: Yeah well…and then what I get to understand now, the last portion ofit, you know the riot gear that they come with, the police people…that was a back up in case if anything faltered, they would have employed these people to come in. There was no need for that. That's a waste of…money spent there. At 6:00 there was a lot of policemen, with battle gear, with helmets and all that sort of thing. There was no need for that. And that's what happened. So, but we 56:00took a chance, and we had to prove to the department where it was workable, so if anything go wrong at least we have this last resort. But there was nothing to resort to. Everything was fine, beautiful, every…the accounts of Carnival was…everything was good. That's why I imagine they accept my idea to come and talk about space.
KING: Umhm, and see where that can go. I guess the question I was getting at…I sit here and listen to you and the disagreements with the Lubavitchers or trying to get across, or when we were talking about the quality of life issues, that…do you think a lot of people who are outsiders really understand the cultural significance and why it's important…why do you think….
LEZAMA: It's like…everything, everything is important. You find what it moreimportant than the Fourth of July? What is more important than a special game of interest is being played on the TV where everybody pay attention to that game. 57:00What is more important that your birthday, you want to celebrate your birthday and it… It's the same thing with festival, with our festival.
KING: But does that get across to other people?
LEZAMA: Well, I don't know.
LEZAMA: But this is the idea, the question, the answer, the answer as I willanswer it. Is that a fair answer?
KING: Oh no, it's a fair answer. I was just wondering…?
LEZAMA: No, I'm asking you, I mean, I know what your role is right now, but…you have a right to these questions and so on. But these are the answers; my answer to the question is not fair?
KING: It's a fair answer, but I think maybe to some degree people need to…they still don't grasp it, they still don't understand it.
LEZAMA: I can't…we cannot help that. We cannot help that in any case.
LEZAMA: It is your… I mean everybody have…we cannot think alike. We alwayshave…for some reason we have different views. And I was very disappointed at the Amsterdam News who have been very close to us and put that very derogative 58:00type of, of message they sent out there. They said this Carnival is only 600,000 people who are attending the Carnival. You mean in one block! You understand?
LEZAMA: And I don't know. And then the…as our …The City Sun did the samething, an all-black paper. Why? I want to know why they did this. Then the Carib there's a Caribbean Life or some kind of a paper out there that…all negative! Why they the media and the television and the media papers had a different view. Two point five million people gathering and had a wonderful time, and yet your own kind giving you the slicks. This is the same thing I was telling…you want to…it's in your mind now, you want to know well why it is these people…it's confusing you to know how come they had this problem in Harlem when they when the parade was shifted to Brooklyn. It's the same thing. I don't know why…what 59:00is have the…I'm reading a message from that. But it's personal to me until I see what's happening. I'm not going to give into it. I mean I don't understand this.
KING: Did anyone ever approach, like these…the Amsterdam News about where theygot their facts or why they used those facts?
LEZAMA: People wrote in and they never, they never…
LEZAMA: …the editor, no…They never responded. A lot of letters went inbecause of that day. They want to know where is that idea coming from. And I want to tell you something if you didn't hear it. Barbara Jordan, a very powerful woman in Congress that I even love her for the kind of stand she took during the Watergate thing…this woman mentioned about the Caribbean… she's isolating the Caribbean people stating that they came here with, with false social security cards and they're taking away the jobs from the native black Americans and all this kind of thing. 60:00
KING: Stopping the tape. [Interview interrupted.]
KING: So we're picking up the interview one more time, just winding things down,um…is there anything else that you'd like to add or share or express…as far as your involvement in Carnival and the Association? What I'd really like to do is maybe come back for a follow up interview after listening to this tape, and maybe it will give me some more questions to ask you based on some of the things we've discussed already. But…are preparations in progress for next year already?
LEZAMA: Yes, well the first preparation is to go to the Mayor. We're going totalk about that I explained already. Why is he so interested in getting this thing off the ground? Why, why all of a sudden, I mean all the other mayors never do it. This is October, I mean November. October the tenth, right?
LEZAMA: The nineteenth of October, and already we want to go in to see forCarnival 1995. Something's happening. Does that grab you? How does that grab you?
KING: So this is his initiative.
LEZAMA: This is not mine. I didn't call him. He called me.
KING: I'll be interested to hear what the answer is.
KING: I'll be interested to hear what his answer is to you.
LEZAMA: Well there aren't…first of all, I went to him. He invited me to CityHall. This is the third time I've been invited. First, it was a press conference. Second, is to invite me to…with the Police Department that they elevated the man who is…you know, Michael Markman…
KING: Right, right.
LEZAMA: …in to see his elevation and why…and they specifically spoke, theCommissioner spoke of the two vibrant communities that got into…"They took a chance", he said, "but it worked, and it worked very well. It went off like a 62:00picture." No problems and they were very happy and satisfied with that. That's the second time I was invited. And the third, I'm going to see the…the Deputy Mayor, Fran Reiter on culture, because I told them at a press conference: "You are choking Carnival. You are…we need more space". So he's calling me to ask me what space I need. And then, last, but not least, he mentioned at the press conference where…that he would like to see televised and will assist us openly to the newspaper. It was public news. It was no secret.
KING: So you're going to follow up on that?
LEZAMA: What do you mean, I'm going? So hence this is right after Carnival,three times I'm invited to City Hall. What does that tell you? Shouldn't I take it?
KING: Oh yeah.
LEZAMA: Okay. Like that answer?63:00
KING: Umhm. Umhm. Okay.
LEZAMA: Whatever you do, you can follow up. Call me; I'll try to find a time foryou, because I know how important it is to you.
KING: Okay, well I really thank you for your time today, and I will go back tothe office and sit and listen to this. And who knows, maybe by the next time we speak something win have transpired. You will have met with the Mayor and maybe have some…
LEZAMA: I'll share whatever I get.
KING: …answers or insights.
LEZAMA: I don't know if I could share whatever. ..There are certain things youhave to hold back…
LEZAMA: …but at the same time, whatever is public knowledge I will try toshare with you.
KING: Okay. When…when are the awards going to be presented?
LEZAMA: I believe in January. The reason for that is that we want to make surewe have everything, all the funds in place and everything. And there's some funds coming from the Cultural Affairs for us.
LEZAMA: And we're waiting on those funds.64:00
LEZAMA: There…we have funds, but I don't know quite well at this moment,because our bills were so enormous, that whether we could…whether it is enough or not. I think it's enough, but still we could use that amount of money coming…that would put us way over the barrier and be able to call in and do it in style, because I want to do it at Medgar Evers College Auditorium.
LEZAMA: So that's a nice place the Auditorium. I'm going to speak to thePresident. In fact, I'm going to have a…a talk with him, the President. See while things is hot you have to take it as it is.
KING: Definitely, definitely. I believe that whole-heartedly.
LEZAMA: Yeah, and um…
KING: Strike when the iron is hot.
LEZAMA: Right now I'm getting so much; the NAACP wants to honor me. They…I gotone Sunday night from the old mas community, the…not old mas, J'ouvert 65:00Committee, and then two others that I have to …and then Friday I have one coming. Everybody, I mean, you know, you don't want to turn you're back on people. They'll figure: "What are you? Who you are?" I mean all of a sudden because of…but I want to respond to each…so as long as I can make it, I'll do my best to see if I could make it there.
KING: Okay, well I know you're a very busy man. I appreciate your time and…
LEZAMA: You know you had a hard time getting me, don't you?
KING: I know I did. I've been trying to call you since…I knew you'd be busy atcertain times so the, the…over the year…
LEZAMA: I want you to know something and you must accept that as a form of apology.
LEZAMA: I do not want you to think in any way because you called I was slightingthat. I hope you don't have that.
KING: I don't take it personally.
LEZAMA: If you speak to Mr….Mr. Michael…from the Carib News, he will tellyou the same thing. I am the person like that. I respond to everybody, no matter who you are. But I think it is rude to not… it's not in me. That's not my 66:00style. And I want you…if you have that in mind to please move that away.
KING: Oh no, no. Honestly, cross my heart, I really don't. I understand how busyyou are.
LEZAMA: You're sure?
KING: I am positive, I am positive, because I figured there'd be times where youwere really busy and then there are things I don't even know about so, I just knew with some persistence and you knew we were working on this so. You weren't going to slip through my fingers. You weren't going to slip through my fingers.
LEZAMA: Listen, do me a favor, give me the model number that, that…
KING: Oh, okay, I will. Well, we're going to end the interview here, and I wantto thank you for your time and we'll be in touch soon.
LEZAMA: Alright, thank you. Any time.
Oral History Interview with Carlos Lezama
Carlos Lezama was born on September 3, 1923 in Coro, Venezuela. He grew up in Trinidad but later returned to Venezuela, where he was an auto-worker for General Motors and Chrysler, as well as a mechanic in Caracas specializing in dental machinery. After that, he departed for a job as a merchant mariner. It was during his travels as a seaman that he first visited the United States and eventually resolved to move to New York City, which he did--alone--in 1954. He lived in Manhattan first before moving to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. At some point, his wife and children joined him; they were all congregants at Saint Gregory Catholic Church. He continued to work as a mechanic, taking vocational courses to supplement his training, and after a while was able to buy a home on St. John's Place. During this time, he became a prominent figure in the cultural life of Crown Heights' West Indian residents. Along with Rufus (Lionel) Gorin, he was a key organizer of the first Carnival on Labor Day that went down Eastern Parkway, now commonly called the West Indian Day Parade, in 1969. When Gorin died, Lezama was elected the first president of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA)--a position to which he was repeatedly reelected until he retired in 2002. He died in 2007.
Lezama, who in 1994 was in his twenty-eighth year as president of the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA), recounts the history of the Carnival and his personal involvement with it. He explains the relocation of the Carnival from Harlem to the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights and its transformation from a small affair, held mostly indoors in the middle of winter, to a late-summer street festival attracting millions of spectators and participants. He compares the Brooklyn Carnival with its analogues throughout the Caribbean and the United States, especially Trinidad. He describes WIADCA's relationship with city government and the police; both in the aftermath of the 1991 Crown Heights unrest and more recently amid an NYPD "crackdown" on "quality of life" offenses that has affected Carnival participation. He dwells on a dispute with the Hasidim of Crown Heights over the date of the 1994 Carnival, which Lubavitcher Jews claimed would conflict with the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and how minority-focused newspapers have commented on it. 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.
CitationLezama, Carlos, Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, October 19, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.16; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Congregation Lubavitch (Crown Heights, New York, N.Y.)
- Lezama, Carlos
- West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- West Indian-American Day Carnival Association
- Caribbean Americans
- Race relations
- West Indian Americans
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidWest Indian Carnival Documentation Project records