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Oral history interview conducted by Bill Pincheon
May 12, 1994
Call number: 2010.019.19
PINCHEON: Ms. Quamina, where were you born?
QUAMINA: Trinidad. Port of Spain, Trinidad.
PINCHEON: I see. How long have you lived in Brooklyn?
QUAMINA: Twenty-five years.
PINCHEON: When did you come to Brooklyn?
PINCHEON: And what did you do when you first got here?
QUAMINA: When I first got here, of course, I looked for a job. I got a job in retailing.
PINCHEON: I see.
QUAMINA: I stayed there doing that job for quite a few years, and I moved upfrom doing sales to being a floor manager.
PINCHEON: What were your first impressions of Brooklyn when you arrived?
QUAMINA: Well, to be quite honest, I thought, like a lot of Caribbean people1:00thought, that New York, Brooklyn or whatever, has only nice, new buildings. But I distinctly remember that it was on a Sunday, and on that afternoon coming in from the airport, the driver went to make two other stops, and I seen some old, broken down buildings. And I was very surprised, because this is something I had never thought I would have seen.
PINCHEON: Were those images from TV or from watching movies?
QUAMINA: Well, actually, yes. Because what we normally had seen were nice, bigbuildings and clean streets and that kind of stuff, yes. So I was very surprised, and that's something I don't think I will ever forget.
PINCHEON: What was important to you when you first got here?2:00
QUAMINA: Well what was important to me is that of course, I knew I had to get mea job. I knew that I had to meet people that I had known from before, you know. It was a new place away from another home, and I had to make new friends along the way, and then most of all I had to find out where I could find people that could keep up with me and my culture, because I came from the islands with a wealth of knowledge about my culture, so naturally I didn't just want to let it die, you know.
PINCHEON: Were there --like you said, you wanted to find people that you hadknown from the islands --
PINCHEON: Was that very important to you in terms of making the transition, youknow, adjusting to New York, was finding some people who shared your culture -- 3:00
QUAMINA: Yes, of course, because like I just said, this is something that I hada wealth of knowledge in. I grew up in the islands, so naturally when I came I had to find people that was interested in that since that is something that I was very interested in.
PINCHEON: Right. Have you ever participated in Carnival? I know you have, it'sjust a standard question.
QUAMINA: Here or there?
QUAMINA: Well, actually I participated in Carnival, yes. In the islands, as alittle young girl growing up, and then of course in New York, yes.
PINCHEON: How did you get started, when you were in Trinidad?
QUAMINA: Well, actually I got started when I was a little girl of about elevenor twelve years old. My father who is now deceased three years, he actually had a Carnival band of his own, and that's where I got started. I started to learn 4:00how to make the costumes, so this is actually --I grew up in a house, I opened my eyes; I mean, I started to know about myself. I seen it going on around me. That's how I got started.
PINCHEON: In your earliest memories of Carnival, were you watching as aspectator, standing on the side, or were you playing an instrument, or --?
QUAMINA: No, well actually, when I grew up, six, seven, eight years, nine, ten,eleven, twelve years, I used to stand on the street and observe, because of course Carnival in those years to Carnival in some other years when I got a little older, before my grading, was completely different. It was two different things all together.
PINCHEON: Right. So it's changed a lot.5:00
QUAMINA: Oh, yes, it has changed even before I even thought of coming out of theislands of Trinidad, because in the early days, it was a way that you'd go and stand on the sidewalk and you'd look, but the people that were participating, believe it or not, were Caucasian more so. And they were on trucks. They were not on foot, like it is now. And they would have the costumes on, and they would have little masks on their face, on their eyes.
QUAMINA: Yes, and the trucks would go past with the music playing while they aredancing on the trucks, and they had confetti that they used to throw. You know, I remember this well because as a kid, we used to run behind the trucks to see how much of the confetti we could gather. So that's how it used to be in those 6:00days. Little later on it had changed, and people were still wearing masks on their face, wire masks, but they were out now. No more trucks. And then they were told that they had to take their masks off. No more masks on their face.
PINCHEON: Was there a reason, do you think?
QUAMINA: I can't --I'm trying to think in a split minute here what the reason was.
PINCHEON: OK. We could come back to it.
QUAMINA: Yes. There was a reason, but I can't remember right offhand what thereason was, but of course, there was a reason for that. And they were told, you can play out there, but you must not have no wire masks on your face. And from that time on, they has stopped, and everybody would have on the beautiful costumes and stuff, but no wire masks no more.
PINCHEON: About the time when they started marching on foot and taking off the7:00masks, were there more Black people involved?
QUAMINA: Oh, yes. Of course. Yes absolutely, at that time. Once the era oftrucks had gone and people were on foot, it was now the Black people. Yes, sure.
PINCHEON: OK. Then did the music change? Or was it the same?
QUAMINA: Well, of course, the music changed. Actually, it was always thecalypso, but calypso at that time, in the early days, had a slower beat and a different beat to it. Then it changed. It got a little bit more upbeat, and in the last few years, they now call it soca, which is soul-calypso.
PINCHEON: What role do you play in carnival now and do you like to play?
QUAMINA: Well, actually, when I go back to Trinidad, which I do every year for8:00the Carnival, that's when I participate. I go to one of the mas camps, I see a costume that I like, I pay for it, and I participate and I play in a band in Trinidad. Here, I cannot do so, which I would love to, but since I'm so involved in organizing the Carnival here, I don't really have the time to participate in that capacity. But I do once I go away.
PINCHEON: How long have you been involved in organizing?
QUAMINA: I've been involved here with the organization about sixteen years.
PINCHEON: That's a long time.
PINCHEON: When you go to Trinidad, and you go to the mas camp and you pick outyour costume, do you have to do any research for the role that you want to play?
QUAMINA: No, actually I don't do any research, because I know that whoever that9:00band leader is, he has already done his research, so that if he is portraying Egypt, I know that was researched. It's Greece, if it's Africa, whatever, I know that he has done his research. I know that much about it to know that they go to the libraries to get books and stuff, and they research. Hence the reason why they can make costumes to suit the kings and the queens and the princess and the prince, and so.
PINCHEON: I'm wondering about how much time you put into Carnival, and I guesswe can think about it in two ways: the time that you put in when you're gonna go to Trinidad and you're actually gonna march in a parade versus the time that you put in here, which is more organizing.
QUAMINA: Well, actually, it's two different time frames. The matter of going toTrinidad is a matter of knowing automatically that when the end of January or 10:00early February comes, then I'm going. There's no two ways about it. And when I get there, I know that I'm going to participate, so I have the money, so I just go and I get a costume. That is no sweat, as the kids say. But here it's a whole completely different ball game, because this is not a two or three month thing. This is a year-round planning. You have to plan for one year into the next.
PINCHEON: Does it sort of happen that, like, after the Carnival ends here, thena few weeks later, you're back ready to go do the same thing.
QUAMINA: Yes, as soon as it's finished here, we take a couple of weeks, becausewe go out to Miami, I think the first week or second week of October, for their Carnival. And we sort of relax a little bit to get away from all that stress and strain from ours, but once we come back in to New York, here, to Brooklyn, it automatically starts all over again. It starts at a slow pace, because a couple 11:00of months after that it's Christmas. And then right after that we're making plans to go to Trinidad, but things are already in the works, you know. It's not like everything's dead. Things are in the works already. Letters are sent out and stuff. And then as soon as we come back in here in March from Trinidad, it's full steam ahead.
PINCHEON: After Carnival ends here and then you go to Miami, and you said that'sa time of relaxation --do you participate? Do you choose a costume?
QUAMINA: No, not then, because I'm still too tired, because remember this ismonths, and prior to that we have a little over a week that we don't get sleep. You know, because we do have the concerts that precede the festival, and you're up here every night, and you know. So actually that's a time of recuperating. Trying to get back your strength and everything.
PINCHEON: It's time for you to have fun, isn't it?12:00
QUAMINA: Yeah, so I go that time, and I watch everything, and I'm relaxed, and Ilook at them working and running and that, you know, and see the costumes and stuff. So that's a time of actually relaxation, because in order to put that costume on to participate in the hot sun, you have to have all that vim and vigor and energy to go for all them hours. I tell you, we still trying to get some of that back, especially since every year you get older. So that's how that is.
PINCHEON: Do you ever pick up any ideas? You know, like when you're in Miami, doyou see something and think, you know…?
QUAMINA: Well, I tell you, basically no. Yes and no, but more so no, because alot of the costumes that are in Miami, they leave New York from Labor Day. You understand. So something that I have already seen. There are a few bands that have new costumes, but it's not anything, not something that we have never seen before. Let's put it that way. The place that you get ideas is Trinidad. That's 13:00the place that you get quite a lot of ideas and structural things as to how to structure certain things, you know? But the other Carnival is basically something that you have already seen already, you know?
PINCHEON: But when you're in Trinidad, though, it's sort of like going back tothe source in a way, isn't it?
QUAMINA: Yes, it's going back to the source and tapping in here and there to seeif there's anything that you don't know or you have not seen or experienced before. Yes, that's what that is. Trinidad that is the Mecca.
PINCHEON: What does Carnival represent to you? What does it mean to you?
QUAMINA: Well, it represents a lot and it means a lot. Meaning, like I said,it's the culture, it's my heritage. It's something that I'm used to. It's 14:00something that I know that we have to keep alive out here in North America and England or whatever, and that is why I think I work so hard with this particular thing, because I know that in some --
So I know that somewhere along the line, at some point in time, that we theones, the older heads that are doing it, and have been trying to keep it alive for all these years, will have to finally pass it down. And why it means so much to me, and working so hard like I just said, is that I like to try to work a lot with the kids, the younger generation, so that they would get an idea. Those 15:00that do not know what it's all about or those that know and that are interested, to keep on showing and teaching and telling, so that they'll be able to keep this thing alive. So that's one of my reasons why it's so important to me. And I do work a lot with the kids.
PINCHEON: What does it represent to you? You said it's a part of your heritageand it's an expression of the culture.
QUAMINA: Yes. Yes, it is an expression of the culture, yes. Yeah, sure.
PINCHEON: Why do you participate? I guess you just answered that in the sense ofyou want this to continue. You want it to be passed down.
QUAMINA: Yeah, well, like I just said, we would like to see it passed down--
QUAMINA: A legacy, and kept alive. You know, don't just die just because theones that are doing it are not doing it anymore. It has to still be alive.
PINCHEON: From your perspective, who are the most important people involved in Carnival?
QUAMINA: You mean, in having the festival?16:00
PINCHEON: Right, or just in the Carnival in Brooklyn, too.
QUAMINA: Well lots of people. They have the steel bands people, the steel bandsmen and women. They have the masked men and women. Those are the people that actually buy the costumes and participate. They have the band leaders. Those are the ones that actually are in charge of getting the group together. They have those that are the wire-benders. Those are the ones that bend the wire to different frames for the different shapes that you see out there. Then they have the people that work tirelessly night and day to cover those frames, to make the hats, to make the costumes, to make the shields, the spears, the stick standers, whatever you need to call them. And then you have the people that come to view the festival, because you can have all these people, and like we say, we set the 17:00stage, and the masked people and stuff are the actors on the stage, but you also have to have an audience, you know. Because you can have all that beautiful work and everything and nobody coming to see, and it doesn't mean but so much. So all these people participate and help, and then in our --for us now, like the guy I just spoke to on the phone is a sponsor. The sponsors help a lot because we do not get help from the government here like some of the other carnivals, so we have to go out and seek funds on our own. So we rely heavily on the sponsors, because we do have prizes. So we have to have an award presentation, and the prizes are money, checks plus some beautiful trophies, you know, so we have to have that money. Then the cost of putting the shows on in the back of the 18:00Brooklyn Museum is high, is humongous. You know, you have to have the money. You have to pay for everything for that, the chairs, the lighting, the sound, the stage, the security. Everything, you know. And we definitely cannot rely on gate receipts, because that is nowhere near what we have to spend. And even with the sponsorship, we still find ourselves a lot of times in a deficit, you know, because it's a lot of money. People look at it and they see 3.5 million people on Eastern Parkway, and everybody will say, "Oh, they make a lot of money. " We don't make no money on Labor Day, because the people out there is free, you understand.
PINCHEON: Right, the cost --
QUAMINA: Right, the money that we try to make is at the concerts at the back ofthe Brooklyn Museum, and like I say, that money, those gated receipts are nowhere near what we have to spend, so by seeing people out there on Eastern 19:00Parkway, and everybody will say they make a lot of money --it's silly, because those people come there for free. Maybe if we used to charge a dollar a head, then you could say we make money, but we don't make no money on Labor Day itself. We don't. It's free. So that's something we have to deal with in order to get the thing going. It's like, getting the sponsorship, you know?"
PINCHEON: It being free, is that important in terms of being able to draw such abig audience and a lot of people participate?
QUAMINA: Well, I'll tell you what. You see, in the years gone by, we nevercharged, and Eastern Parkway is a big open place, for all them blocks. If this was going into a big stadium or a big park that's enclosed, we might have been able to say, OK a dollar a head, 50 cents for kids, or free after a certain age, or whatever, but the point is it's open, so the ends doesn't justify the means, 20:00because some will come and pay the dollar, but what about --we never looked into that. No, we never did.
PINCHEON: Is there a particular ethnic group that you associate with Carnival?
QUAMINA: No, no, no. This is, if you remember, the name of this organization isWest Indian American Day Carnival Association, so all are welcome. We have ethnic groups from all of the islands. We have even from Brazil now. We have from Belize, we have Panama, Grenada, St. Vincent, Barbados, you know, Antigua. All the islands we have participants, groups that participate. We don't, no, we don't specify to one ethnic group. But of course the whole crux of the thing, 21:00and the whole --most of the groups are out of Trinidad.
PINCHEON: Right, because that's the source.
QUAMINA: Right, that's the mecca, that's the source, and besides that, thegroups that represent Trinidad, if you notice on Eastern Parkway and Liberty, they are the groups that will have two and three and four thousand people participating in their band. Whereas the Grenadian band will have 800, a thousand or so. So that in itself will tell you. But it is not specifically for Trinidad. No, no, no. That's not true. It's definitely not true. We even have American groups now taking part. You know? African, all kinds.
PINCHEON: So West Indian, then, includes most of the islands, and all of thoseare coming together.
QUAMINA: Right, of course.
PINCHEON: What changes have you noticed in Carnival over the years, and I know22:00that probably is, you know?
QUAMINA: Well, when you ask me that, is it from here or the other, from Trinidad?
PINCHEON: Well, I think we talked earlier about changes that you've seen in Trinidad.
QUAMINA: Well, no they still have changes in Trinidad, you know. Oh, yes.
PINCHEON: So you could talk about those.
QUAMINA: Yes, they still have. I mean, up until this year I stood up, and Ididn't participate in a costume because I didn't feel too well when I went down there. So I said to myself I don't want to push my body, cause like I say, the sun is blazing hot. And you don't want to spend five, six, seven, eight hundred dollars for a costume and then you have to walk half of the way, because you wouldn't want to see me --because once that music strikes up there, I'm going all day until it's time to say, "Bye, I'm going home." I want to enjoy my money's worth. So I didn't feel too good, so. I did go, I went to the mas camp and I saw the costume and everything, and then I came down with a slight fever. I don't know if it was the change of weather because of course you know we had that bad winter, and I said to my mother, I don't know if I really want to do this because I don't feel too good. She said, "Well, if you don't feel too good, you know, leave it alone." And then I just didn't bother. But I did go and look 23:00for the costume. I had it picked out and everything. I just didn't pay the money yet. So going back to the point here, like I'm saying, there are a lot of changes in the Carnival, like in 1956, in the '50s, I used to make costumes for a guy by the name of George Bailey. Well, he's deceased for quite a few years. He died a young man. And he was renowned in Carnival. In those days I made some costumes that, I mean, they were beautiful. They had --one year he played Back to Africa. That was gorgeous. I had a big beautiful plush elephant, and his 24:00brother who now lives in Washington and brings out a band came and he borrowed that elephant to use in that Carnival, and of course when it came back it was filthy dirty. Anyway, I cleaned it and it was fine after that. Then he had a band a year, [unintelligible] of Merry England. I mean, that was something to behold. He had the coaches like they have in England. His wife was still alive, she lives in Brooklyn now, she actually won the Queen of the Bands that year. She was the Queen. Then they had the King with all the crowns, and the capes on those costumes were long. I mean, where we used to live there in Trinidad, in Woodbrook is where we lived. We lived at 18, and he lived at 15 end of the Street. So it's like this. And we had a --what you call a porch here --a 25:00gallery. But it's a porch, you know. And from there to the front, one of the capes from one of the guys, you know it was satin, so by going to the convention it got all crumpled up, and it was so much to iron, so what they did is when they came back, they put it to the front of the porch, and they stretched it right around the house. I mean, this is wonderful to look at, you know. I'm sitting here and envisioning the whole thing, and it came right back round here. That is how long it was. And when it was the next day and it was time, all those creases and rumples were out. The cape, I mean, I made a costume for another guy too, for that year, for [unintelligible] of Merry England. He was a knight. And you know, you made the suit out of the --they call it chain-mail. It's like chain. And then he had the hood, you know, like the knights wore, on their face. 26:00And lo and behold, the Tuesday morning, the Carnival Tuesday morning, now I'm tired. I'm exhausted. I didn't sleep for nights, sewing, sewing all the time. And he says to me, "I want one thing done again." I said, "Well, what do you want now?" He says, "Well, I have to have some gloves?" I said, "Well, why didn't you get some gloves and get them dyed." I said, "I ain't never made no gloves!" He said, "It's too late now, because the band got to go." I said, Lord have mercy. So what I did, I took his right hand, and I put it down on the piece of fabric, and I traced his hand and the fingers. I did the same for the left hand. I just did a double side, front and back. And I went in the machine. quickly, and I sewed it.
Lo and behold he got his gloves. They were beautiful. That was a first for me.So things like that you don't forget. So I finished. I said, OK, good, I'm finished. So I'm there trying to get something to eat now, and he says to me, "Oh Lord, I have a problem." I said, "So now what is your problem? You have your clothes, you have your gloves, you have everything. Just now it's time for the band to leave. Go ahead." He said, "No, no, no. I have a horse. I have to ride on this horse." I said, So? So he says to me, "Well, could you come and dress the horse?" I said, dress the horse?! I said, no, no! And he begged and begged and cajoled me. So, my husband was alive at that time, so he says to me, "Let's go see this thing." It's just across the street, so we went. And they have all this fabric laying there and don't know what to do with it. But now, I'm afraid 28:00to face this horse, you know. So the guy that's the owner of the horse was there. He was feeding the hay and stuff.
PINCHEON: A big horse?
QUAMINA: It wasn't a big, big horse. It was more like what you call a donkey,you know? So he says, "Look, I'm going to stay here with him. He won't do nothing to you." I said, "I don't know about that." So he stood in front and he talked and he talked, you know, and then I got to the side and I took the fabric, and I draped it over the back of the horse, bring it underneath and stitch it quickly with my hands, and fix it up and stuff, you know. And then when I was finished with that, then the guy had feathers and he put the feathers. I said, good. So these are things that used to go into Carnival. Another year the same guy, George Bailey, he did [unintelligible] Merry England, Back to Africa. Another year he played Byzantine Glory. That was gorgeous. Another year -this is a lot. It's so much. Another year he played Relics of 29:00Egypt. And you should have seen, you know, all those big statues that they have from Egypt. Oh, it was beautiful! I mean, that in those days, to me, was mas as we call it, or Carnival. And then you have other guys who used to compete with him, too. Another guy by the name of Harold Saldenah. Well, he died some years ago also. That another guy named Mack Williams. I don't know if he's alive, because I haven't been hearing him for the past few years I've been going to Trinidad. And a lot of these guys, I mean, they had these bands, and it was something. I mean, everybody used --you had to see it, because each one was better than the next, and the competition was keen. Now, over the years, what we have noticed is that there are still a couple of bands, like Peter Samuel and 30:00Wayne Barkley, that have a lot of fabric. A lot of clothing. But we've noticed in the past few years, about the past five years or so that the costumes are getting skimpier and skimpier. See? Looks like they almost want to run in with the competition with Brazil. You understand? Some of the women, some of the women, we know for a fact that they have given more to that costume. You get more than just a bodysuit. A bathing suit, a body suit, or whatever, you get more than that for your money, come on! But some of them just don't want to. They only have the head piece, they don't want the standards. 'They just have that on with the boots or the sneakers or whatever. So it's getting skimpier and skimpier. Like I say, there's still a few bands like the names I call, or maybe one or two more that have a little bit more clothing, but in the years gone by, anybody that knows about mas will tell you the gorgeous, the beautiful fabric 31:00and the costumes that used to come out.
PINCHEON: So they were much more elaborate.
QUAMINA: Well, they're still elaborate, you know. The kings and the queens ofthe bands, and the individuals as we call them, they have the big costumes, but the other people that play, like what we call floor members, they are the ones who have less, and they make it even less.
PINCHEON: Floor members, are they the ones who are walking around the king and queen?
QUAMINA: Yes, they are the ones that support the individuals which have thebigger ones, and the kings and queens. You know, like, when a king used to have his court, he'd have his kings and queens and princes and stuff, and then you have the other people there also.
PINCHEON: The subjects.
QUAMINA: The subjects, right, that's it. So that's how that is. But in thosedays, some years back --I think it's only about five years they've started this 32:00now. They still used to have a lot of beautiful, the velvets and the satins, and you know, but that's something I have noticed a lot over the past five years.
PINCHEON: Is the material changing, or is it still basically the same?
QUAMINA: Yes, the material is changing somewhat, because now a lot of the bandleaders in Trinidad have to come out here to North America to buy the fabric. That costs them a lot just to get on the airplane to come. And then when they get the fabrics and they buy it --there was an article that I read in the papers where they were complaining bitterly because they say that they have to spend --they charge them so much money in duty, the customs --
PINCHEON: To get the fabric --
QUAMINA: When they get there. And they were complaining, and they were saying--and I think they have a good point, too. I mean, you know, what they're coming to do, you know, so they should at least give everybody an allotment. X amount 33:00of dollars worth; they be willing to let you come in with it. And then even if it's too much excess over, then they charge a little bit. But from the get-go they got to pay so much money on the duty on the fabric, so that they have to get other things and use other things in place of it. You know, local stuff.
PINCHEON: Right. Is there a way that the fabric could be imported just from adistributor directly from the United States, from here to a supplier in…
QUAMINA: Actually there is a group of people, now that I think I spoke torecently and that's what they're looking into. So that should make it a little easier for them. But it costs them a lot, and that is the reason why they have to put on so much other cost to the people that play, that participate in the 34:00costumes. Over the years, the costumes --costumes should be one hundred, two hundred and something dollars. Well, to get a decent costume, you have to pay anywhere from like four hundred dollars and up. Five, six, seven, eight hundred. So you know, that's what happened.
PINCHEON: The cost is going up.
QUAMINA: Is going up, of course. But those are the changes that I have seen inCarnival, you know, over the past few years. That's in Trinidad, now.
PINCHEON: Right. Well, what about here?
QUAMINA: Well, basically, here no. It has basically still the same, if my mindserves me right, as it has been. See, it's here that they have the fabric right here. They don't have to send anywhere for it. They don't have to go nowhere to buy it, like the people in the islands have to come here. So basically it's like the same.
PINCHEON: When you became involved in working in Carnival here, was it alreadyhappening in Brooklyn? 35:00
QUAMINA: No. Where was it? Did it move from Harlem just yet? I know Rufus wasstill alive, Rufus Goring. He was still alive, because my daughter used to play in a little kids band that he had.
PINCHEON: Did you ever participate or watch Carnival in Harlem?
QUAMINA: Yes, I did. I watched. I think actually I had just --yes, it was inBrooklyn here already, yes. It was in Brooklyn here. I think I had seen it once or twice on the other side, but I wasn't involved as yet.
PINCHEON: By the other side you mean --
QUAMINA: I mean Harlem. Yes, Harlem.
PINCHEON: How did the Carnival in Harlem differ from the one in Brooklyn?
QUAMINA: Well, the Carnival in Harlem, it was not as big, of course, like it was36:00in Brooklyn here. And actually when it first started in Harlem, it wasn't on the streets, per se, too much, and it used to be like a big masquerade ball, as you would call it. It was actually inside. When it came here to Brooklyn, and it started not even on Eastern Parkway. What was the name of that street it used to be on? I don't remember offhand now, but then it came now where it used to be --when it finally came on Eastern Parkway, it used to come from the other direction. It starts here and ends there. It used to start there and come the other way.
PINCHEON: Did it start at Brooklyn Museum?
QUAMINA: Yeah, down at that end and come this way. Now it starts at Utica and itgoes the other way, see, it was in an opposite direction. And at one time, in a few years, like in 1970 and so, it used to go into the park. 37:00
PINCHEON: The park behind the museum or Prospect Park?
QUAMINA: I… No, Prospect Park. Yeah, in that Park on Eastern Parkway. And thenafter that, when the permit was gotten for the streets, then it started on the street per se. See, it actually grew, like from a baby to an adult as it is now.
PINCHEON: What do you like best about Carnival and why?
QUAMINA: What do I like best? There are so many things that I like about it. Ilike seeing the costumes, I like the music, of course. Since I am involved in the actual organizing of the stuff here, what I like most is when that time, that day comes together, and you see, and you know from myself, well, look, I contributed in some way to this, it's a great feeling, you know, that you are 38:00part of this, and you was able to put your energy and your time and everything into this, so you feel like you are actually part of what you are seeing here. Although I don't have the time to put the costume on like I do in Trinidad, but I stand on Eastern Parkway, you know, there. Actually I run a show there that morning, across from the reviewing stand, from about ten o'clock to about twelve o'clock, twelve thirty, one o'clock. Until all the groups start to come up. So I'm there, you know, so I see a lot. Everything has to come right past me. And you stand and you watch all those people on the street, and you watch all those groups coming with those beautiful costumes, and you say, my God, but at least my work wasn't in vain. You know, you know that you're part of this, and that is like a self-gratification, satisfaction.
PINCHEON: Right, a real good feeling.
QUAMINA: Yes, it is. It is.39:00
PINCHEON: When you talk about the group that starts before the largerprocession, is that the Kiddie Carnival?
QUAMINA: It's not a group, you know, it's a show. There's a portable stage rightacross from the reviewing stand. You know, the reviewing stand is in front of the Brooklyn Museum, and across the street is a [unintelligible] wagon that we get from the parks department, and it opens up. You know those portable stages. You have ever see them?
QUAMINA: Right. So that's where I am, and there's a band, a live band, Calypsoband, and I have the Calypsonians that come and they sing and dance and stuff and entertain the people that sitting on the reviewing stand. You know? Oh, but the Kiddies Carnival is something different, because, I mean, that is my best love; let's put it that way.
PINCHEON: It's your baby.
QUAMINA: Yes, because the kids, I said I like to work with the kids, which I do,and actually the Kiddies Carnival on the streets of New York was my idea about five years ago. We always had a Kiddies Carnival, but the kids would put the 40:00costumes on and come straight to the Brooklyn Museum, the Saturday and the Sunday. So then about five years ago, I said to Carlos, lay down at night, and I had the thoughts. I said to him, you know, how about if you bring the kids carnival on the street like the adults? So he said, "Girl, that's a lot of work, man. We have so much work already. Who will do it?" I said, I will do it. And we experimented, and it used to start here. The first year it started right here at the corner of President and Nostrand, and it went all the way on President, because you know President runs all the way to the Brooklyn Museum now. Yes, so it came all the way up into the Brooklyn Museum. And the next time we took it a little further back to like New York Avenue. And then it got so big that we decided to change the venue, and we took it now to St. John's between Brooklyn and Kingston, and it goes on Kingston Avenue on to Fulton Street, all the way on into, cross over into Franklin, and come all the way up, and then into the 41:00Brooklyn Museum. But it's gotten very big now. We have more kids, yes.
PINCHEON: This is still growing and growing.
QUAMINA: Oh, yes, it's still growing and growing. Every year it gets bigger andbigger. Every year we get more and more kids involved, and it's beautiful. You see the kids --the mothers are out there with the kids in strollers. They have the costumes on them, they just can't get up out of the stroller and dance, but they have ~-I said, my God. And the kids be sleeping there like this, but they have on the costumes. I say, look at this. Look at this. And it's nice. You know, it's a nice feeling. You know, and they play. Then they have those who are about three, four years, and they go all the way up till about fifteen, sixteen.
PINCHEON: What is it that you don't like about Carnival, or that you like theleast? Is there anything?
QUAMINA: No, I don't think there's anything about Carnival in itself that I42:00don't like. There's one thing, and I don't think it has --well, it has to do with Carnival, yes. Carnival is something that attracts all sorts of elements, and there is always that element that will come to make problems and trouble. Most time if there's a problem here or even in Trinidad, or anyone of the other Carnivals, people will tell you, very seldom it's people that's participating that make the problems. It's the followers. People that come like, for instance, here in New York, in Brooklyn, we used to have problems on Eastern Parkway there a lot during and after the festival. And most time when you look at it, it's not people that's participating in the festival, and most time it's not even 43:00Caribbean people, believe it or not. You know what I'm saying? So that's the only part of it that I really don't like, but I guess in life that's how it is. It have all kinds of people, and no matter what you have or what you doing, they'll always have those that will always come to infiltrate and create problems. But basically Caribbean people don't go out and look for problems, especially on Carnival days, because they want to party. They want to dance, they want to show off their costumes. You know, so they ain't got no time to fight nobody, or shoot nobody, or stab nobody. They want to have a good time. You know, and even in Trinidad, there's the same thing. What could you do? It's an open thing, and it's not that you have something closed up in a door, like in your house, and you say, well, hey you can't come in. You know, it's open. That's the only thing I don't like, but everything else about Carnival I like it very much.
PINCHEON: I see. You've gone to Carnival in many other places. You've mentioned44:00Trinidad, and you mentioned Miami. Is there also a Carnival that's in Notting Hill in England?
QUAMINA: The Carnival is in Notting Hill, yes. And I would love to see. I mean,for years I've been saying, but the only reason we cannot go to Notting Hill, it is that last week coming right on to our, see? The timing, but if it was even earlier in August, I'm sure--well, while we might not be able to go every year like we go to Miami other places every year, we would have been able to go on at least once or twice and see. But we can't leave because we can't go, because most of the key players, you know, you can't take the time off to go, you know? But that's a carnival I would really like to experience. I guess one day, I don't know.
PINCHEON: Have you heard from people that have gone?
QUAMINA: Oh, yes. I heard from people that have gone. Actually I went to a45:00conference last March in Miami, and the lady, the representative from London was there, and she was explaining us what it was all about. And I've known a couple of people that have been to Notting Hill Carnival. They had their share of problems, too, with people in the streets and stuff, but I think over the years, they have gotten to a point --I don't know, some kind of control or something has been taking place, so I don't think they have as much problems, you know?
PINCHEON: Carnival here and in London, in some ways do they share the samehistory? In that I think that Carnival in London started as a kid's carnival?
QUAMINA: Actually, to be quite honest, I don't know how it started, if it waskids or not, but I do know that it is the same culture. It has the same meaning and everything, because most of the people that organize and stuff are Caribbean people. 46:00
PINCHEON: And when those people left, or moved away, when they immigrated, thenthey brought this aspect of their culture with them.
QUAMINA: With them to London, like we brought ours here, and so on.
PINCHEON: What kind of problems regarding Carnival have you seen that have comeup over the years, and how has WIADCA or how have you dealt with it?
QUAMINA: Well, problems over the years is like what I just spoke to you about,the elements, which thank God we don't have that problem anymore. It used to be bad, but not anymore. Because when you consider you have 3.5 million people in one place at one time, just for a few hours, and you have no fatalities, I mean, that's a plus as far as that is concerned. Any other problems we have had, is 47:00like I said trying to get those sponsors, or get new sponsors to give us funds in order to meet our financial needs, you know? Other than that we had no real problems. Of course, in everything that you do, there's always someone out there that comes out of the woodwork and figure, well, alright, he or she has been doing it for so long, too long. I can do a better job. Most times when you put those people to work to do it, they run the other way
QUAMINA: It's getting that sponsorship going. Once we get that sponsorship goingand we have the funds, we don't have much of a problem. Then we can always meet 48:00our expenses and that kind of stuff.
PINCHEON: So one of the problems has been that as Carnival's grown, the cost has grown.
QUAMINA: Every year.
PINCHEON: Right, and you have to become more aggressive by getting sponsors.
QUAMINA: Yeah, we try much, much harder until you can get new sponsors to comein, you know? One thing about that is that if you have a sponsor, unless there's another sponsor that has been there for years and know what value they can get out of this --signage and advertisement and stuff, and like I know you and you have a company and I am a sponsor for years, and I could say to you, man, spend that money. It's worth it. Then that person would come in without any reservations. But for somebody, a sponsor that don't know, and don't have another sponsor to tell them, well look, yes, it's worth it --it's a little 49:00harder getting them to come in. Finally when they come in, they want to get their feet wet first. The first year they want to see what they're gonna get or what it's all about. But once you get them in and they're hooked in, that's it, because once they get in and they see --oh my God, I didn't know this thing was so good. You know. But basically that's what we are faced with.
QUAMINA: Persuading them to just do it.
QUAMINA: Yes, to get in. And once they get in, we have no problems, because Imean, we know we have a good product to sell. No two ways about it, you know.
PINCHEON: Do you think that Carnival gets enough recognition in Brooklyn?
QUAMINA: No, no, no. I know, I'm sure that our Carnival do not get enoughrecognition. There are lots of other things that I sit and look at the TV sometimes, and they get so much play, and something like this that goes on here every year for 26 years, this is the 27th year. And when they do show it on the 50:00TV, they give you a little piece and before you know it, it's gone, you know? I don't know what the real problem is and why it's like that. We do have a couple of well, actually, I work very closely with some people at Fox 5, and they give us a good play. They come out before the Carnival, and they tape the kids with the steel band and stuff, and that kind of stuff, and then Kiddies Carnival they are out there and stuff and whatnot. I don't know. I was told once that their camera crew comes out early in the morning, like eight or nine o'clock on Labor Day, and you and I know that that festival don't really get underway until twelve o' clock, one o'clock in the day sometime. Because we have to wait for 51:00all the groups to come out, and they claim that they come out there at that time. We say, but why send them out there at eight and nine o'clock, when all you see is people actually coming in to view the festival, or the Carnival. If we could get them to understand that they have to come out like at eleven, twelve o'clock, it'll be better. But that's what I was told. If that's the real reason, I don't know. But I really don't think that's the real reason. I can't say what the real thing is for sure.
PINCHEON: So, you don't think it gets enough recognition in Brooklyn, and youdon't think it gets enough outside of Brooklyn or New York City, either?
QUAMINA: Well, outside, you mean people with the cameras and stuff?
PINCHEON: Just recognition in general. You know, that there is a community herethat puts on this carnival.
QUAMINA: Oh, yes. That kind of recognition is worldwide. We get calls from Japanand Germany and all over. It's known all over the world. It's known.
PINCHEON: And do you think that, OK, it's known all over the world, but yet --52:00
QUAMINA: Right, it's known. Because last year there's a guy that called me herefrom Japan, and as a matter I still have his fax number and his telephone number, and he asked me to fax information to him. He was a journalist. So they know about it all over the world. But why we have that kind of treatment here, right here on our doorsteps, I don't know. I really don't know. Whether it is that we need sponsors to go in, because that kind of air time, you have to pay a lot for it. Maybe that's the problem, I don't know. So I can't really speak on that. But I definitely know that we do not get enough coverage. No way, no how. We don't. One or two of the TV stations will come out over the years and they take a couple of shots. Roz Abrams did something with us once, and that kind of stuff. But not like you see other festivals that's there for hours all the way down. We don't get that. 53:00
PINCHEON: I really do think it would be so great, because, you know, the chanceto see that much pageantry and spectacle and color.
QUAMINA: Yes, right! I don't know. That's somewhere down the line, hopefully.
PINCHEON: You know, also, I've seen those pay-per-view channels where they do, Ithink they do Trinidad.
QUAMINA: CSN or CCN or whatever, yes. They started doing it in Trinidad now andthey sent it out, and this is the second year they did that, this year. So I don't know. A guy spoke to us some time back. I don't know who. I think it was some cable. I don't know if it was from them or who. And he's supposed to come back to us. I don't know if he will, but some cable people did speak to us.
PINCHEON: And maybe you'll be able to get more --and you do want to see more recognition?
QUAMINA: Oh, of course.
PINCHEON: What is your role in connection to Carnival now? It's as an organizerwithin WIADCA? 54:00
QUAMINA: I am the Business Manager.
PINCHEON: OK. What kind of planning or organization do you do then inpreparation for Carnival?
QUAMINA: Well, yes, I go to the meetings with the sponsors, I do theregistration of the vendors, I do registration of the bands, and the floats, and basically, like they say, Chief Cook and Bottle washer.
PINCHEON: What was that?
QUAMINA: I said, basically, like we say in the island, Chief Cook and BottleWasher. That means you do everything. Whatever I am called on to do, I do.
PINCHEON: Do you know of any other events that aren't sponsored by WIADCA thatoccur during Carnival, and do you participate in any of those?
QUAMINA: Oh, yes. I go up and do the organizing the week after Labor Day mosttimes for the Westchester Carnival. I get the costumes from here to go up, and I 55:00do the whole show for them up there. Besides that, as I said, it's a year round thing for me. As a matter of fact, remember I said to you, the first week in June, I'll be in the Bahamas. I'll be doing Caribbean Music festival out there, in Nassau. Yeah. Sparrow and Arrow and Rose and United Sisters, and [unintelligible] and Spice and all those different Calypso bands. I'm going there to do that the first week in June in Nassau. So basically I'm busy year-round. Beside that, there's the kid's steel band, CASYM. I'm the manager for the steel band, too.
PINCHEON: And you do the Kiddie Carnival.
QUAMINA: Then the Kiddies Carnival. I do everything. I go to the schools and dolecture demonstrations, and that kind of stuff. I did a lecture demonstration at the Brooklyn Museum to Jr. High, High School, and College teachers, two years 56:00ago. So I'm all over. I'm all over.
PINCHEON: What do you think about the fact that Carnival brings together so manydifferent groups of people --like Trinidadians, Jamaicans, and African-Americans --you know it brings together a lot of people.
QUAMINA: That is a very good feeling, to know that one particular event canbring so many different people, different ethnic backgrounds, different personalities, you know. Like I said, one place at one time, for a few hours, it's good to know that you can participate and organize and be into something that can do that. That's the day everybody comes together. It's like whatever inhibitions they have, they just leave everything on the doorstep and they just come out there, and they just throw caution to the wind, as we say, and they 57:00party, and they dance, and they talk to you. They don't even have to know you, and they hold you and they dance with you and stuff. So that in itself, it's good to know that you can bring, merge, so many different people, like I say, of different thoughts, different feelings, different actions. But that day everybody's like one big, happy family. You know. And it is a very good feeling, not only to feel, but to stand up and see and watch, you know? It's good. It is very good.
PINCHEON: Do you think that Carnival makes a statement in Brooklyn, or New YorkCity? And what kind of statement does it make?
QUAMINA: Oh yes, absolutely. Carnival makes a statement, not only in Brooklyn orNew York City. Like I said, all over the world. Again, Caribbean people, people of Caribbean descent coming together to share and enjoy the culture and the heritage, and it is a very big statement because remember, here in New York we 58:00have so many different ethnic groups that they feel proud of their culture and their heritage. We have the Italian Day Parade, the Puerto Rican, the Greek, the Irish. You name it, we got it here. So of course we feel good to be there right on top too. I mean, the biggest festival in New York State, period. It is a good feeling, and that is a hell of a statement to make, especially out of one's place where they were born. That you come, you migrated to someplace else, and is able to do this. It is a big statement, yeah, sure.
PINCHEON: Those are all the questions that I have. If there are any things thatyou'd like to add, or is there something that I didn't ask that you think is important.
QUAMINA: Your questions were on a broad basis, I think. We spoke about how itwas then, how it is now. Where we see it going is that I said, we want the kids 59:00to keep it going, and so it'll get bigger and better., We're teaching our kids, so that's where it's going, basically. We speak about the costuming, the masks, the steel bands wire benders, the participants, the viewers. What else? Anything else? Well, the only thing we didn't speak about in the Carnival actually is the steel band, because Carnival comprises of steel band, calypso, and masque, which is the costumes. That's the three components that come together to make Carnival. It goes like the horse and the carriage. You can't have one without the next, you know. So that's the steel band, calypso, and mas. That's the components that make up the Carnival. Basically that's it, you know. I can't 60:00really think offhand of anything else. Not really.
PINCHEON: OK. Ms. Quamina, thank you very much. We'll end it here.
Oral History Interview with Joyce Quamina
Joyce Quamina was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1969, she immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn, New York. A participant of Carnival in her native Trinidad, Quamina was a spectator of the original West Indian American parades in Harlem, New York and became an active participant when the parade began in Brooklyn, New York. In 1994, at the time of the interview, she was the business manager of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA). Quamina was the founder and organizer of the Carnival's Kiddies Carnival; an event in which children between the ages of infancy and sixteen participate in their own mas or masquerade parade. She was also a contributor to the Westchester County Caribbean Carnival, in White Plains, New York. After retiring from WIADCA, Quamina continued as a business consultant for the association.
This is the first of two interviews with Joyce Quamina. The second interview was conducted on June 23, 1994. In this interview, Quamina discusses her childhood and adult experiences of Carnival in Trinidad. She relates memories of the West Indian Carnival in Harlem and provides a history of the Brooklyn West Indian American Day Carnival and its Kiddies Carnival, which she founded. She relates why the West Indian American Day Carnival is important to her. She also discusses what she views as the important factors of the Carnival's success. Quamina discusses the cultural diversity of the Carnival. Based on the popularity of the Carnival and the revenue it creates for the Crown Heights community and the City of New York, she sees a need for stronger sponsorship and media recognition beyond Brooklyn. The interview ends in a discussion of her role as business manager at the West Indian American Day Carnival Association. Interview conducted by Bill Pincheon.
The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.
CitationQuamina, Joyce, Oral history interview conducted by Bill Pincheon, May 12, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.19; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Quamina, Joyce
- West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- West Indian-American Day Carnival Association
- Caribbean Americans
- Ethnic identity
- Race identity
- Race relations
- Trinidadian Americans
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
- London (England)
- Miami (Fla.)
Finding AidWest Indian Carnival Documentation Project records