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Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King
August 03, 1994
Call number: 2010.019.29
KING: This is Dwan Reece King conducting an interview for the West IndianCarnival Documentation Project. Today's date is August 3, 1994, and I'm sitting here outside the CASYM rehearsal with Tricia Thomas, and let's get started. Tricia, I'd like you to tell me a little bit about yourself. Can you tell me where you were born?
THOMAS: Well, I was born in New York, Manhattan, NY, at NYU, and when I wasabout two weeks old, I went to Trinidad, and I stayed there until I was about six, and I came up here. I've been living in Brooklyn for about eight years. And then two years ago, I moved to New Jersey, where I reside now.
KING: OK and where do you go to school in New Jersey?
THOMAS: I go to Edison High School.
KING: So you come up here several times a week for rehearsals?1:00
THOMAS: Yes, or sometimes I just sleep in Brooklyn.
KING: Can you tell me a little bit about what you remember about life inTrinidad when you were younger? Do you remember much about it?
THOMAS: It was fun. It was more outdoors. We didn't have to deal with the coldweather. Parents are strict. The food is much nicer, you know, different varieties of food and everything. I just like it better in Trinidad than I like it out here.
KING: Do you go back to visit often?
THOMAS: All the time.
KING: OK did you ever go to Carnival when you were little? Do you remember?
THOMAS: Yes, as a matter of fact I went to Carnival last year, was the last timeI went.
KING: OK, can you tell me a little bit about it?
THOMAS: Well, I'm not exactly --I know a few months before the Carnival,probably about Christmas time, they start opening up mas camps where they put all the costumes on display and stuff, and you know, people, they go around and visit the various mas camps to see which band they want to play in and what section they like the best, and then they also have calypso shows, and they also have the panorama competition. So you know, the calypso shows, they have tents 2:00where a certain amount of calypso is in this tent, and then these in another tent, and then they choose from those tents to see which calypsonians will come into the competition to become the Soca monarch, which is the king of calypso for that year that the Carnival is. And then with the panorama, all the bands, they come together, and there's a lot of bands in Trinidad, so they have North zone finals, South zone finals, to see who will make it to the semifinals, and then on to the finals and then who will win. So you see, there's more bands out there, so they can do it like that, whereas with us, we just have one show, one night, because there's only about ten bands, where in Trinidad they have probably over a hundred.
KING: Did you participate; get involved, in Trinidad's carnival last year?
THOMAS: Well, I played with a band for J'ouvert. J'ouvert is the night before.Carnival is two days in Trinidad, Monday and Tuesday, and J'ouvert is the Sunday morning into Monday morning. It's like the break of day, where everybody just 3:00come and just hears all the bands play music and stuff. And that's getting ready for the mas coming on during the day on Monday, and I participated in that. That was all.
KING: Did you play with an organized group?
THOMAS: Yeah, I did. I played with Phase II. That's one of their bigger bands,steel bands, in Trinidad.
KING: Did you play mas when you were down there?
THOMAS: When I was smaller I did.
KING: When you were smaller? Can you tell me a little bit about that? What kindof roles you played?
THOMAS: Well, you know, I'm not exactly sure, but you know, I got dressed up ina costume, and then wherever we were supposed to meet the band in the morning, we went there. As a matter of fact, I put on for Saturday, for Kiddies Carnival. Saturday they have a Kiddies Carnival. And you know, went out there, my grandmother took me and my sister. And we went out there and we played. You know, you march from one point to another point, and then in the savannah, that's when they have the competition to see which band, you know, they like the best. Which has the prettiest costumes, the most organized stuff like that. And then, you know, you get to that point, and then you just march back on to the mas camp, wherever you started, and then after that you go home. It takes all day. 4:00
KING: So you came up to Brooklyn when you were six?
KING: OK. When was the first time you attended Carnival here?
THOMAS: The first time I must have been about eight.
KING: Can you tell me about that?
THOMAS: Well, those years, it wasn't really anything big. I just played on aSaturday for Kiddies Carnival also, because I was very small. But then when I was about twelve or thirteen --no, thirteen, as a matter of fact, I was the queen, of the section, for Hawks Mas Camp, and the queen is the one that leads the band, and they have the biggest costume. And whatever the theme is, that's what the queen's costume will be. And then the other people, they have a similar costume, but it's a lot smaller, and you know, they follow behind. So when I was thirteen, I did that.
KING: So what was the theme that year? '
THOMAS: It was, to tell you the truth, it was about calypso songs, and there wasa song about a soucouyant. That in Trinidad is a ball of fire. So you know, my 5:00costume looked basically like a big ball of fire.
KING: So that was when you were thirteen. So you've played mas quite a bit whileyou were a child. Can you tell me a little bit about it? Was it something that just came natural to you?
THOMAS: My family, if it's one thing about my family, they like to recognizetheir culture, and anything happening Caribbean, they're always in it. And my mother, she instilled that in me from --I think it's because, you know, I like the music, and I like to party and stuff. So I told her. She used to ask me if I wanted to play mas and I told her yes. So she just took me to the mas camp, and how I happened to be queen is because we know the leader of the section. He's our good friend. And every year, somebody from my family plays queen, and that year was my year. So that's how we got into that.
KING: Oh, OK. So you've done it again since then? That was what, three year ago?6:00
THOMAS: The year after that, I decided to play pan instead of playing mas.
KING: OK, well let's jump a little bit to your involvement in CASYM? Can youtell me about that and how you got involved playing pan?
THOMAS: Ever since I was small, I told my mother I wanted to play pan, but whenshe was growing up in Trinidad, girls were not allowed. Like, it wasn't right for a girl to be playing pan. And I told her, from the time I came up here, I told her, I said, Look. From the time I was about eight, 1988; the band Phase II, they came up here, and I just fell in love, and I was like, mommy, I want to play. And all the bands that she heard about was just down with a lot of big men and stuff, and you know, me as a little girl, eight years old, she didn't want to subject me to that. And then her friend told her about CASYM about three years later, 1989. I was eleven. And then, you know, I got involved in CASYM. I've been here for about five years now; five, six years.
KING: OK, so are there a fair number of girls playing?
THOMAS: Yeah. At one point I believe there were more girls than boys, but now I7:00couldn't tell you. So I don't know.
KING: So what's it like, playing? What do you enjoy about it the most?
THOMAS: First of all, I love the music, and I like the instrument, and I likegoing to various places to perform. And it's fun, you know, 'cause of course, everywhere you go, you will find that there's arguments among the group, but it's still unity. We're like a family, cause no matter what, we'll always stick together. You know, our losses is everyone's loss. Our victory is everybody's victory.
KING: So how many years have you participated in the panorama?
THOMAS: Five years.
KING: Can you tell me a little bit about that? What's it like to play for that?
THOMAS: Well, normally we start practicing in, at about August. You know, wecome down to practice, and he teaches the section leaders a part, and then the section leader will go on to teach the rest of the section, and then we all come together and he drills everybody. You know, you play it down --if he didn't like the way it sounds, he'll play it down one by one, or each section will just play it together, you know, see how it sounds. Up until the last few nights, and then 8:00every night it gets hectic, and then usually the last two nights we'll come outside so we can hear how it sounds and everything, and we practice as late as we can. And you know, on the day, everybody's hyped up, and we go the Museum, and we practice until it's our turn to go up on stage, and then we play. And usually some people stay behind for results, but a lot of people go home or fall asleep, because you know we're youth. And that's how it is.
KING: I've heard that you guys are competing against adults.
THOMAS: Yeah, we are the only all youth band in--I believe, the States.
KING: In the States? '
THOMAS: I believe so. The only band that is strictly for youths alone.
KING: So from a strictly objective opinion, how do you think you compare withthe other bands?
THOMAS: I think we are very good. I don't care what anybody says. We're good. Imean, if you see the people in our band, they're about four feet high, and they're playing, and they don't always catch it up to speed, but you know, 9:00they're doing their best. You know, that they come out, they try their hardest, and they're at practice every night, learning the song, drilling, and no matter what, they never give up. We lose one year; we come back again next year and do the same thing. I give our band a lot of respect, in that aspect.
KING: It's obviously very important to you since you have to come here fromEdison --how many times a week? '
THOMAS: Well, right now it's Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but maybe as we go on,we might start practicing every day. Oh, we also practice on Saturdays. We might end up practicing every day soon. I'm not sure.
KING: Do you practice year round?
THOMAS: Yeah, we do. We're also one of the few bands up here that practice allyear round. Every Friday and Saturday during the year, and then when it comes to panorama --well, the summertime really, it's like a summer program. Practice Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and then as panorama come in, we practice nearly every day.
KING: Who are some of the other bands that compete in the panorama?
THOMAS: There's Sonatas, Panorables, Moves --I don't know if Moves is still in10:00existence. There's Metro, there's Dusters USA, Silhouettes, Harlem --no Pan Fantasy, Harlem All-Stars, and we even have a band --I think Pan Fantasy comes from Canada to participate, and last year Hartford Symphony, they came from Connecticut and they participated.
KING: Do you ever go to other Carnivals and participate in their panoramas?
THOMAS: Well, this year we're supposed to go to Miami for their Carnival, andwe'll participate in that panorama.
KING: Is that the first time?
THOMAS: It's not well, it's gonna be the third time we're visiting Miami as aband, but the first time playing in their panorama.
KING: OK. Have you gone to any other ones, then?
THOMAS: Not as a band, no.
KING: Not as a band? Are there any other carnivals that you go to on asemi-regular basis?
THOMAS: Well, always Trinidad. I usually go to Toronto for Caribana, butunfortunately not this year. Then I go to Boston. I've been to Baltimore and New Jersey carnivals.
KING: Where is New Jersey's carnival?11:00
THOMAS: East Orange. No, South Orange. It's not as big, you know. It's juststarting. Probably about two or three years old.
KING: So have you been to a fair number. Can you tell me a little bit how theycompare? What differs'? Which ones do you like the best, and why?
THOMAS: Nothing compared to Trinidad. Well, I guess Trinidad is the founder ofthe Carnival and the steel band and all that, so you know, there will tend to be the best. It's been in existence for the longest. And the next place I would say that is closest to Trinidad would have to be New York, you know, the Labor Day. Cause I guess there are a lot of West Indians that live in Brooklyn itself, so they know how to run it, and the participation is so immense that everybody just comes out, and they know how to do it right. Plus there's enough steel bands to go out about and everything. And then after that, I would say Miami has a nice Carnival, too. But I don't really like Toronto and Boston and Baltimore. Those other places. It's not as…the interest isn't really shown out there as it is 12:00in New York.
KING: What do you mean, when you say do it right? What does that mean? Is it thenumber of people who participate? Whether the difference is?
THOMAS: Well, probably the organization of the bands. You see, OK, in New York,the bands will be big, whereas in Boston, the bands are very small and scarce in number. And you have more onlookers and participants, so that's probably their downfall.
KING: You kind of alluded to some of this, but what does Carnival represent to you?
THOMAS: It's a time of freedom. You know, you just get out, enjoy yourself, anddo what you want. It's just a time for you to be yourself. Let everything go. Don't worry about anything. You're just there to have a good time. You can worry about work tomorrow.
KING: Is there any group that you associate Carnival with? I mean, I know yougo to Trinidad on a regular basis. Do you think it's just for people from Trinidad? 13:00
THOMAS: It's for West Indians. Caribbean people on the whole, yeah. 'CauseJamaica has a carnival, Barbados has their Carnival, so it's all over.
KING: Is there anything you find unique abut Brooklyn's Carnival compared tosome of the other ones that you go to?
THOMAS: I participated in the Brooklyn one. What's different? I think it's theparticipation. I mean, and the bands -- there's a lot more people in Brooklyn that participate, and in Brooklyn it's more -- well I don't know, because usually I go to those other places for a day, but Brooklyn is almost exactly like Trinidad. You have the panorama the Saturday night, the Sunday night you have the calypso showcase, and then the Monday; then after the calypso showcase. Sunday night into Monday, you have your J'ouvert, where all the steel bands come out, and then Monday you have your carnival. It's almost exactly similar to Trinidad.
KING: Why do you think Brooklyn's Carnival is as strong as it is next to Trinidad?14:00
THOMAS: Because I believe the amount of Trinidadians that live in Brooklynprobably, you know? And I mean, people come from all over to come just to see this. 'Cause I have family in Toronto, Canada, and they come down for Labor Day to see our Carnival.
KING: What are the range of people that you know who participate? Is it just Trinidadians?
THOMAS: Well, the majority of people that I know is Trinidadians, but there area lot of people from Barbados that participate. Jamaicans, they come out with their reggae and stuff, but it's not, you know, Trinidadians, we outnumber everybody. But the second largest group that I've seen participating is probably a lot of Bajans. And then there's the Guyanese. Everybody comes out and does their own little thing.
KING: So you've been going to Carnival a good portion of your life, most of yourlife. Any changes that you've noticed in Brooklyn's Carnival over the years? 15:00
THOMAS: No, not really. Yeah, it's basically the same every year.
KING: Has it grown?
THOMAS: Yes, it has. It's gotten quite bigger. Last year was CASYM's first timeparticipating in the J'ouvert, and I never realized that there's so many bands that used to come out for J'ouvert. It was packed.
KING: Did you enjoy that?
THOMAS: Yeah, I did. We were out from what time, I don't even know. Came,gathered here about two o'clock; and we didn't leave until about seven. Two AM to seven AM. Just went, playing. And I mean it's little children, and they're up that early in the morning or the middle of the night, just playing. That's what we're into. This is what we love.
KING: One thing that strikes me as I sit here and talk to you is that parent'sinvolvement with CASYM, because you guys are here quite a bit of your time, so you really have to have your parent's support. It seems to be important to them to have you involved. Could you talk a little bit about that? 16:00
THOMAS: Yeah, I think they're also glad that we want to preserve our culture,and not only that, it gives us something to do. You know, they can't say, "Oh, this one here is running in the street and getting in trouble." We're downstairs practicing, playing pan. We're not doing anything wrong. We're enjoying ourselves and preserving our culture, at the same time. It's a good pastime.
KING: In your perspective, who are the most important people involved inCarnival, who make it happen?
THOMAS: I think everybody, cause if we don't have the masqueraders, there wouldbe no --I mean, first of all, well, yeah. You need the people that start it all, the people to organize the mas camps and get the costumes up. You need that. And then we also need the support of the people as well so that it will come off. So everybody plays a major part in this, and the West Indian Day Association, they 17:00have a lot to do with it as well. They've kept it going over the years.
KING: Let me ask you a few questions about playing mas. When you go and youselect your costume, things like that, what do you look for?
THOMAS: Whichever one catches your eye. You know, some people, they like to go,and they don't like to play with too many clothes. They like to be just a top, a bottom, and that's it. Some people, they like a lot of mas. Some people, they look at the colors. You know, it all depends on you. What type of person you are. How you choose. Cause I mean, you wouldn't want anything too heavy, because you want to be able to jump up and dance around. And you don't want anything too skimpy, because you want to be able to show off the costume as well. So it depends on the person, how you choose what you want.
KING: When you pick a costume, the sketch is there, and you know what the roleis, right?
KING: OK, is there anything else you do in order to play the role, or do youjust kind of play it by ear?
THOMAS: No, you see, it's not really a show. You just dress up in a costume,there's music on the street, and you dance. You just dance. You know, walk 18:00around the street. That's basically it. You don't really have to know anything about it.
KING: Are you playing mas this year?
THOMAS: I'm not sure.
KING: You're not sure yet.
THOMAS: See, like I told you, my family is with that Mas Camp Hawks, so I can gothe night before, and I'll be able to get my costume. I really don't know.
KING: Do you have brothers and sisters?
THOMAS: Yeah. I have a sister.
KING: Is she just as involved as you are?
THOMAS: .Yeah, well she played pan for a year. She didn't like it. She's moreinto the Jamaican culture than the Trinidadian culture.
KING: Why's that?
THOMAS: I don't know. I really don't know.
KING: Does she have a lot of Jamaican friends?
THOMAS: Yeah. Well, her boyfriend's Jamaican, so maybe that has a lot to do with it!
KING: Well, that could be a start, yeah, yeah, yeah. Do you think Carnival getsenough recognition from people on the outside from New York, Brooklyn, anybody? 19:00This Carnival in particular.
THOMAS: Well, yeah it does, because right now there's a big thing in thenewspapers about how the Jews, they want it stopped. So you know, it is getting a lot of recognition now, and I believe that if Carnival still goes on, it will prove the amount of recognition and participation that we have, but if the Jews get their way and it stops, then it would show that it was all for nothing. You understand what I'm saying?
THOMAS: So, I think so. But it's not like, you know, when you have the St.Patrick's Day Parade and Thanksgiving Day Parade; you would have TV coverage all day long, whereas with us, on the seven o'clock news or the ten o'clock news, they would just say, oh, this is what happened today in Brooklyn. So it doesn't get as much respect as those other parades. I guess that's because it's American culture, but this is West Indian culture, so you know.
KING: Could you make an argument --because I mean it's become a part of Brooklynso much, that it becomes part of, you know, it's a West Indian culture, but it's a West Indian American culture. 20:00
KING: That is also changing this community as well.
THOMAS: There are quite a few Americans who participate as well. I know many.
KING: Do you?
KING: How do they participate? In what ways?
THOMAS: The same way. They play in mas, masqueraders in the street. They go tothe mas camps, get their costumes, and come out.
KING: What do you think people could learn about the West Indian community fromCarnival itself? I guess, people on the outside who live in Brooklyn; people who live in New York City.
THOMAS: What do I think they can learn from it?
KING: Yeah, what kind of statement do you think it makes? I mean, you talk aboutpart of your cultural heritage.
THOMAS: Well, first of all, it would show how united we are, you know, inkeeping this culture preserved, but you know, we came to the States, we're not gonna forget it, and we're gonna do it whether you like it or not. It's like; we don't care what you think. We're gonna do this anyway. This is our time. This is our day to have fun and do what we want, basically. I'm not sure, with the 21:00panorama and stuff, they can learn about --with the panorama, I guess when you go there and you find out more about the pan, it will show how the pan came about. You know, it was a way of communicating when the slaves were brought to Trinidad from Africa and the families got separated, they used it just as a way to communicate amongst each other, and that's how the pan came around, and it just developed into this art, as the only instrument in the 20th century. And it's worldwide known. It's known just about anywhere, and I think we've come a long way with that as well. They get to learn about how we've struggled and we stick together, the unity.
KING: I don't really have any more questions. Is there anything else that you'dlike to add and have on the record? I could give you this opportunity to do so.
THOMAS: I don't know.
KING: Nothing else?
THOMAS: I think that's about it.
KING: OK, well let's end the interview here. I want to thank you very much, and22:00I'm sorry I took you away from your rehearsal, but I appreciate it.
THOMAS: No problem.
KING: And we'll end the interview right here then.
THOMAS: Thank you.
Oral History Interview with Tricia Thomas
Tricia Thomas was born in New York City. From age two until the age of six, she lived in Trinidad. Her family then returned to New York to live in Brooklyn. At the time of the interview she was sixteen years old and living in Edison, New Jersey. Many of her family members participated in Brooklyn's Carnival as masqueraders with Hawks International Mas Camp. Thomas was a member of the steel pan youth band, Caribbean American Sports & Cultural Youth Movement (CASYM), which required her to make multiple, weekly visits into Brooklyn for rehearsals and to commit to prolonged stays during the summer season before Carnival.
In this interview Tricia Thomas discusses her participation in Brooklyn's Carnival and in playing mas, the themed costume participation, from the age of three. She reflects on her choice to play the steel pan rather than mas and describes her family's participation in Carnival. A participant or observer of Carnival in a number of cities, she provides her opinion on the differences in the Carnivals and notes the pros and cons of the each. Noting the lack of media recognition of the Carnival, Thomas sees a need for the New York population to acknowledge and respect the Caribbean community's desire to preserve the cultural meaning of Carnival. Interview conducted by Dwan Reece King.
The West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records include photographs, oral histories (audio and transcripts), publications and research, and ephemeral materials relating to the Carnival and the project itself. The materials were collected and created within the context of a documentation project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society in 1994, which later culminated in an exhibition. Exhibition materials are not included in the collection.
CitationThomas, Tricia, Oral history interview conducted by Dwan Reece King, August 03, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.29; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Thomas, Tricia
- West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- Caribbean Americans
- Ethnic identity
- Performing arts
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Toronto (Ont.)
Finding AidWest Indian Carnival Documentation Project records