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Oral history interview conducted by Maureen Mahon
October 05, 1994
Call number: 2010.019.30
MAHON: OK. So the first things I have are just general questions, when you were born, when you came to Brooklyn --when you came to New York, I should say.
THOMPSON: Well, I was born [date redacted for privacy] 1965, and I used to livein Brooklyn when I was about the age from 14 to 17, and then I went back home, and I came back in 1988.
MAHON: And where's home?
THOMPSON: St. Kitt.
MAHON: And so you've been here in New York since 1988?
MAHON: But now you live in the Bronx?
MAHON: Do you live in the North Bronx?
THOMPSON: No, South Bronx.
MAHON: Do you remember when you came to Brooklyn? What were your firstimpressions of it?
MAHON: Well, it was not like I expected it to be. It was much different. First1:00of all, I did not expect to see --well, I came here first when I was young, and I did not expect to see homeless people. I thought that was only in the West Indies, but you I know, I saw some, and I was very flabbergasted at first. I went to school. I went to Stephen Decatur Junior High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and graduated from 9th Grade and went back home and did a secretarial course back in St. Kitts and started working for the government there. I have two kids, actually. A boy and a girl. My son is seven turning eight and my daughter is four turning five [date redacted for privacy].
THOMPSON: Thank you.
MAHON: And your birthday is a week…?2:00
THOMPSON: [Date redacted for privacy.] We're actually five days apart from each other.
MAHON: When you first came here you were going to school, so--
THOMPSON: Yeah, I came here, went to school, went back home and finished highschool back home and then did the secretarial course and was working for the government.
MAHON: Was your mother here when you came to Brooklyn?
THOMPSON: Well, she used to live in Puerto Rico. No. I lived with my uncle inBrooklyn. My mom was living in Puerto Rico. After she moved, here to New York, and then she decided she wanted all of her kids with her. So we started coming one by one, one by one. I was actually the last one to come.
MAHON: How many sisters and brothers do you have?
THOMPSON: I was the oldest. Being the oldest, I was the last one to come. Itried to get all of them out before I did. I have five sisters, no brothers.
MAHON: Are they all in New York now?
THOMPSON: Yeah. They're all here.
MAHON: So what was important to you when you first came here as a teenager?3:00
THOMPSON: Getting an education.
MAHON: And then the second time when you came back in '88?
THOMPSON: Just getting my life together, making money.
MAHON: So New York is the place to be. Have you ever participated in Carnival?
THOMPSON: Not here, but back home I did. I played mas a couple of years, in 1986and '87. It was a lot of fun. I've never had the opportunity to play mas here.
MAHON: And is St. Kitts Carnival around Ash Wednesday?
THOMPSON: No it's in December. It's December 24th to January 2nd.
MAHON: So is it connected to Christmas?
MAHON: And have you been involved at all in Carnival in Brooklyn? Do you go toEastern Parkway?
THOMPSON: No. Well, just the booth that my family runs there.4:00
MAHON: Could you tell me about that?
THOMPSON: It was a lot of hard work. We started cooking and everything likeFriday --not really Friday --Saturday. Start preparing for everything on the Saturday. Cooking. Get everything together. My dad works downtown in Manhattan, so he gets all the permits and everything that's needed, and so my mom and I start cooking. My dad helps the cooking also, but my mom and are the ones that really do most of it. My sisters help. And we leave home, on Monday, we leave home about 7 o'clock in the morning to get there and start setting up and everything. We spend the whole day there. Leave over there in Brooklyn maybe 7:30, 8:00. It's really a hard day's work. Need a lot of rest afterwards. I 5:00usually take a day off after, the day after, I take the day off. My mom does also
MAHON: And so what kind of things do you cook?
THOMPSON: All kinds of things. We have curried goat, goat meat, rice and redbeans, rice and pigeon peas. We have something that we call goat water, which is actually goat meat soup. It has carrots, lots of seasoning, carrots, green peppers, onion, goat meat, potato. It's really tasty though. I can't really tell you all of the ingredients, but it's really tasty. And we do fried chicken. 6:00There's a dish that we call pelau. It's cooked up. It's all sorts of things cooked up. If you want to put two kinds of beans, you can. There's chicken, there's codfish, there's salted pigtail. All sorts of things cooked up in it. It's really good.
MAHON: How do you spell pelau?
THOMPSON: P-E-L-A-U. And we have so many things I can't even remember them now.
MAHON: Are there any fish dishes?
THOMPSON: Yeah, we fry fish. And there's one that my dad loves. It's hisfavorite dish. It's called picked-up codfish. It's codfish, but it's really 7:00mashes it away, so it's really fine.
MAHON: Is that saltfish?
THOMPSON: Yeah, but it's cooked like you usually cook it, but it's crushed upreally fine, really small. A lot of people eat that with bread, or you can have it with saltine crackers. And we have fried fish, and have you ever heard of Johnnycakes?
THOMPSON: OK, Johnnycakes.
MAHON: What are those?
THOMPSON: OK, it's more like fried dumplings. Flour, butter, salted water. Itmakes sort of a dough, and then you fry it. And some people put sugar in there. I don't think my dad does, but some people put sugar in there. And that also goes in the salt fish. 8:00
MAHON: So are those dishes that are specifically from St. Kitts?
THOMPSON: From the West Indies on the whole.
MAHON: And what do you call your stand?
THOMPSON: The St. Kitts-Nevis booth. That's it. Usually we have this huge St.Kitts flag on the top of it, and that's where most people hang out during the day.
MAHON: Oh yeah?
THOMPSON: Most Kittisians, that's where they hang out. And then lookparticularly for this one booth, and hangs out right there. A lot of people, you know, where are you gonna be on Labor Day? Well, we'll be at the St. Kitts-Nevis booth. Everybody knows my dad is June. His name is June. So everybody, you know, oh, we'll be at June's booth. Meet me at June's booth at this particular time. That's where people hang out, and people that you don't see in a long time.
MAHON: So you know the people that are hanging around the booth?
THOMPSON: Most of them. Yeah, most of them. Most of them are from the native St.Kitts. Most of them.
MAHON: Are they people that you or your family knew at home and kept up with up here?9:00
THOMPSON: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
MAHON: And so, do you know of other Kittisians who have booths that you go to?
THOMPSON: Yeah, there are about three or four others. But this year we didn'thave one because of the controversy that they had about finishing earlier, which means --they were talking about finishing at six. And if we would finish at six, we would have to start packing up everything at about four o'clock, and between four and six, that's when we make all of our money. So we didn't even have one, but I was told there were quite a few of them this year from St. Kitts.
MAHON: Do you know if there are bands from St. Kitts that play?
THOMPSON: Well, I've never --once, a few years back there was one band, onesteel band that came, but I've never known of any more.
MAHON: And what about groups who play mas?
THOMPSON: Not from St. Kitts, no.
MAHON: Or Nevis?
THOMPSON: Not as far as I know.10:00
MAHON: So what does Carnival represent to you, either in Brooklyn or at home or both?
THOMPSON: Oh, just playing mas, having a ball, having fun. That's about it.Everybody looks forward to having fun around Christmas time. No work, all play, party all we want. Don't have to worry about going to work the next day.
MAHON: Do things close in St. Kitts for that week; for the Christmas week
THOMPSON: Well, not the whole week, but you know, it might be two days. Businesswill be closed. The banks will probably open late on Christmas Eve, and they won't open again until about the 28th, the 29th. Just for half a day, that's it. So have as much money as you can for the whole time until that day. You go back to the bank if it's open. Most government places are closed for that whole week, 11:00but little corner stores and stuff like that are open.
MAHON: So do you have different, on different days do people go out on thestreets --is there like three or four days--?
THOMPSON: Yeah, to play mas. The 26th, that is always known as Boxing Day, andit's J'ouvert, actually. The bands come out in the street early in the morning, as early as three o'clock, and just party all day in the street, jam around town, until about maybe two o'clock. Go home and get some rest, and ready to go again in the night, and then maybe there might be a beauty pageant or a calypso show or something. But around that time there's always a lot of parties. A lot of parties. For the ones who play mas, mas camp starts the early weekend --the first weekend in December. That's when everybody goes to the mas camp and helps 12:00to make their costumes. First of all, you have to choose the group that you want to be in, and what costume you would like to wear, and from there on you're helping to make the costumes and other people's costumes. And the 29th and the 30th, those two days are children's Carnival day, and the first and the second --the 30th and the 31st are Children's Carnival day, and the 1st and the 2nd is adult Carnival day. And on the last day, which is the second, everybody comes out, the children and adults, and that's for last lap. Everybody just kick back and enjoy everything until next year.
MAHON: Last lap?
MAHON: That's good. Do you like calypso? Are you a calypso fan?13:00
THOMPSON: Oh, yeah. I love calypso. Love to wind.
MAHON: So do you like the music that you hear I guess, can you see much fromwhere you are in your booth in Brooklyn?
THOMPSON: No, no. Everybody is the booth is not exactly in front of the street.It's like more to the back. It's not in the front of the street. It's more to the back, in the service lanes?
MAHON: Oh right, OK.
THOMPSON: So a lot of people are usually in front of the booth, and I mean, whenyou're making money who can concentrate on looking at something else.
MAHON: Can you hear the music?
MAHON: Do you tend to like what you hear?
THOMPSON: Oh, yeah. Especially [unintelligible] jamming and coming down. I'mtempted to leave. My mom and my dad are like, you leave and you are dead!
MAHON: So you keep hold of your responsibilities?
THOMPSON: Yeah. My sisters don't, you know? They just forget about everybody14:00else and just go wild. And after the band stops, then they would come back and try to help, which usually we need help, but we just like, you know, make them feel bad and tell them we don't need their help because they already left when we really needed the help.
MAHON: What do you like best about Carnival?
THOMPSON: Like I said, all the fun, hanging out. Don't have to worry about workor school.
MAHON: And then in Brooklyn, is there anything in particular that you like about it?
THOMPSON: Well, I would really love to see the parade sometime. I would reallylove to see it, but I can't because I'm helping my mom and dad. But I've never experienced standing on the side and looking on, but I would really like to. 15:00
MAHON: How do you think it compares, the Brooklyn parade compared to theCarnival in St. Kitts?
THOMPSON: It's more or less the same. Less violence in St. Kitts, but it's moreor less the same.
MAHON: Is there any particular group that you associate with Carnival in Brooklyn?
THOMPSON: No, not at all. I don't really know of any groups in Brooklyn. All Iknow is, Labor Day is coming up, my mom and dad is having the booth, and that's all.
MAHON: What about ethnic group or nationality?
THOMPSON: No, I don't know of any.
MAHON: Is there anything you don't like about the Brooklyn Carnival?
THOMPSON: Sometimes it tends to get too violent.
MAHON: You've been to Carnival in St. Kitts and Brooklyn. Have you been to anyother cities for Carnival?
MAHON: Are there any other places you've thought about that you'd especially16:00like to see?
THOMPSON: I'm thinking about Trinidad Carnival.
MAHON: So when was the last time you had your stand? A couple of years ago?
THOMPSON: Last year.
MAHON: And you did it a couple years before that also?
THOMPSON: We did this for about five years before that. Five years straight.
MAHON: Did you notice changes over that time with the Carnival?
THOMPSON: I don't know. I can't say, because like I said, I don't have time toobserve and look at anything else, so I don't really know if there has been any changes or what.
MAHON: Do you think it gets enough recognition, the Carnival in Brooklyn?
THOMPSON: The Carnival itself?
THOMPSON: Oh, yeah. I would say, yeah.
MAHON: In the media?
THOMPSON: Well, I would like to hear it advertised or see it advertised on TVsometime. Because you don't really know what's going on unless you listen to 17:00WLIB. I think that's the radio station. And that's about it. I don't think you ever hear it any place else. And I would like to take my kids to the children's Carnival parade, and I don't know exactly when it is or what time it is. And I think they should advertise more.
MAHON: So it's hard to get information about the details?
THOMPSON: Yeah. In order for you to know what's going on, you would have to callthe Brooklyn Museum, I think, to get information for what's going on, and everybody has advertisement on TV and all the radio stations. Why can't they?
MAHON: Do you have friends in the Bronx who participate?
THOMPSON: I have one friend, and she played mas a few years ago, but I don'tknow who it was. I know it was a Trinidadian group, because she's married to a Trinidadian, but I don't know anything else about it.
MAHON: There's at least one.18:00
THOMPSON: Just one person I know who played mas, but every year, the whole ofBronx, all the Kittisians that I know in the Bronx, they head over to Brooklyn, but I don't know of anyone else who took part in anything else.
MAHON: So is there a community of people from St. Kitts in the Bronx?
THOMPSON: Yeah, the block that I live on.
MAHON: Oh really?
THOMPSON: Two buildings, and each building has about 64 apartments, and themajority are Kittisian.
MAHON: I had a friend in school from St. Kitts, and she's gone home since, butshe never was really sure. She knew that everyone was somewhere, but she wasn't sure where it was.
THOMPSON: On our block, every Saturday, there's this man from St. Kitts thatsells bread and all sorts of local drinks ginger beer, mauby, and stuff like that. And that's where you see all the Kittisians on Saturdays, whether it's hot or cold, that's where you see them. Always hanging out. 19:00
MAHON: Did you sell the drinks at your stand also?
THOMPSON: Well, just this one particular drink that we order from home everyyear. That's Carib Beer. Everything else is from here.
MAHON: Well, what do you think about the fact that Carnival brings people fromso many different islands together?
THOMPSON: I think it's great. Oh yes. That's what we need to do anyway. Gettogether. We should all combine as one. And I think it's really great. They should do it more often though, instead of once a year.
MAHON: Another kind of event like Carnival?
THOMPSON: Yeah. Something. Try something else. I don't have any ideas, but Ithink they should do something else.
MAHON: Are you familiar, do you know of other things that the CarnivalAssociation does outside of Carnival? If it has other events; WIADCA? 20:00
THOMPSON: No. Don't know of anything else.
MAHON: Do you think Carnival makes a statement in New York City or in general?
THOMPSON: In terms of what?
MAHON: Well, maybe in terms of something about Caribbean people in New York?
THOMPSON: Oh yeah. It makes a statement. We love to party and we know how tohave fun. We know how to have fun.
MAHON: Is there anything else you'd like to--
THOMPSON: Despite what other people think about West Indians, you know. We'renice people. We're really nice people. We love to have fun. Just maybe a handful of the ones that makes a bad part of West Indians, but we're really nice people to get along with.
MAHON: Do you think that people who aren't Caribbean or West Indian have21:00negative opinions about West Indians?
THOMPSON: Some of them do. Like I said, you know, there may be a handful ofstupid ones -put it that way, stupid ones --and they categorize all of the West Indians with that particular stupid group. And I think it's --sometimes it may have a negative impact on all West Indians.
MAHON: Do you think Carnival kind of balances that out?
THOMPSON: Yeah, a little. I think that we need to do more things.
MAHON: Do you have anything else you want to add?
THOMPSON: Not really, no.
MAHON: Or any questions that I should have asked?22:00
THOMPSON: Not offhand.
MAHON: Well, thanks a lot.
THOMPSON: You're welcome. No problem.
Oral History Interview with Jay Thompson
Jay Thompson was born in on the island of St. Kitts. She moved to New York as a teenager, where she lived from the age of fourteen to seventeen. She then returned to St. Kitts. After finishing school and working for the government of St. Kitts, Thompson returned to New York City at the age of twenty-three. In 1994, when the interview occurred, Thompson resided in the Bronx with her two children.
In this interview, Jay Thompson discusses her immigration to New York City, her family, and her experience as a food vendor at Brooklyn's West Indian American Day Carnival. She notes that her booth is a central meeting place for St. Kittitians. Thompson also relates that the booth did not operate during the 1994 Carnival because of cost and time constraints imposed on the Carnival that year; a product of a conflict with the Hasidic Jewish community's celebration of Rosh Hashanah. She also discusses the St. Kitts Carnival, which occurs between Christmas and New Year's. Interview conducted by Maureen Mahon.
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.
CitationThompson, Jay, Oral history interview conducted by Maureen Mahon, October 05, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.30; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Thompson, Jay
- West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
- Caribbean Americans
- Emigration and immigration
- Ethnic identity
- Race relations
- Street vendors
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
Finding AidWest Indian Carnival Documentation Project records