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Joyce Toney

Oral history interview conducted by Maureen Mahon

September 19, 1994

Call number: 2010.019.31

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MAHON: I just want to start with some general questions and if you have anything you want to add at any point, please feel free, okay?

TONEY: Okay.

MAHON: Just the first question is where were you born?

TONEY: Okay. How long does the interview last?

MAHON: I think it's about an hour.

TONEY: Oh, okay. Well I was born in St. Vincent, West Indies which is in the Eastern Caribbean.

MAHON: And how long have you lived in Brooklyn?

TONEY: I've lived in Brooklyn since 1972.

MAHON: And why did you come here?

TONEY: I came here when--actually I got married and I just--I've lived here 1:00since, because my husband lived here.

MAHON: Is Brooklyn the first place in the U.S. that you lived?

TONEY: No, I went-- I lived Midwest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Ohio where I went to college, in both of those places.

MAHON: And when you first got to Brooklyn, what kind of work were you involved in?

TONEY: I worked mostly in teaching high school as well as I did-- I worked for the state for a little while, non-profit organizations, and I spent a lot of the time in school getting, you know, my advanced degrees.

MAHON: It takes up --I know it takes up all your time. Um, what were your first impressions of Brooklyn?

TONEY: Well, when I came here I had come from Milwaukee and-- Which is, you 2:00know, a relatively sort of squeaky clean city. It's actually known for that and so it was--I guess kind of shocking in the sense of a lot of the dirt and grime and so on, the hustle, the bustle. But then after a while we just get accustomed to it. I guess we've become hustling and bustling.

MAHON: Did you move to Flatbush, live in Flatbush?

TONEY: No, I lived in Crown Heights. And let me just look, because I came up--I came here first in 1970 to visit and then after I got married in '72 so I came here, and we lived in Crown Heights for about a year and then we lived in East New York at the city line, and then we moved to Flatbush in '89.

3:00

MAHON: How would you classify the West Indian community that was here compared to what was in Milwaukee--

TONEY: Well there was hardly any in Milwaukee. Maybe there was, there was the Jamaicans, but because I was a student, you know, you don't really get a grasp of what was happening in the local community. And so this was a vastly different situation. And when I came here, I found West Indian clubs and little clubs that were actually more Island clubs rather than Caribbean wide.

MAHON: Oh, I see.

TONEY: Lots of those. It was very interesting to me.

MAHON: Is it still pretty much by island as it used to be?

TONEY: Yeah, there's a few organizations that are, are more attempting to unite 4:00Caribbean people, but I think they naturally gravitate to the Island.

MAHON: Are you a member of any--of the St. Vincent club?

TONEY: Well I'm a member of an alumni organization, which is my high school alumni, because there's a lot of us here, because, you know. In St. Vincent, I suppose it's almost like a small town that people when they grow up they leave, and so a lot of people left and so many of them live here, so we have an alumni organization. And also that alumni is the branch of the larger St. Vincent organization, which is sort of a federation of clubs. So I guess I'm a mem-- I'm also a member of that.

MAHON: Um-- let me think. So is that how you--? Is that the organization that you participate in Carnival, in Brooklyn with?

5:00

TONEY: No, that's--this organization that I just appeared in this time, it's really just, we just go out together for the Carnival purposes, or I think last year we participated and again this year, but it's mostly--I want-- I think that a majority of people were from St. Vincent, maybe ninety percent. And they just-- These are people who are involved in Carnival at home who liked it and so they just decided that they would do the same thing here.

MAHON: Were you--?

TONEY: But I think I was the only member from my alumni organization.

MAHON: That was in this Carnival, in this band.

TONEY: Yeah, yeah.

MAHON: Did you participate in Carnival in St. Vincent?

TONEY: Yeah. Uh, hm. I participated in Trinidad and in Toronto and before in New 6:00York, and I guess that's about it. And in St. Vincent again since I've lived here.

MAHON: So you go back occasionally to St. Vincent?

TONEY: Um hm.

MAHON: When you were in Toronto did you--? Were you with the band that was from St. Vincent? And with friends?

TONEY: Yeah. Actually it was--well my sister-in-law lives there, my husband's sister, and she's involved in Carnival. Well she's involved there; their Carnival is closely linked to the St. Vincent's Association so--their band that is, so she's involved in the Association. She's also involved in the Carnival and so she will get costumes and then we go up and just join the bands.

MAHON: So you didn't have to do all the sewing and all.

7:00

TONEY: No. Well even here really all they do pretty much--unless you're what we call a mas person, you know that you're involved--just you--just order the costume and you give them the money and you go a few days before and they give it to you so-- You don't have to be, but there's another side to actually being involved in the productive aspect of it.

MAHON: Okay. Is it different from the way it is in St. Vincent?

TONEY: No, it's more or less the same. I think perhaps in St. Vincent and call you could get your costumes made in the same way, but if you're good at sewing then you could take it home and do the sewing part of it, but the really creative aspects, you know, putting on the sequins and lining up things and bending the wire on and all that is done in the mas camp.

8:00

MAHON: How many years have you participated in Carnival in Brooklyn?

TONEY: Um, maybe about, four years.

MAHON: So have you done it every year?

TONEY: No, I did it a long time ago and then recently.

MAHON: So what made you want to start participating?

TONEY: Well I think part of it had to do with--like when my kids were young, you know then you couldn't really do it, because what to do with them for so many hours and so on and it also depends on the company, because at Carnival, on Labor Day, we usually have a lot of company coming from all over the country and so if they're here, you cannot really take off the day. So this year for example, my sister-in-law didn't come for some reason from Canada and I had 9:00already taken my daughters, one of them played, but the other one I had taken to college already. So, and then work--Tuesday was a holiday.

MAHON: That's right.

TONEY: So there are all kinds of reasons, you know that--that made it possible.

MAHON: So in the years that you didn't actually play in mas would you go to watch?

TONEY: Yeah, but I don't really care for watching that much. Although, you know, I've done it. But it's--to me it's only fun if you're in it. Even in St. Vincent I watched, but going there is a whole lot of socializing, who you might see. And you know, rather than--just actually just seeing the bands, because I guess I've seen them all my life. And so in Trinidad it's really spectacular. So 10:00you--watching could be entertaining, but in general, I'd just rather play in the band than be a spectator.

MAHON: Do you see a difference in the way people watch here? Are they more removed do you think or--?

TONEY: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Well, in St. Vincent and also in Trinidad there's more room for spectators to join. Although people who are playing in the band don't really appreciate it, you know, because you figure you've bought your costume and you deserve the streets. But still there's more of an expectation that people who are not actually in the band or-- be involved in some way. And there's other kinds of days; like for instance there's J'ouvert which is the day before. When is J'ouvert? The Monday.

11:00

MAHON: Right.

TONEY: 'Cause Carnival goes for a much longer period there not just one day like it is here. And so you have like J'ouvert, that's a time for impromptu-- So that even if people who can't really afford expensive costumes on the day, next day, they're involved, you know, and then there are all the parties that precede, so that it's much more participatory you know, than it is here.

MAHON: Do you participate in the--for example the Calypso Night or the steel pan--?

TONEY: Here?

MAHON: Here.

TONEY: I go--I usually go on Sunday.

MAHON: Um hm.

TONEY: When--up to the Brooklyn Museum with all the calypsonians and so on. I think I may have gone to the Reggae Night at one time, but not habitually. But it's the Sunday night where everything is there, when I go.

MAHON: Uh, hm.

TONEY: But this year I didn't go, because I took my daughter to college, and we 12:00didn't get back until much too late.

MAHON: And you needed to rest for a bit?

TONEY: Yeah. [Laughs] Well actually, some people they go there, you know, usually the night, the Monday when I was in the band, a lot of the people had not slept all the night before, because they have gone to the shows and they have stayed up all night Sunday night until Monday morning and they just went home, got their costumes and came back out.

MAHON: Um-- and how did you first get involved in Carnival, in Brooklyn?

TONEY: Oh, it was, um; let's see maybe, maybe in the 70's when a friend of mine just said: "Let's have a band." It wasn't as organized as it is now. And I'm not 13:00even sure what the process is now for joining, because I only joined the band. I'm not in the policy making of the band, but that particular time, that was the first band I was involved in. And we just got costumes and, you know, we went out on the Parkway; get a deejay and so on.

MAHON: How many of you?

TONEY: That time maybe --about a few hundred--less, about a hundred I would say one fifty. This band also that I was there was quite small, and it was about the same number of people.

MAHON: The one that you just played in?

TONEY: Um hm.

MAHON: And how did-- you get ideas for what you would wear?

TONEY: Well I just go to the Brooklyn--these particular guys they went around to different meetings and organizations and they have their drawings. And I picked 14:00a drawing: one that seemed most modest. [Laughter] It turned out not to be that modest, because you can't always tell, you know?

MAHON: Right.

TONEY: But um--so that's, that's how I chose it. So you could choose by cost, you know, something that's not too expensive or some people just pick colors and so on. But I chose--cost was part of it, you know, you don't want to spend too much money, but then the main thing was that was something that I was comfortable--

MAHON: So these are designers who work for the band?

TONEY: Yeah.

MAHON: And they just sort of circle with their designs?

TONEY: Yeah. Some of them are actually designers, you know, or in general they make clothes or have things that they show somewhere. A couple of them went to F.I.T. and so on. So those people--I suppose those are brought in by the real Carnival people.

MAHON: Uh hm.

TONEY: And some of them happen to be Carnival people, themselves. So there's a 15:00whole different group of people there. And they design the costumes months before, and then they show them and hope people will sign up. They're also have ads in the local radio stations.

MAHON: And do you do any research--for the role that you play or does the-- it there someone who directs, sort of, the band?

TONEY: The band has a theme usually, with a name. And you-- the people who are doing, bringing out the band do that.

MAHON: Right and then they let the band members know--

TONEY: Right. Then they cost the things, for example now I can just vaguely remember the name of my band. But the people who--the ones who actually create 16:00the band, who would have done the research to know, well, is this costume related and then within the band itself, there's all these different sub-groups, and you know, depicting different things. And that's what-- what the average person in the band is. You know, he or she has a costume and that's it.

MAHON: Do you have, um, songs or chants that you rehearse?

TONEY: Um, before?

[Interview interrupted.]

TONEY: What happens is that, whatever the going calypso is at the time, and every year there are new ones-- so that--because I was in the St. Vincent's band, there was a sort of obligation on the part of the deejay to play songs from St. Vincent. So that's basically how it's done then. You know, the people 17:00just go along.

TONEY: Mostly nothing happens. I'm sorry.

MAHON: Oh that's okay, I'll just stop it.

[Interview interrupted.]

TONEY: That's basically, you know, whatever the road march, that's what it's called. And there could be one particular road march that comes out of Trinidad which is the--happens to be--I think it's judged by the calypso that the bands play the most. And so that's chosen. And the same thing is done in St. Vincent. But there are always some runner-ups and then they play four or five different songs throughout the whole time, going from say Ralph Avenue to Flatbush.

MAHON: So in St. Vincent is it different, do you--?

TONEY: No, it's the same.

MAHON: It's the same?

TONEY: Um hm.

MAHON: And you have the calypso too?

TONEY: Um hm.

MAHON: Okay.

TONEY: And long ago, before all this nationalism, we, um, we used to play, we 18:00could be in Trinidad Calypsos at Carnival time. You'd hear them now but not at Carnival. Not at St. Vincent's Carnival, because the idea I suppose is to boost your own local calypso and they'll be very upset if you--but then those people who, who maybe live--like people who live abroad and who go to functions when you see the Trinidad Calypsos are played, you sort of miss it, you know, when you go there, but I guess you fall into line.

MAHON: So are the calypsos from St. Vincent the ones that are played during St. Vincent's Carnival?

TONEY: Yes. Um hm.

MAHON: So there's sort of an exchange--not an exchange, but um, the music from St. Vincent comes up here.

TONEY: Exactly.

MAHON: So people know it.

TONEY: And the bands too. Some of the bands come and they play around in 19:00Brooklyn for a week or so before and after Carnival--

MAHON: So did you go--

TONEY: --and then they go back.

MAHON: Did you go see any of them play?

TONEY: Um, not this year, but I have gone. And again, you know, if you follow this you know that--which bands have the good songs, okay, so that's the one you go to. But at least two bands, two or three bands, from St. Vincent come and also several of the calypsonians from there.

MAHON: Could you just describe briefly the process of playing mas, I mean what, what happens?

TONEY: Well, it begins before, you know, by choosing the costume and then you meet. The band leader tells you where to meet on Monday morning; in this case in New York, and of course-- It's usually at the tent which is the main floor where 20:00the costumes are made. And so you go there and then the deejay shows up and then you go to--you wear your costume from home and then you just go there up to Eastern Parkway at the end, Ralph Avenue or Buffalo or somewhere like that and the deejay plays the music and you dance. It's--it's really very simple. [Laughter]

MAHON: Do you, um, feel yourself interacting with the people, the people who are watching at all when you dance or are you mostly interacting with your band?

TONEY: I think mostly with--well in St. Vincent I think there's more interaction with the people who are watching than there is here, because there's even more of them.

MAHON: Hm.

TONEY: And people wave to you and so on. Here you do see some people, but I think the crowds are so much that you know you're really interacting more with 21:00the people who are in the band. And a sort of camaraderie develops, even if you don't know these people before, necessarily. And also one of the things that happens at Carnival is a lot of breakdown of classes and so on.

MAHON: Uh hm.

TONEY: You know, it's really, really notable in St. Vincent as well as here, although, it's--perhaps people will tell you that it's gone, but it's not really gone, because even--there's certain bands like in St. Vincent, that you can--different people of different social classes will be in, you know.

MAHON: Uh hm.

TONEY: And although some people would cross over because they like this music and something, but in general, that's there. In New York, I think it's not as--it, it really does break down more, because of course you don't have as many 22:00choices in a way, you know, like for instance the Trinidadians, the Hawks or Borokeet that a lot of people play with as well as a lot of people from St. Vincent play with those bands. The St. Vincent bands really have a group of all different kinds of people who wouldn't necessarily know each other or, you know, interact. Young and old, that's another thing. There were kids who were eight and nine and ten, four years old. There was a four-year-old, because they played on Saturday there's a Kiddies, and so some of their parents allow them to get in on the Monday. And so they will. And then there are old people, you know, so that's one of the good things about it I find, this sort of, you know, at least a temporary kind of equality. Because my daughter was in the band, so was I, you 23:00know, and she's spent all her life here. Well, she was born here; she will spend all of her life here. She also likes Carnival.

MAHON: So she's learned about Carnival, she's been able to learn about Carnival even when you're in Brooklyn.

TONEY: Yeah, yeah, well she's--she lived in Trinidad for a year, because we were living there and my husband had gone down there to work and we went. And so she, of course was bombarded with it. But I think--and also she's played in St. Vincent, but most of it really comes from her just being around us, although we're not big Carnival people. We don't make costumes and so on, but, but we like it. And I really like it. My husband he doesn't care. But he also, he supports it.

MAHON: Do you think more women than men play Carnival?

TONEY: Yeah. For some reason, it's like that everywhere. I think. Well the men 24:00are behind the scenes and they're the ones who make the costumes. But sometimes I think, like, a particular guy who was doing a lot of the work for this band, he told me he was just so busy doing things, you know that sometimes that happens. But in general I think women-- I don't-- There must be some sociological reason for it that women do--they find it--you know, I guess it's a way of loosening up.

MAHON: Is it the same in St. Vincent Carnival?

TONEY: Yeah, yeah. I think maybe the ratio is closer, but it's, it's still the same.

MAHON: Because I noticed this year watching that there were so--it seemed like there were only women in the bands.

TONEY: Oh really, yeah.

MAHON: But I knew it wasn't a women-only thing, it just happened.

TONEY: Yeah. It's like--in Trinidad it's like that too. Although the men also 25:00tend to play mostly, most of the big pieces, you know, because those are heavy to carry and so on. And they're doing a lot of the creative work.

MAHON: And I guess they participate as musicians, too.

TONEY: Um hm. Yeah. They're the ones who are the deejays and the--if they're in the J'ouvert in the Islands they--where they'll have steel bands, then they were. A lot of the women play steel bands now, steel drums now too. The men--it's not as if they're absent from Carnival, but on the, on the streets, women do predominate.

MAHON: What, what does Carnival represent to you?

TONEY: Um, I think really just a period of festivity. Although I know --there's more to it historically and so on, how it came about, but to me it basically 26:00just means a time to have fun. And um --Because I like music and dancing. And it just gives you a chance to express yourself. So that the next days, you know, life is usual [laughter] and you never want to hear another soca beat after that for the rest of the year, but um, it's a good thing, because you know--in, in general throughout the year everything's so structured and organized and this is one time when you can just--sort of let things go.

MAHON: In your, in your perspective, who are the most important people who are involved in Carnival?

TONEY: Um, what do you mean, here or--?

MAHON: Here.

27:00

TONEY: Here, I really--I don't know--if you mean--it's still--there are different levels of involvement. There are the people who--the organizers like Carlos Lezama and things like this. But the bulk of it really are the people who make the costumes and who spend night after night sitting up there, no sleep, and it--although they know--most of them know it's absurd, but I think they can't help it. And they'll tell you that--it's in the blood, you know, and they just, they just keep going, and those are the ones--because without them there'll be nothing. So it's mostly people who have-- who know Carnival from the Islands. I think it's not as easy to get people involved who were never Carnival people.

MAHON: Hm.

TONEY: And also the, um--even in the Caribbean, well particularly in St. Vincent there's a sort of ambivalence about it in the moral sense. Some religious people 28:00think it's not a good thing. So you would find a certain section of people who will be like, real avid church goers would not be involved from that aspect. So it's really a group of people who are dedicated and who--they try now to involve they're children and, you know, who enjoy it. And these are the--the regular working people.

MAHON: And is there any particular group, ethnic group that you associate with the Carnival?

TONEY: With Carnival? Yeah, definitely Trinidadians.

MAHON: But do you feel the tradition is strong in St. Vincent?

TONEY: Yes, I think-- because St. Vincent used to have Carnival at the same time as Trinidad which was right before Ash Wednesday, which is--I believe is the 29:00traditional Carnival time. It's when they have it in New Orleans and Brazil and so on. But they switched it to the summer because of the competition with Trinidad, because tourists probably rather go there where there--you know, it's a bigger. Even tourists going sometimes abroad would sometimes go to Trinidad. So this was the way they were ordering people to say "Maybe we should switch it to the summer". And it's worked for that reason. But I think perhaps in the Caribbean people from St. Vincent had the second Carnival to Trinidad. You know, it's close; it's a close island to Trinidad. People are always interacting, going back and forth. And the calypsonians out of St. Vincent; for a small island, they're also very well-known and so on, so-- It's really, it's embedded 30:00there. The people there don't think of it as a Trinidad thing. You know, it's very local to them.

MAHON: And is it, um sort of a homecoming? I know with--in Barbados with Crop Over it's--

TONEY: Yeah, well Barbados just really recently tried. People are amazed at how they were able to get that going within the last few years. Or where I was in St. Vincent, the tradition of Carnival has been going back for hundred--maybe at least a hundred years. Yeah--it definitely seems that people from all over will go to St. Vincent, they probably will go, but then they go at Carnival time 'cause they know they'll meet other people and so on. The government perceives it as that too. And they, you know, at Carnival time they have--when the planes 31:00come in, they'll have little rum punches and so on to greet you and they have the steel band and what not. So they recognize the tourist ballers that change thing. That's the same as in Barbados.

MAHON: Um, what changes have you noticed in Carnival, in Brooklyn, over the years that you've been watching? Have there been any?

TONEY: Well, I 'think it's gotten more legitimacy from--not necessarily from the people who have always recognized it for what it was, but I think from government authorities and so on. You know, the numbers have grown. I don't know if I've been reading that there's more people, but I have noticed that. You know, just that maybe before, people weren't counting the people. They didn't pay attention to it. But it's always been--there've always been a lot of people. 32:00And again I think that because of the political aspect now, where Caribbean people themselves as apart from Carnival are getting into the mainstream of politics, the voting and so on so that it takes on a different dimension, you know, that it didn't have previously. It was just a cultural thing. And now it's, it's more than that.

MAHON: Do you think they're taking advantage of it, the way they show that, that it's becoming more political, more politicized--

TONEY: Oh, who?

MAHON: The, the people, like WIADCA, the people who are in charge of it.

TONEY: Well, I-- you see--I think there are different groups of people. Like those people are involved in it because they're Carnival people. But the people who are taking advantage of it would be the politicians. You know, and there are 33:00some people in the committee that may--are aware--they know about this, but it's not their main thing, because that's not why they got into it in the first place. So it would be different elements. Some of the people who are--the leadership positions in the Caribbean community who are not necessarily in Carnival would recognize that, you know, this is something that they could use, to bring attention and so on. So there's different elements floating around with that.

MAHON: Do you think it belongs with Carnival or do you think it should be--?

TONEY: Um, I think it belongs. As long as the good people are not exploited and I don't think they are, you know, as of now. I mean, they do--they're doing what they've been doing, and I haven't seen any negative impact on them. But I think, it's the fact that these people are there in numbers, you know, and they're having fun, but they, well a lot of what they do, what happens is tied into what 34:00goes on with the politicians; how they see things and I think, I think it's a good thing if it could be used to bring clout to the community.

MAHON: Um. What do you, what do you like best about Carnival in Brooklyn?

TONEY: Um well the, Monday--I like the show on Sunday night. I find--because to me, that's a good thing, in that it brings everything together. It's long, goes on until what--4:00 in the morning? But still if you get to see everything and everyone who is important in the cultural world, at that time. Because next year it might be a different group, depending on who has the important good calypsos 35:00and so on. And so I have that show I like, and also the Monday that I'm playing. If I'm not playing, then I, sometimes--Long ago I used to go up to Eastern Parkway just to see people, but now I don't recognize that many people anymore. Most of the people I know, they don't come. And then, you know--sometimes too I also just go to browse in the--in the shopping, you know--

MAHON: Uh hm.

TONEY: --because you get good buys there. So it's--I have many reasons for involvement, but the main thing to me is the music and the dancing.

MAHON: And do you like least or--?

TONEY: Um, the crowds, which I suppose you can't help, because that's when I'm there and everybody else is there. You know, that's the whole idea. But there's 36:00not much that I don't like about it.

MAHON: What do you think about the crowds of um--or the crowds being composed of people not from the Caribbean backgrounds?

TONEY: Oh that's fine. You know, there's nothing wrong with that. That's how it is in the Caribbean. Anyone looks on at Carnival. Everybody asks where you're from. So that's good to me. The crowds--the only thing is getting through crowds and, you know, that kind of annoyance, but beyond that, it's a good thing to have all those people there looking on. The one thing I find is that--well if you're in the crowd, you can hardly see what's going on. You only see-- people. And--So that is-- There may be some reason for it. In other places, the bands usually-- There's a spectator aspect in the sense that you give some money and 37:00you go where the bands' camp, you know. So that there's a stage in Trinidad and in St. Vincent and the bands perform on the stage. And people are there sitting and watching and so that-- I guess that would cut down on crowds on the street. I don't know where. I'm not really involved in this aspect of it. So that's something that is missing here. It's more of a parade, which it's not perceived as a parade in other places. Well at least not in the Caribbean, it's not a parade as such. There are parades there, but, you know, where you go watch, but Carnival is not something--seen as something that you just go to watch in the street. So that's a problem in New York and I don't know if it could be addressed. And of course the one day, you know, to limit the whole thing, and 38:00the week-end. I guess they do have the Kiddies on Saturday, but, you know, there, in the Caribbean, there's also Monday. There's Monday afternoon, Monday morning, Monday afternoon and then the real Carnival day is on Tuesday.

MAHON: So there were more opportunities to go out in the street?

TONEY: Yeah.

MAHON: Do you think Carnival has enough recognition in Brooklyn? That it gets enough attention?

TONEY: Well I didn't at first, but I see that it's changing. Because considering the numbers of people who used to be on the Parkway--and they saw the creativity that went into the costumes. I think you would see a little snippet on the news, and but now, of course, I noticed, I read the newspapers and the New York Times 39:00had an editorial the next day. Of course the Labor Day, the regular Labor Day march being defunct, added to that with the political impact--But in, you know, I think I see improvement. In Toronto, the government is really very, very supportive of Carnival. It's--they give lots of funding to the bands and they also could tell you how much they think the Carnival brings in. You know, they're very systematic about this in terms of hotel space and everything else. And the whole--of course it's a much smaller city, but the whole city is involved, you know? They know about it. It's on the news. It's the main thing, while this hasn't happened in New York, you know, it's a much quieter place. But 40:00even in Brooklyn, which is about the size of Toronto I guess--maybe it's bigger still, but it's--you would think it's the fragmentation that we have in, in the city.

MAHON: Within the community?

TONEY: No within the city in general. You know, we have people stick to their own ethnic groups and they don't know what's going on there, because--friends of--the other day I heard this noise, this was in August, and a lot of drumming and music and loud talking. And I had no idea what was going on, but out of curiosity, I walked up to Coney Island Avenue, which is where the thing was coming from. And I find out that it was Pakistani weekend in the city. So I asked a man, you know, out of all of the people who were Pakistani, I was the 41:00only stranger milling around. So and that brought home to me the divisions that we have in the city, 'cause it's-- they don't have any costumes or anything interesting, just music and talking. But still, most, I imagine most of the people who--we live near there and we didn't know, because we just sort of weren't interested. And that's how New York is. And that belongs with the strengths, but it's definitely a weakness.

MAHON: Um, have there been any problems that came up with Carnival over the years? With either-- within WIADCA or just generally with the city?

TONEY: Well, I know they've had -- they have had problems; administrative--I don't know the details of the organization. But I remember one year some long 42:00time ago there was some discussion--there were two groups that were running it--or was that Canada? No, I think it was here. [Laughter] You know there was a breakdown and some kind of--maybe some people wanted to take it away from Carlos Lezama.

MAHON: Oh.

TONEY: You know, so they have, they've had that sort of thing, bickering over the years. And of course Jamaicans are the largest Caribbean group in the city, and when things--whenever there's a joint Caribbean function or anything, the Jamaican presence is very heavy in it. Now Carnival is not a Jamaican thing, although recently they started having it in Jamaica. But it really comes out of the eastern Caribbean. So there would be some struggle there, where people think, "Well Jamaicans are trying to be involved in New York." But it's not 43:00really a Jamaican Festival. And so you would find an incipient problem between the Jamaicans and Trinidadians because of that. But on the whole, it doesn't really affect the local, at the bottom. I suppose in any organization you would have and they'll probably be able to tell you about their problems and so on, but, you know, to the people who are going up there they hear things, but they don't see any. It doesn't really touch the, the people.

MAHON: It doesn't make you not, not want to participate.

TONEY: No, no. 'Cause you would not even understand what was going on unless you paid, you know how difficult it is to know what's happening--

MAHON: Right.

TONEY: --in the city unless you pay a lot of attention and are interested. The 44:00situation with the Hasidim, I think--many more people are interested in that, because it has political content and so on, so a lot of people discuss that, but the little intricate situations in the committee--most people--as long as it comes off, you know? And they expect it to come off. It's not a matter of would it or wouldn't it. People just know that it's Labor Day and there will be something, you know.

MAHON: Do you know of other events that are sponsored--oh, that aren't sponsored by WIADCA, but that take place during Carnival? I think you mentioned a little about bands from St. Vincent for example play.

TONEY: Uh hm.

MAHON: Are there other things like that?

TONEY: Well those are also sponsored. In a sense they have the grace of the 45:00organization, so all of the bands that are there are part of this--part of WIADCA. You know, even if they're--because WIADCA is more like an organizing committee of everything that goes on so the time when--all the rules that bands follow would come, come from WIADCA. 'But the only thing that are sponsored by them are like the local dances. But on Labor Day itself, what goes on Eastern Parkway would be connected to that. But if you have a dance, you know, some blocks that have certain things connected to Carnival, but they're not part of the Committee. Individuals have backyard parties and so on in the mood of Labor 46:00Day and Carnival, but they're not officially part of this. But they probably wouldn't have it if the Carnival spirit wasn't there. And of course with all the visitors coming in, people entertain them by doing all these things.

MAHON: Um, I think I better turn the tape over. [Interview interrupted.]

MAHON: What do you think about the fact that Carnival in Brooklyn brings together the people from the different, you know, from the different islands?

TONEY: Um hm. Well I think that's a very good thing, because it's difficult to 47:00do it otherwise, you know, and although it's mostly a matter of just being there together, it doesn't necessarily mean people from other--each different islands are interacting. I mean you're there, and you may buy something from someone else, but I suppose just their very presence adds something. But what you will generally find is that when you go up to these-- to the Parkway you're there with your friends and they may--they may or may not be from their own island. And even the dances that precede Carnival are usually done on an island basis. So I don't really know whether it brings people together so much. Or maybe if you play with someone--like for instance if some people from St. Vincent's who play with the Trinidad bands, because they figure they'd have more fun there, 48:00but that's, that's--and I suppose they would get to know some Trinidadians along the way and so on. But chances are they've already know some who have talked them into playing in the band. So it, it may not--in the sense of just being there among other people, in the sense of a Caribbean identity I think, but not in any formal kind of way let's get together, or building on that, you know. All the knowledge that you're going to build on it-- I suppose it makes people more, more approachable. I-- Because take for instance the Haitians and so 49:00on--would--because they speak a different language than all of the English speaking Caribbean don't know Haitians in the sense of their knowledge at parties, you know, and so on. But I think seeing them up there on Labor Day with their bands--at least to me it was a sort of revelation. Not this year, but before--you know, a long time ago, when I started seeing them and hearing their music and so on. They became much more familiar, you know, as just another Caribbean group. And some of the other islands, you may not even know any of the people from those places, like the Netherlands Antilles or small islands, Curacao, Aruba and so on, but you see people with the t-shirts and, you know, so then you know that these people are out there and there's a sort of--sense of solidarity that, that is from that. But within--say if you're-- and the languages really make a difference, because even if--say I am from St. Vincent which is--is the eastern, southeastern Caribbean and Jamaicans are in the 50:00Western. And if they're so far removed, but you feel you could relate to them better than you can to say somebody from Martinique or Guadalupe who--they're just a stone's throw away.

MAHON: But the language.

TONEY: Yeah, the language really does make a--create problems. So I think those people and some of the shows, you know, where they try to be inclusive and they have the Saint Lucian music and so on--it's just slightly different from soca. You know, it makes you aware that these things exist. Let me get that phone again. [Interview interrupted.]

MAHON: So, you were--I just had one question about the idea of Caribbean identity. Do you feel that Carnival is an expression of that or-- how do you 51:00think it sort of puts across the idea of Caribbean identity?

TONEY: Oh, well I think it's something that Caribbean people have that other people don't seem to have and it's not even understandable to other people. Because I know for instance I was in the band and some kids, American children were looking at-- the-- and there was one big piece, you know which goes along with it. And this little girl was saying: "Why do they have to have this big thing?" [Laughs] You know, but if you are from the Caribbean, even a child, you know the place of that big thing, you know. But this person was just looking, she just figured oh, it's just--she wants the space to dance and this thing is in the way. But the thing is the Carnival. So in a way it is something that 52:00really does unite people, because all of the islands have some sort of thing, even if it's not called Carnival, Crop Over, whatever it is-some kind of street festival and then the music, with the soca music is the music of Carnival, even if now you hear more reggae and so on. But it's--you know, we understand that soca is Carnival and that brings people together and so on, so I do see it as one of the unifying things. There are not many within--among Caribbean people other than region, in the sense of coming out of the region. But again, I don't know if it's the entire Caribbean, because I don't know-- I haven't seen Dominicans, you know, maybe they are there and I'm not aware of it. And I have not seen Cubans. So it's more of a West Indian, meaning, you know, the 53:00English-speaking Caribbean as well as the Haitians and the other French-speaking islands, rather than a Caribbean-wide thing. But still, I mean, that's, you know, a step forward.

MAHON: Do you think Carnival makes a statement in Brooklyn or New York City? I mean sort of along those lines.

TONEY: Yeah, yeah. I think it does. Other people are aware of it too. Americans, at least African Americans, if not White Americans, because of course it's a localized thing. It's in Crown Heights. It's not all over the city. Unless you read about it, I suppose, if you live in Bensonhurst or some other part. Because 54:00when we're here, unless we go up to Eastern Parkway, I wouldn't; because most of the people around here, I guess they go with the Labor Day, you know it's that day--

MAHON: Uh hm.

TONEY: Yeah. So it's--it's really unattached. I was saying before, it has to do with the nature of the city. You know, so-- But I think as much as anything can, it is making a statement.

MAHON: Do you think it should stay in Brooklyn, or--?

TONEY: Yeah, I think so, because it's--that's where the bulk of the Caribbean community lives. And also if we were to take it, say, to Manhattan which I guess will be the other thing, it's--it will become more of a parade, you know, like the Irish parade or something of this sort, rather than what it is, and then of course all the rules would apply and [Laughing] all of the other things. But I 55:00believe I read somewhere that when it started it was really in Manhattan.

MAHON: Right, it was in Harlem.

TONEY: Um hm. But that's where the Caribbean community was at the time, so that would make sense. But now that most of them are in Brooklyn or Queens which is, you know, right next door, it makes sense. I mean Eastern Parkway is a big street, and accessible to people by public transportation and so on.

MAHON: Do you have any last thoughts on Carnival in Brooklyn or in St. Vincent?

TONEY: No, I just hope that it continues, you know, because now it's at its height, because there are--we're seeing the results of this influx of immigrants who came in the '70s. And I believe those people bring a certain zeal with them. Now the thing is to have it go on because as they age; the chances are that some 56:00of them lose stamina. Of course as I said before, one of the good things about Carnival is that it covers all age groups so that--some of the, like some of the people who are in the committee are very, quite old, you know? [Laughter] In their seventies and so on. But in term-- It's hard work, you know to get these things out, and so it takes a commitment. And some of that came because people were already committed in the Caribbean, so the idea of perpetuating the thing is what I-- what I hope will continue, because it's good and it's --it does have an element of creating solidarity and it's fun.

MAHON: Do you think young people are involved in it, or--is it like, people like your daughter who were born in the U.S.?

TONEY: Oh, I'm --well at least in the band that I was in; there are quite a few 57:00young people of that age group. One of them, one girl who played the biggest piece--the same piece of the thing that the girl was talking about was, is--was a child who was born here, you know, she's in high school now, and that-- St. Vincent is a relatively conservative society, you know, and in Trinidad, with the Trinidadians, there's even more of the youth who--who understand the culture, they play the music. With all the immigrants, I think the kids used to assimilate much more quickly. But now they actually live within Caribbean communities and all of the schools, high schools and so on. You know, you see the kids and they're African Americans, but they're also--there's this other 58:00side to them. So that--you know, well I think that there's room, there's hope that it will go on and also people-- even people who are not native to it seem to be attracted, like you all, you're interested. -

MAHON: Very. [Laughter]--Okay; that's it--unless you have anything else you wanted to--

TONEY: No, not really, I mean unless you have any other questions.

MAHON: I think we really covered it. You're very good at-- You answered a lot of the questions before I actually had to-- ask them.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Joyce Toney

Joyce Toney was born in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. She immigrated to the United States to attend college and moved to Brooklyn in 1972. At the time of this interview in 1994, Joyce Toney was a professor in the Department of Africana & Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at the City University of New York, Hunter College. Professor Toney sat as chairperson of that department from 1998-2002 and the as director of the Women Studies program at the same college from 2002-2005.

In this interview, Joyce Toney discusses her participation in the carnivals in Brooklyn, Toronto and St. Vincent, noting the differences between the events. She also considers how the structure of the carnivals in Toronto and St. Vincent could alleviate the difficulties of the West Indian American Day Carnival in Brooklyn, New York. Toney reminisces about starting a "band," a musical group of mas players (the costumed participants of Carnival), in the 1970s. She discusses the definition of carnival, describing the process of playing mas. Toney discusses the camaraderie between mas players, noting that togetherness in mas does not necessarily signify a unified Caribbean community. She discusses the politicization of Carnival and the possibilities of using the popularity of Carnival to further the needs of the Caribbean community. The interview ends in a discussion of Carnival as an expression of Caribbean identity. 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.

Citation

Toney, Joyce, Oral history interview conducted by Maureen Mahon, September 19, 1994, West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records, 2010.019.31; Brooklyn Historical Society.

People

  • Toney, Joyce
  • West Indian American Day Carnival Parade (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Topics

  • Caribbean Americans
  • Carnival
  • Ethnic identity
  • Music

Places

  • Barbados
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Eastern Parkway (New York, N.Y.)
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Toronto (Ont.)
  • Trinidad

Transcript

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Finding Aid

West Indian Carnival Documentation Project records