CARIBBEAN IN BROOKLYN. `All of we is one'
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In ``mas [masquerade] camps'' scattered throughout Caribbean enclaves, designers work feverishly in the weeks prior to the carnival to complete costumes based on themes ranging from fantasy to ethnicity to current events. Master designers work in a centuries-old tradition to construct the lavish outfits, which can weigh more than 40 pounds.Skip to next paragraph
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Morris Stewart, a muscular weight lifter and former wholesale clothing salesman, emigrated to the United States after he designed the top costume in the 1967 carnival in Trinidad. His first-place prize was a round trip ticket to New York. Mr. Stewart concocted his theme for this year's carnival, ``88 Earth to Odyssey 2000,'' while watching an arc welder at work. ``I liked the guy's mask, and I decided to use it as a model for a space hat.''
Using iridescent plumes, 16-gauge foil ringed with sequined braids, bubble-shaped plastic lampshades, wire, and cardboard, Stewart shapes the materials into suits for space princesses and warriors. His $3,500 king's costume is a 19-foot-high, 24-foot-long space monster covered with prickly scales of foil.
In New York, the carnival was first celebrated in Harlem by homesick Trinidadian immigrants. The first Harlem Carnival, held in 1937, ``was not much more than a one-night street fair,'' says Joyce Quamina of the carnival association. ``But it was a way for those who left their homes and couldn't go back to keep a bit of the islands in their hearts.''
When in the mid-1960s immigration restrictions were loosened, a new generation of Caribbean peoples streamed into New York. Their strong desire to be homeowners led many to Brooklyn, where they bought property on the decline after the riots of the 1960s and the city's mid-1970s fiscal crisis. As Harlem's West Indian population dwindled, the carnival followed thousands of Caribbean immigrants to Brooklyn.
Today, spurred by increased unemployment and overcrowding in the islands, many of Brooklyn's West Indian immigrants grab unskilled jobs and gradually work their way into positions of entrepreneurship. In all, more than 6,000 businesses in Brooklyn are Caribbean-owned, according to New York's Office of Business Development.
Robert Fitzallan Smith came to Brooklyn from St. Vincent in 1956, working in a hospital cafeteria and an oven factory, saving his earnings and making plans. Starting in a one-room storefront with a mixer, table, and a small oven, in 1961 Mr. Smith opened Allan's Bakery on Nostrand Avenue. He now employs 17 workers and is doing ``very well.''
``I saw my first snowfall a week after I got here, and I never looked back,'' Smith recalled as he walked through a kitchen laced with the sweet scent of currant rolls and spice buns. ``I came here with nothing. I was determined to make it.''
Though Smith became an American citizen, many West Indian immigrants at one time retained resident alien status and dreamed of one day returning to the islands. Most West Indians here continue to maintain an overwhelming bond to their island homes.
But observers agree that as the recent influx of immigrants raises up families of new US citizens, West Indians could become a strong force in New York's politics and culture. ``The economy, living conditions, and life style in the US are leading many West Indians to establish their roots here,'' says Karl Rodney, Jamaican publisher of the New York weekly newspaper Carib News. ``Besides, the economic conditions in the islands are so bad that you really can't go back.''
As a new generation of Caribbean immigrants comes to terms with its adopted homeland, the carnival becomes a poignant reminder of a rich cultural heritage.
``Carnival is really for our children,'' says Lloyd Weeks, a Trinidadian parader sporting an American Indian headdress. ``Most of the kids who are born here don't know anything about where we come from. Carnival is a way for the children to get in touch with their culture.''