For decades, Brooklyn bid farewell to summer with J’Ouvert, a predawn reverie with roots in the emancipation of enslaved people in the Caribbean, followed by the West Indian American Day Parade, where throngs of costumed paraders dance into the dusk.
These Labor Day traditions represent New York City’s nearly 600,000 residents of non-Hispanic Caribbean descent, and typically attract more than two million people to a daylong party that, at its roots, seeks to reaffirm the diasporic bonds of the West Indies.
While the Covid-19 pandemic forced the celebrations to be scaled down for the past two years into a series of virtual events and smaller gatherings, J’Ouvert and the day parade returned in their original incarnations in 2022.
The theme this year is “life,” said Anne-Rhea Smith, a board member of the West Indian American Day Carnival Association, which organizes the parade. It is a reference to all that was lost during the pandemic — the lives, livelihoods and sharing of customs — as well as to a celebration of the West Indian way of life.
“It relates to our pride,” Ms. Smith said. “How we look at ourselves. How we respect ourselves. How we carry and manage ourselves as a people.”
Although this year’s J’Ouvert — a french word that translates to “daybreak” — officially started at 6 a.m., as it has in the past, floats began their trip from East Flatbush to Grand Army Plaza, the festival’s start route, soon after midnight.
The journey was more subdued than in prior years: The steel pans were mostly silent as the floats made their way through multiple police checkpoints. But it turned into a full-throated celebration after sunrise, a few hours before the parade started.
While some attendees viewed the increased police presence as an affront to the festival’s rambunctious traditions, others welcomed it.
“It’s a different scene, more police presence,” said David Eccleston, 49, of Jersey City, N.J. “But we need them.”
A few paradegoers remarked that the crowd size this year seemed smaller. But Jonathan Miranda, 31, of Central Islip, N.Y., enjoyed himself. Shaking hands with Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul, who both made an appearance, was a bonus.
“I’m Trinidadian, so I like to come out here and hear the music, smell the aromas of the food, see the people,” Mr. Miranda said. “It’s a nice thing to do on Labor Day.”