On Labor Day, excited crowds flowed slowly through the streets of Brooklyn waving flags ranging from Jamaica to Trinidad to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s vision of unity amongst people of all ethnicities. Street vendors shook American flags and colorful beads in the air, inviting onlookers to buy their goods. The hot air was sweltering with mouth-watering smoke from the “Jamerican” food stand nearby. Onlookers strained against the metal fence to snap pictures and wave to the colorfully-dressed performers.
My friends and I had just traipsed into Brooklyn after hopping on the wrong subway and, following the advice of a local shopkeeper from whom we’d bought grapes, coke and honeydew melon, gravitated toward the crowds watching the parade.
Trucks drove along the street advertising various carnivals and nightclubs such as “Freaks” and “Bonjun: The Spirit of Fun.” Out of gaping holes in the canvas covering the trucks came pouring women wearing little more than ostentatiously sparkly feathered bras, in-your-face spandex and glitter smeared across their chests. And not just three or four women; a river of these women flooded the streets. They proceeded to put Miley to shame with their shockingly skillful twerking. When one woman dropping into a downward dog and started shaking her butt, another jumped on top of her to complete the spectacle.
At first, I laughed. I’d never seen immodesty like that. However, after I moved past that, I began to see other aspects of the parade. Children, parents, grandparents all came together to celebrate Labor Day and what it meant to them. One woman in the parade was completely silver. She walked alone, ahead of the rest and seemed, at least to me, to represent the individuality these people possessed.
My favorite parts of the parade were the individuals wearing colossal costumes so large that they had to be mounted on wheels and pushed. It was a hot day, but they were smiling and waving, executing laboriously slow turns for the crowds and flashing cameras. The sun glinted blindingly off the wings of the birds and mythical creatures they wore. There was a peacock costume, and a costume decorated with people playing instruments, singing and dancing to promote the cultural arts in Brooklyn.
Although I was instantly infected with the laughter and happy chatter around me, I was also stunned by the diversity that surrounded me. I live five minutes from the west side of Chicago, but I’ve never seen so many people proclaiming their ethnicity so proudly. I saw hijabs, dresses made from American flags, dresses made from Jamaican flags and people of every color. The unity of all these different peoples truly honored Nelson Mandela’s dream. While Times Square and Central Park are the tourist hotspots, Brooklyn’s diversity is central to New York City.