Phagwah has been celebrated in New York in grand style since 1990 because of the large influx of Indo-Guyanese and other Indo-Caribbean people. It has been celebrated annually with parades (Richmond Hill, Queens Village, Bronx, Jersey City, and open air gatherings in several locations), melas or variety concerts, pageants, etc., over the last thirty one years. Phagwah was introduced in New York during the late 1960s when Indo-Caribbean started coming to America. During the 1970s, it was observed in make shift mandirs in basements of buildings or building converted into temples. I organized Phagwah celebrations at my university from 1978 till I finished my undergraduate studies. I went to small celebrations in mandirs in the Bronx and Queens during the early 1980s. There were also a few concerts in the auditoriums of public schools. But the parade in 1990 really brought out the celebration. The Guyanese and Caribbean community should applaud the efforts of all who help to institutionalize the Phagwah celebration, indeed all Indo-Caribbean cultural and religious celebrations. Regrettably, there is no parade this year.
Guyanese and Pandits and community leaders have done yeoman service to help institutionalize Phagwah in NYC. Although Phagwah is not a holiday in New York, the community leaders have helped to make it possible for the festival to be celebrated in exuberance just like back home in Guyana, Trinidad or Surinam. The parades and the celebration at the various parks render unnecessary the need to go house to house to celebrate or to pour abeer on revelers as is done in Guyana and the Caribbean. In fact, it is impractical for people to celebrate Phagwah in NYC by going house to house. The Phagwah parade and rally at Smokey Park or the other locations used to bring together tens of thousands to celebrate a magnificent festival. People can spray abeer and sprinkle powder on one another at the outdoor celebration even if it is done in difficult freezing weather. It is an impressive celebration that brings back memories of the celebration in the Caribbean.
The parade has helped to unite diverse people (from different countries and of different faiths) giving them an opportunity to express their passion for their cultural festivals. The size of the parade sends a powerful signal to government officials and politicians that Indo-Caribbeans are a potent political force. The parade also bolsters ethnic pride among the city’s newest ethnic group. Since the 1990 parade in Richmond Hill, celebrations expanded to other locations all over America where Indo-Caribbeans have clustered.
It is necessary to salute the people (Kali, Pts. Ramlall, Satish, Sukhul, Kishore, Bal Naipaul, Yashpal Soi, among others, who initiated and launched the Phagwah parade in 1990. I was closely connected with the founders since 1990 and provided advice and support in the local media. I am pleased that the parade has become institutionalized as part of the celebration of the festival. I applaud the founders and organizing committee of the Phagwah celebration for its dedication and hard work in putting together parade year after year. Observing Holi with a parade and observing other Indian festivals in New York help to enhance a sense of pride and admiration for the rich cultural heritage of Indians and foster unity among Caribbean people. The celebration promotes a common feeling of togetherness and rekindles the flame of love and unity among friends and loved ones. I think community leaders must continue to promote these kinds of festivals.
This year, the festival falls on a Sunday. But whenever it falls on a weekday, it is usually celebrated the following Sunday because Holi is not a public holiday in New York as it is in India, Guyana and a number of other countries. After regular temple service, worshippers join the parade. There is no parade this year but phagwah is celebrated virtually.