Guyanese celebrate Madrassi Day in NY

Dear Editor,

Hundreds of Guyanese (Madrassi and non-Madrassi) marched on Madrassi Day in Richmond Hill last Sunday. One of the organizers described the parade as a proud day for Guyanese and other Caribbean people of Madrassi descent, bringing people together to celebrate the wonderful culture and heritage of Madrassi people. Queens, and indeed most of New York City, is the capital of cultural and religious diversity, and the Madrassi wanted to showcase their culture and project their identity. Some 100 ethnic parades are held in the city every year; people celebrate their ethnic heritage not dissimilarly from the annual West Indian parade that was held on the first Sunday in September and attracted over a million.

The Madrassi parade recognizes Madrassis and their great contribution to Guyana, the Caribbean and America. When the Madrassis came to the Caribbean, they did not have many possessions except their skills and talent. But they also brought their rich culture and faith that they shared with other groups and that was on display at the wonderful parade. The parade was conceived by Pt Vijah Ramjattan, who was able to bring together several organizations and mandirs to launch it.

The parade was billed as ‘United Madrassi Day’, but it was open to people of other cultural backgrounds. Madrassis are people of Tamil origin, coming from the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. The capital of the state was Madras under British rule but its name has now reverted to Chennai. Those Caribbean indentured labourers who originated from Tamil Nadu were called Madrassis because they boarded the ships at the port of Madras. Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is a Tamil or Madrassi in Guyanese parlance, and he has often described himself as a proud Tamil. There are several other famous Tamils including Alvin Kallicharran, Ivan Madray, Paul Tennassee, Veerasammy, etc.

Under police escort, the Madrassi parade began just before noon on Sep 17 at 134 Street on Liberty Avenue to 125 Street before turning right and proceeding to Smokey Park where the parade culminated with speeches and prayers. There were a half a dozen very colourful floats packed with celebrants. The floats were accompanied with music and dancers and other participants with bright costumes.

Hundreds also marched on the streets with banners and flags. Several school bands of students of various ages and American groups marched ahead of the parade blowing trumpets and beating American drums. There were also performances by traditional musical artists.

Guyanese participants in the parade were dressed in colourful yellow garb – saris, dhotis, shalwars, lahengas and longotis, with yellow bandanas. They marched behind the flags of the USA and Guyana and the Madrassis colours. There were loud Madrassi drum beats and jhals (cymbals) and singing. They sang Tamil songs. Marchers swept the streets as they danced.

This was the first Madrassi parade in what is expected to be an annual event.

At the park, organizers served drinks, hot meals, snacks (mitai, jalebi, phulourie, plantain chips, and other delicacies).

Yours faithfully,

Vishnu Bisram

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