Organizing Committee Explains Reasons Behind Scheduling Event for April 14th
By MOHAMED ALIM HASSIM
QUEENS, NY — This year, the annual Phagwah Parade in Richmond Hill, Queens, will celebrate its 30th year as one of New York City’s largest street events.
The parade is scheduled for April 14th, just over a month after the the celebration of Phagwah or Holi kicks off. Hindus will celebrate the festival of Holi on March 4th.
At a press conference at Villa Russo on 101 Avenue in Richmond Hill on Monday, members of the planning committee explained the rationale behind the scheduling of the event in April.
“In the previous 29 years, the organizers have scheduled the event as close as possible to the religious observances. In years past, cold weather on parade day would cause much discomfort to the participants who would either stay away, or leave the event much earlier than they would have liked,” Mr Naidoo Veerapen, co-chair of the Phagwah Parade Planning Committee, explained. “The extremely cold weather conditions during the 2017 Parade forcibly brought the issue to the fore again.”
Veerapen explained that for the first time in the Phagwah Parade history, last year “floats were empty, artistes were freezing on stage, die hard parade supporters were abandoning the cultural program, organizing committee members were putting their health on the line because they were forced to remain in the park until the bitter end of the scheduled program.”
Asked whether this may cause any fallout among the Hindu organizations in the community, Veerapen noted that the date was decided upon after in depth consultations with the leadership of the major Hindu organizations. “And the date April 14th received the blessing of the leadership of these organizations,” he said.
“The committee felt that it should try to ensure that our people get a comfortable and enjoyable parade with maximum participation, hence the request to our respective organizations, the Arya Spiritual Center (ASC) and Federation of Hindu Mandirs (FOHM), to approve the delay of a few weeks after the religious observance of Holi, with the expectation that it is more likely to have a tolerable parade-friendly day in April rather than early March,” Veerapen explained.
“The members of the FOHM & ASC held in depth discussions on the matter and after looking at the Hindu calendar, and taking into account that a major Christian observance will also take place in March/April, all parties agreed to have the parade on Saturday April 14, 2018,” he said.
Veerapen argued that organizing a parade of its kind is costly and incurs “hundreds of man hours to put together, not counting the cost borne by people who travel long distances to be in Queens on that day, or those who arrange work and personal schedules just to be in the parade.” As such, the organizers want to ensure that the event is held on a day when they can enjoy it and not be curtailed by bad weather.
Richmond Hill, Queens, is home to the largest Indo-Caribbean (persons of Indian origin from Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname) community in the United States, “and we are proud to be able to contribute to the cultural diversity of the greatest City in the world, by organizing and implementing a public celebratory event like this parade.”
The committee contends that having the parade in April will not make it less attractive, as some may argue. “On the contrary, warmer weather will bring more people out.”
Veerapen further noted, “The Phagwah Parade has acquired its own identity and is the main cultural expression of our people in New York City. We should not allow poor scheduling to stifle its important contribution to the City’s cultural landscape.”
As the parade celebrates its 30th year, the committee is hoping to put 30 floats on the streets, and to stage a cultural show “that will do justice to our peoples’ high expectations.”
Noting that great events require higher than normal expenditure, Veerapen said the committee members are confident that the local business community will support the event “with generous donations.”
The Parade route will be the same as in 2017, with the floats moving off at 12:00 noon from 133rd Street and Liberty Avenue. It will continue to the Phil Rizzuto Park (formerly Smokey Oval Park), Richmond Hill, where a cultural program will take place.
While the organizers of the parade are counting the financial support of the business community, they are asking persons be wary of individuals to whom they are making contributions. Committee member Romeo Hitlall, explained that in the past, unauthorized persons have been known to solicit money for the Phagwah Parade, “so it is very important that your business and people in the community are protected.”
Only the 12 members of the planning committee and Attorney, Mr Todd Greenberg, are authorized to receive money from the public for the parade. Checks should only be made payable to the Phagwah Parade of NY, Inc.
The committee has also set up a Go Fund Me account online, so people who are far away can also make contributions.
Following a controversy a few years back as to who should have the right to host the Phagwah Parade, the Arya Spiritual Center (ASC) and Federation of Hindu Mandirs (FOHM) are now working “in harmony” to organize the event, co-chairman of the planning committee, Mr Herman Singh, said. He thanked the Mayor’s office and the leadership of the 106th and 102nd Precincts, who he said were “very instrumental in making sure that the parade goes on.”
Veerapen also added, “The past is in the past. We have resolved all our differences as far as I am aware, and so we have more energy to spend on planning a good parade.”
City Council Member, Eric Ulrich, an ardent supporter of the parade and the Indo-Caribbean community, said, “I want to thank the parade committee for working together, as this is an issue that’s important to the whole community, not only the West Indian population.” He said he personally looks forward to the event every year.
“I’m hoping that the Mayor will find his way to Queens this year. We’re looking forward to a very inclusive, happy and wonderful celebration of West Indian culture and heritage,” Ulrich stated.
The Council Member offered to have City Hall available for ‘Chowtals’ or any ceremony to commemmorate the festival of Holi. “We can do a nice ceremony or series of performances inside the City Council chamber like we’ve done in years past and that can probably be a good way to kick it off and I’ll make sure we reserve that space when you pick a date.”
Among the Phagwah Parade committee members present at the press were: Herman Singh (Chairman), Naidoo Veerapan (Chairman), Romeo Hitlall, Anup Ramnauth, Balram Rambrich, Dr Dhanpaul Narine, Sagar Rajpaul, and Navin Phagu.
Also in attendance were commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, Capt. Brian Bohannon Jr; commanding officer of the 102nd Precinct, Captain Courtney Nilan; along with officers of those precincts.