Garifuna celebrates heritage at Boro Hall

From 2010 on, the New York State (NYS) Assembly and later the NYS Senate began to recognize through proclamations the Garifuna community in the metro-New York area. The Bronx and Brooklyn have the greatest concentration of Garifuna outside of Central America (Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua).

State Senator Eric Adams (representing Flatbush, Crown Heights, Park Slope, Sunset Park and Prospect Heights) promised that when elected borough president of Brooklyn he would recognize the Garifuna community.

“He kept his promise,” said culture activist Jose Franciso Avila as he began his keynote speech at the Garifuna Heritage Celebration at Brooklyn Borough Hall on April 7.

“Brooklyn is the head of the (next generation) Garifuna resurgence,” he said, citing the community organization Mujeres Garinagu en Marcha (MUGAMA).

“In 2001, UNESCO proclaimed the Garifuna culture among ‘the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’, he told the packed assembly hall, and “This needs to be preserved.”

He shared some Garifuna history. “Two hundred-eighteen years ago, we were supposed to be exterminated. In internment on the island of Roatan, 2500 perished.”

“We are here in Brooklyn Borough Hall for the second time. Our language continues and our culture is still alive,” he determinedly said.

“We were supposed to be exterminated,” he said, repeating a prediction that obviously did not come to pass. In the metro New York area–primarily the Bronx and Brooklyn– Avila estimates the Garifuna population to be 200,000.

Avila gave a shout-out to some members of the audience who actively work in preserving the culture. Among others, he noted Garifuna musician James Lovell and Garifuna language teacher Milton Guity. He added,“These efforts continue here.”

He then noted, “There are a team that work for the benefit of the community through their civic engagement in greater New York.”

The Celebration’s Garifuna honorees were: Budari Dance Company, artistic director/choreographer Yeny S. Palacios; Paula Castillo, author and composer of modern Garifuna music; Jacqueline Melendez, director of parent support at NYC Department of Education; Jacqueline Erlene Williams-King from the Consulate of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Pastor Andrew Nunez from Believers Mennonite Fellowship, and Julian Rochez, founder of Puntalogy Internet Radio Show.

Council Member Laurie Cumbo spoke with conviction about the Garifuna community’s resilience, strength, will to survive overcoming so many battles. “The community is growing and expanding,” she said.