Garifuna celebrates Heritage Month

The Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc., says it is “proud” to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Garifuna-American Heritage Month in New York, inviting all New Yorkers to join in the March 11 – April 12 celebration.

The coalition said that, each year, Garifuna Americans in New York observe Garifuna-American Heritage Month, from March 11 to April 12.

“The day of March 11 is significant because it is the anniversary of the forcible deportation of the Garifuna people by the British from St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1797,” the coalition said.

In addition, it said March 14 is National Hero Day in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in observance of the anniversary of the death of Paramount Garifuna Chief Joseph Chatoyer on March 14, 1795.

The coalition also said that March 25 is the anniversary of the tragic fire in the Happy Land fire, an arson fire that killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club named “Happy Land Social Club,” at 1959 Southern Blvd. in the West Farms section of the Bronx on March 25, 1990.

Most of the victims were young Hondurans celebrating, largely drawn from members of the local Garifuna American community, the coalition said.

“It was through the Happy Land Fire that New York discovered the Garifuna people,” the coalition said.

The month concludes on April 12 in commemoration of 221st anniversary of the Garifuna Settlement in Central America.

In 2008, The Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc., said it developed an initiative to raise awareness and appreciation of the Garifuna Community and its contribution to the culture and society of New York City.

The coalition said the strategy was to “plan, organize and execute a series of activities to promote the Garifuna Community in New York City.”

This initiative led to Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión issuing a proclamation declaring March 11 to April 12, 2009 as “Garifuna-American Heritage Month in the Bronx,” the coalition said.

In 2010, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., issued the proclamation.

In addition, Assemblyman Michael Benjamin introduced a resolution in the New York State Assembly “memorializing Gov. David Patterson to declare March 11- April 12, 2010 as Garifuna-American Heritage Month in the State of New York,” the coalition said.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also issued a proclamation.

In 2011, the coalition said Sen. Rubén Díaz, Sr. introduced a resolution in the New York State Senate “memorializing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare March 11 – April 12, as Garifuna-American Heritage Month in the State of New York and invited the first Garifuna delegation to be present to receive the proclamation.

“It was the first time in history that the Garifuna community was invited to the New York capitol to celebrate its heritage,” the coalition said.

Beginning in 2012, Assemblymen Marcos Crespo, Michael Blake and Luis Sepulveda have introduced a resolution in the New York State Assembly.

The 8th annual ceremony is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17.

On March 12, 2014 New York City Council District 16 Council member Vanessa L. Gibson presented the first New York City Council Garifuna-American Heritage Month Proclamation Ceremony at the New York City Council Chambers. The fifth annual ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, April 12, the coalition said.

It said that, on April 10, 2014, Congressman José E. Serrano “rose on the United States House of Representatives to honor Garifuna American Heritage Month (Congressional Record E572).”

On Feb. 1, 2017, New York City Council District 17 Councilmember Rafael Salamanca, Jr. was the primary sponsor of Resolution 1358-2017, along with Council District 42.

The coalition said Councilmember Inez D. Baron and Council District 31 Councilmember Donovan J. Richards, as co-sponsors, recognize April 12 annually as Garifuna Heritage Day in the City of New York, as part of the annual Garifuna-American Heritage Month celebrations.

“Garifuna-American Heritage Month provides an opportunity to recognize the significance of Garifunas contributions to the quality and character of life of New York, through many events and activities throughout the month,” the coalition said. “People gain a greater appreciation of Garifuna history and traditions, and of the role Garifuna-Americans have played, and will continue to play, in New York’s society.

“Garifuna-American Heritage Month has uplifted the Garifuna Community from obscurity to the pinnacle of recognition,” it added. “These historical milestones serve to celebrate the survival of the Garifuna heritage and culture. They also demonstrate that the Garifuna have taken the best of their history and the legacy of their ancestors, to become a thriving community.”

The coalition said the Garifuna are “a hybrid people resulting from a biological and cultural mixture between Caribs and Arawaks of the Caribbean and people of African origin.”

It said this process of hybridization, which took place in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, “gave rise to a new group called the Garifuna or the Garinagu.

“All of the communities in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua descend from the just over two thousand Garifuna people forcibly deported from St. Vincent in 1797,” the coalition said.

“They are, therefore, one people who share the same history and a common tradition in language, music and dance, among other things,” the coalition said.

It said New York City is currently home to the largest Garifuna population outside of Central America, with an estimated 200,000 living in the South Bronx, Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, and Harlem.