Garifuna Coalition ‘proud’ to celebrate Caribbean-American Heritage Month

Jose Francisco Avila.  Illusion Photo NYC
Garifuna leader,Jose Francisco Avila.
Illusion Photo NYC

The Bronx-based Garifuna Coalition, USA, Inc. said recently that it was “proud” to celebrate Caribbean-American Heritage Month 2022 and the contributions of Caribbean-Americans throughout the United States.

“National Caribbean American Month is celebrated every June to honor and celebrate America’s rich and diverse culture, which also includes the Caribbean-American population,” said José Francisco Ávila, chairman of the Board of Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. “People from this community have not only evolved the American culture but have also contributed greatly to the development of the nation in areas of science and medicine.

“There are also numerous Caribbean Americans whose services the US is grateful for even today,” he added. “This month aims to recognize the contributions of all Caribbean-American people and to teach people more about their culture and history.”

As descendants from Africans, who intermarried with the indigenous inhabitants who settled in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ávila said the Garifunas are “part of the unique cultures and melting pot of ethnicities that have their roots in the Caribbean.”

“Youroumaÿn” is the original Carib name of the island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The name is spelled Yurumein in Central America.

Ávila said that 225 years ago, “everybody wondered if the Garifunas were going to survive as a people and live a long healthy life.”

He said that two years after the paramount Garifuna Chief Joseph Chatoyer was killed on March 14, 1795, the Garifuna people were forcibly deported from their native land of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to the island of Roatán, off the Caribbean Coast of Honduras, from where they dispersed along the Atlantic coast of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Nicaragua.

While the British released some of the indigenous inhabitants in captivity and allowed them to stay, Ávila said they were relocated north of the Rabacca River in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and forbidden from speaking their native language, leading to its extinction.

“Two hundred and twenty-five years later, not only have the Garifunas survived, they’ve thrived, while preserving the Arawakan language of their ancestors, customs, cultural values and beliefs, and have reconnected with the Garifuna indigenous people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in New York City, home of the largest Garifuna population outside of Central America,” he said.

Ávila said while the Central American Garifuna Diaspora had maintained links and connections with the Central American countries, where they ended as a result of being forcibly transferred, such had not been the case with St. Vincent and the Grenadines, “Youroumaÿn, the ancestral homeland of the Garifuna People.

Therefore, in 2009, as part of its cultural reclamation and preservation efforts, Ávila said the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. organized the Garifuna Reunion in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, “Youroumaÿn”, from Jul. 18 – 23, 2009, “as an integral component of Vincy Homecoming 2009 in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the independence of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

He said the Garifuna Reunion launched the Renaissance of the Garifuna Heritage and Culture in Youroumaÿn, which led to the reunification with organizations such as the Brooklyn-based Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, Inc (COSAGO) and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Diaspora Committee of New York, Inc.; St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVGOP); and the Garifuna Indigenous People of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Inc. (GIPSVG).

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