Garifuna Seek Voice In New York City


National Public Radio (NPR) has just broadcast a program about the Garifuna community in New York City. It focuses on how, despite keeping a low profile in the city since they first started arriving in the 1940s, community leaders are now asking the Garifunas in NYC to stand up and be counted in the 2010 census. Here’s a brief excerpt. For the complete story and the audio of the NPR broadcast follow the link below.

Community leader José Avila is convinced that more than 100,000 Garifuna live in New York City, and he’s trying to use the upcoming 2010 census to prove it.

“It’s not just about being counted,” Avila said. “It’s about resource allocation. It’s about housing. It’s about transportation, education — which translates into schools.”

Avila is busy giving talks and presentations, explaining how easy it is to be counted and why it’s important. He says in the last census, hundreds of thousands of Bronx residents marked “other” for their ethnicity. In order for the Garifuna to get an accurate tally, they simply need to write in the name of their group.

Every third Sunday of the month, the Garifuna celebrate their culture with a traditional mass at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. Women in colorful blue and pink traditional dresses and head scarves dance down the aisle, accompanied by men with drums and tambourines.

After a recent mass, 47-year-old Raul Melendez leaned against the church, trying to stay warm in a driving rain. Melendez said he loves the U.S., but being Garifuna is more important to him.

“The Garifuna person who doesn’t speak Garifuna has no identity,” he said. “The person who has no identity, who has no origin, is buried.”

Two years from now, when the new census results are released, Melendez will find out for the first time just how many of his fellow Garifuna living in the United States agree with him.

For more on the story and audio of the NPR broadcast go to

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