Garifuna group celebrates Heritage Month in NYC

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A report by Nelson A. King for Caribbean Life.

The Bronx-based Garifuna Coalition, USA, Inc. says it will be celebrating the 11th Anniversary of the Garifuna-American Heritage Month 2019 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, which resulted in permanent separation of Garifuna families,” said the group in a statement on Wednesday.

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.

In addition, the coalition said March 25 is the 29th anniversary of the tragic fire in the Happy Land Fire, on March 25, 1990.

The group said it was “an arson fire that killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club named ‘Happy Land Social Club’ in the Bronx.”

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,” it said.

The month concludes on April 12 in commemoration of 222nd Anniversary of the Garifuna Settlement in Central America on the island of Roatan, on April 12, 1797.

“Garifuna-American Heritage Month provides an opportunity to celebrate the Garifuna family reunification and recognize the significance of Garifuna’s contributions to the quality and character of life of New York City,” the Garifuna Coalition, USA, Inc. said.

It said, through many events and activities throughout the month, all people will “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.”

The coalition described the Garifuna as “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,” it added.

The coalition 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.

“We invite you to join us in the celebration of March 11 – April 12 2019 as Garifuna-American Heritage Month 2019 in New York City,” the group urged the public.

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