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Race, Heritage and Identity

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To The Editor,

This article may be taken as being polemic, leading some readers take umbrage towards this author’s perspective, which is based on the identity crisis that seems to plague “a certain community” of Black people that reside in the borough of Bronx. It is penned it in order to comprehend their racial consciousness on classification among others or with the African descendant population. It relates to “race, heritage and solidarity.”

Speaking about the Garifunas, people of color who haplessly seemed to have been amputated from some African cultural tradition with solidarity within the African American community. For some among them, in their response of such accusation, “it is because we have our own dialect, our own language, and we never were slaves!” And, in retaliation emanating from such denouncing remarks will be followed with bellowing, vociferous words of defense such as, “Don’t you know your history, and where you came from! All or most of us (through our Ancestors) are descendants of slaves. And so are you!” And to make matters more disquieting, distancing the rope of solidifying unity among us, some, or most will identify as either “Hispanic or Latin/Lati­no,” simply because they also can speak Spanish, thus, engendering another obstacle (through language) of differences among us.

The population number (not exaggerating) has slowly ballooned to “more than 150,00,” inhabitants residing within the city. However, there seems to be a dilemma of identity and tradition, among this group, especially among the young generation of the 21st. century, when, as many individuals or groups of different ethnics groups arrive in America, especially in New York, that instantly it becomes an instant agenda to live the American dream, and now the hip-hop life style, that to some of the older generation, it becomes a complicated matter.

To understand more of this group or community inhabitants, who, graciously exemplify pride of whom they are as ‘black people,” yet, not considering themselves wholly as African descendants slaves, I perused the history of this Black group who evolved from Honduras in Central America, from origins on the island of St..Vincent and the Grenadines, once inhabited by indigenous Caribs, or Ameridians. I committed myself to attending a special screening in West Harlem of the film, “Garifuna In Peril.”

After viewing the film, I participated in a Q&A session and came away with the knowledge that the Garifuna culture is mostly based on their having been amalgamated with the Caliponian group of indigenous Amerindians. Thus, being “Black” (through the British misnomer) the Africans became also known as “Black Caribs.” And, it is because of the Creole lingo of words among these African (would-be descendant slaves), that a language referred to as Garifuna, emanated. The escaped Africans had learned and created it from the diversity of other languages such as French, Arawak and African Swahili.

But throughout the movie, very little (if any) was mentioned of, or about, Africa. It was never mentioned from what country [in Africa] the/our ancestors were being brought “to be made slaves (if not already) by the two Spanish slave ships, or galleons that sailed towards the archipelagos of the Caribbean, before being shipwrecked in 1675. There was never any mentioned of a religious tradition, a way life practiced in Africa, fearing that it could be extended unto their new surroundings and become part of preserving the ancestral base for future generations.

Everything learning was, “Garifuna” (which is simply a language!) And so, I could not help but to reminisce about reading a passage of the book, “Ghosts In Our Blood -- with Malcolm X in Africa, England and the Caribbean,” from one of my social and cultutal heros -- Malcolm X, as he disseminate in a conversation with the author (a recent Ancestor) Jan Carew, describing “How our mental colonization has taken shape, having a grave effect on our psyche, being ghettoized physically and psychologically morphed.”

It reads: “They--the European slave traders--took us out of Africa. Now, through the indoctrination of European glory, and out of Africa’s rape and abandonment, they’ve taken Africa out of us.”

I hope my position would benefit the present Garifuna population as well as future populations, if they would illustrate more or as equal of the richness of your/OUR Africanness, through their presence at presentations of African themes, while maintaining their Garifuna language. After all, whether the Ancestors had to learn to speak another European language in order to communicate with their oppressor, while being ensnared in the captivity of negativity of chattel enslavement. Remember, the tongue, does not have a race , nor a color. But the physical presences from whence that tongues belong, is always seen as a black man/woman and child from the bosom of Mother-Africa.

Come back home, Garifuna.

Ali-Abdul Perez is an Afro-Caribhbean cultural nationalist..

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