The Bronx-based Garifuna Coalition, U.S.A., Inc. says it is collaborating with the Garifuna Afro-Latino Entertainment in celebrating the 7th Annual Garifuna-American Heritage Month in New York City.
The Coalition said the March 11 – April 12 celebration is being held in observance of the 218th anniversary of the “forcible deportation of the Garifuna people” by the British from St. Vincent and the Grenadines on March 11, 1797 and their settlement in Central America on April 12, 1797.
“Garifuna-American Heritage Month provides an opportunity to recognize the significance of Garifuna’s contributions to the quality and character of life of New York City, and, through many events and activities throughout the month, for all people to 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 group said.
This year, the Coalition said it will pay tribute to the legendary Aurelio Martínez, who the group described as “the greatest international exponent of the Garifuna Culture and tradition, selected as the 2008-2009 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
“Garifuna-American Heritage Month has uplifted the Garifuna Community from obscurity to the pinnacle of recognition by raising awareness and appreciation of the Garifuna Community and its contribution to the culture and society of New York City,” the group said.
“We look at 2015 as the turning point to advance the integration of the Garifuna Community of New York, with the aim of promoting its advancement and economic development,” it added.
New York City is regarded as the home of the largest Garifuna population outside of Central America, with over 200,000.
In the spirit of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 -2024), the Coalition said it is also launching a “cultural economic development strategy around culture, creativity and sustainable development, with the aim of positioning New York City as the epicenter of the Garifuna arts and culture economy.”
As part of that strategy, the group said a musical tribute in honor of Martinez will be launched on March 14 during Garifuna-American Heritage Month. The event takes place at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture, 450 Grand Concourse, Bronx.
“This will be the premier Garifuna event in the U.S.A., and we invite you to be a participant in this historic moment,” the Coalition said.
It also said New York City Council’s District 16 member Vanessa L. Gibson will present a proclamation, declaring March 1 - April 12 Garifuna-American Heritage Month, on March 11 at the City Council Chambers, City Hall, lower Manhattan.
“Garífuna-American Heritage Month celebrates the great contributions of Garífuna-Americans to the fabric of New York City and New York State, and pays tribute to the common culture and bonds of friendship that unite the United States and the Garífuna’s countries of origin – Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the statement said.
A lifelong resident of New York City, Gibson has a “strong commitment to serving her Bronx community and has established a strong working relationship with many community-based organizations throughout much of the Bronx, including the Garifuna Coalition, U.S.A., Inc.,” the Coalition said.
It said the Garífunas have been migrating to New York City in search of a better life since the 1930s.
The Coalition said the community in New York was “virtually obscured until the Happy Land Social Club fire on Mar. 25, 1990,” with the majority of the victims being Garífunas.
“Thanks to the support of elected officials, such as Ms. Gibson, the Garífuna Coalition U.S.A., Inc. has uplifted the Garífuna Community from obscurity to the pinnacle of recognition as it celebrates the 7th Annual Garífuna American Heritage Month in New York – a tribute to the Garífunas survival and resiliency,” the statement said.
In 2015, it said the Garifunas celebrate 192 years of the “Garífuna Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage’s contribution to New York City’s vibrant cultural life”.
The Coalition said that, in 1823, William Henry Brown, reportedly the first American playwright of African descent, wrote “The Drama of King Shotaway,” recognized as the first black drama of the American theatre.
Browne had as the drama’s subject the 1795 Black Caribs (Garífunas) defense of mainland St. Vincent, led by paramount Garífuna Chief Joseph Chatoyer, “against colonization by the British,” the Coalition said.