Copyright 2014 by Teofilo Colon Jr. (a.k.a. “Tio Teo” or “Teofilo Campeon”) All Rights Reserved. Telephone: (646) 961-3674.
New York, New York — New York City Council Member VANESSA L. GIBSON will host a Proclamation Ceremony for 2014 Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York City Council Chambers on WEDNESDAY, March 12th 2014 at 12 noon.
New York City Council Member VANESSA L. GIBSON was elected to represent District 16 in the Bronx on November 5th 2013. District 16 in the Bronx includes the neighborhoods, West Bronx, Morrisania, Highbridge and Melrose.
Garifuna American Heritage Month is designed to reflect on and observe the forced removal of the Garifuna people (then known as Black Caribs) from their ancestral land of the island of St. Vincent in 1797 to their arrival in Central America on April 12th 1797.
Finding conditions on Roatan, Honduras unsuitable for living, The Garifunas petitioned the government in Spain (who controlled Honduras and much of Central America at the time) and asked to be allowed to move to the mainland of Honduras. Upon being allowed to do so, the Garifunas then migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras), and Nicaragua over the years.
According to a press release from the non-profit organization the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc, Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York also,
“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 Garifuna Coalition adds, “New York City is home to the largest Garífuna Community outside of Central America! However, although Garífunas have been migrating here in search of a better life since the 1930s; the community was virtually obscured until the Happy Land Social Club fire on March 25th, 1990.” Most of the victims of that tragedy were Honduran, many were of Garifuna descent 1.
Overall, the idea is to pay tribute to the survival and resiliency of the Garifuna people and also highlight the contributions made by Garifunas to the state of New York and the United States of America.
The Garifuna people are people of African descent (in other words, Black people) whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixing with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. From this fusion of race and ethnicities on St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose. They are noted for being one of the few (only?) peoples of African descent (again, in other words, Black people) in the Americas to have maintained aspects of their ancestral culture and full use of their ancestral language for everyday use over the course of hundreds of years.
After being defeated in war with the British on St. Vincent in 1796; 1004 men, 1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people were then known) were captured and taken to Baliceaux, a small island, a rock, basically off the coast of St. Vincent. This took place from July 1796 through February 1797. About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate. In early March, the remaining Garifunas were loaded onto the HMS Experiment and other ships. Once they were rounded up, the convoy were taken to a Bequia, which is another island off the coast of St. Vincent. They proceeded to go to Grenada to get water, then Jamaica for refueling, then finally Roatan, Honduras, arriving on April 12th 1797.
March 11th through April 12th is designated Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York. This period of time marks the date the Garifunas were removed from the St. Vincent area, traveled in a convoy of mostly British ships across the Caribbean Sea and the date the Garifunas reached Central America. Specifically, Roatan, Honduras on April 12th 1797. When in Roatan, the Garifunas petitioned the Spanish government to be allowed to move to the mainland of Honduras. From there the Garifunas migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.
This proclamation ceremony is FREE and open to the public.
New York City Council Chambers are located at City Hall.
New York, NY
Subway: 4, 5, 6 Subway Trains to City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge Subway Stop
2 or 3 Subway Trains to Park Place Subway Stop
R or W trains to City Hall Subway Stop
A or C Trains to Chambers St or Fulton Street/Broadway-Nassau Subway Stop
This isn’t the first time that Garifunas were in City Council Chambers. In June 2010, there was a commemoration of Caribbean American History Month hosted by New York City Council member Mathieu Eugene (District 40 in Brooklyn). The Hamalali Wayunagu Garifuna Folkloric and Modern Dance Company and Azeekweh ‘El Escojido’ (a.k.a. Kevin Castillo) were the only artists of Garifuna descent among the many Caribbean artists who performed at that Ceremony.
- Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991. ↩