Is Learning To Speak, Read and Write the GARIFUNA, Haitian Creole and Quechua Languages a Waste of Time? Haitian Kreyol Language Teacher WYNNIE LAMOUR and Fellow Language Teachers Explore the Matter In Brooklyn Panel Discussion on WEDNESDAY Night, March 25th 2015

 

Copyright 2015 by Teofilo Colon Jr.  (a.k.a. “Tio Teo” or “Teofilo Campeon”) All Rights Reserved. Telephone: (646) 961-3674.

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Brooklyn, New York — Does speaking the Garifuna Language even matter?  It’s a question that’s been on my mind for years and an upcoming Brooklyn Conference and Panel Discussion will explore whether different Languages, in particular, languages that are undervalued, matter and if so, Why.

The Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York, in partnership with Port Academie, presents, “Mother Tongues United: A Panel Discussion Exploring the Intersections of Garifuna, Haitian Creole and Quechua as Historically Undervalued Languages”.

Mother Tongues United: A Panel Discussion Exploring the Intersections of Garifuna, Haitian Creole and Quechua as Historically Undervalued Languages.  Wednesday, March 25th 2015 in Brooklyn.

Mother Tongues United: A Panel Discussion Exploring the Intersections of Garifuna, Haitian Creole and Quechua as Historically Undervalued Languages. Wednesday, March 25th 2015 in Brooklyn.

Led by Hatian Creole Language Institute of New York Founder WYNNIE LAMOUR, this Panel Discussion will bring together educators and activists from each language community to discuss the experience of being a speaker of a historically undervalued language, what is currently being done to positively promote and preserve the language, and how their respective diasphoric communities contribute to a shift in the perception of the language.

Miss Wynnie Lamour defines a historically undervalued language as a “Language that suffers from system, social and cultural degradation; exists in the shadow of a more dominant and socially ‘acceptable’ language, and is spoken by historically disadvantaged and marginalized peoples”.

Speakers of these historically undervalued languages are often shamed for speaking their Mother Tongue, while being portrayed as “uneducated”, “unintelligent”, “unworthy” of participating in mainstream societies.  Despite their varying histories, Garifuna, Haitian Creole, and Quechua all share the same struggle: how to overcome the negative stereotype of being the speaker of a historically undervalued language and find a sustainable way to positively promote and preserve the language?

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A teacher of Haitian Creole for the past 5 years throughout the New York City area; Miss Wynnie Lamour is Haitian-American and grew up speaking and hearing the language.  She always able to fully understand the language when she heard it, however as she grew older, began to obtain more fluency in speaking, reading and writing the language.

Fluent in Spanish, Miss Lamour’s love of language can be traced to growing up in a multi-lingual home, having learned English as a young child.  When she migrated to New York City from Haiti as a young child, being around so many languages served as fuel for her desire to learn more about how languages work, ultimately leading to a degree in Linguistics.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

In insisting on examining the role language plays in shaping (and creating) identity, Miss Lamour has in the past, talked about the many roles language plays in diasphoric communities or in ethnic groups / races who for one reason or another left behind everything and everyone they knew and moved to a place that has little in common with their homeland, their place of origin.

In an essay for the Haitian Times, where Miss Lamour talked about how language grew in importance to her upon examining her relationship with her grandmother who was on the verge of passing away.  Upon reflection, she came to understand how her grandmother’s passing served as a catalyst for her ‘return’ to Haiti through language.  In her essay, she also noted how language is:

  • a way to bridge the divide between the children of immigrants and their parents–who often grew up in a completely different way.
  • can pierce through the mists of misunderstanding that can sometimes obscure understanding between a parent who lives in one culture and a child who toes the line between two cultures.
  • the mirror through which we can truly see the world through the eyes of another.
  • the scaffolding that supports our relationships and provides a structure that we all crave in our interactions with each other.
  • a tool in which we can communicate in such a manner that elicits a deep and emotional response from people.  1

In an Opinion essay for the Haitian Times, Miss Lamour was able to expound further on what the Haitian Language means to her.  She declared that Haitian Creole is the “language of revolutionaries” and that it represents a “willful and deliberate break from the status quo”.  2

In another article about Miss Lamour’s Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York, a student learning Haitian Creole explained how learning the language enabled her to “connect with a heritage she never quite understood” and how NOT being able to speak Haitian Creole had “an isolating effect on me”.  Later on Haitian Creole Language is mentioned as not only a powerful connection, but as a Langauge of Transformation and of Liberation of Haiti.  3

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

What about the social influences that factor into whether a people speak a given language?  In the case of Haitian Creole, Miss Wynnie Lamour mentions that since “French is the language of those who are in power and have put down our people, it has more influence.”  Since Haitians “were widely stigmatized and often mislabed as dirty, disease-ridden and backward”, I’m sure that also factored into the perception of the language.    4

Here, a parallel can also be made with the Garifunas in Central America–that of being poor, dirty and backward–at least that’s how some are perceived there.

In responding to a question as to what compelled her to create this Mother Tongues United event,

“as someone who speaks Haitian Creole, a language that very much encompasses the history of my people; I’ve always been cognizant of how important it is to have mindful and conscious conversations on how to sustain and promote the language.  In thinking of the platform that I have as an Educator, I began to wonder about other language communities in New York City and how it might be mutually beneficial to find out what others are doing to uplift their own languages.”  — Wynnie Lamour

 

In an interview with Teofilo Colon Jr of the BEING GARIFUNA website, Miss Wynnie Lamour shed more light about her multilingual event.

INTERVIEW

Teofilo Colon Jr — What do you hope to accomplish with this event?

Wynnie Lamour — I hope to use the Haitian Creole Language Institute platform as a springboard for important conversations surrounding undervalued languages. This event will explore the significance language bears for the people who speak it.  I want to provide other language communities with some insight on what’s being done in the Haitian community to positively promote and uplift Haitian Creole and how that can be applied to their own communities.  Also, an event like this can help provide more structure in the fight to help save language.

Teofilo Colon Jr — Why did you choose to highlight the Haitian Creole Language, Garifuna Language and Quechua Language at your Mother Tongues United Event?

Wynnie Lamour — I knew that in having a multi-lingual event, that I wanted to include a language spoken by people in the African Diaspora / Afro-Descendants and the history of the Garifuna Language and its people were right in line with that.

Wynnie Lamour — As someone who also speaks Spanish, I was also interested in a language that lives in the shadow of another more “socially acceptable” language (as Haitian Creole exists with French) and Quechua immediately came to mind.

EDITOR NOTE:  Most Garifuna people live in countries (Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua in Central America) where the dominant culture and language is Spanish.  Belize was initially colonized by the British so the official language is English.  So there’s a parallel to also consider.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

Teofilo Colon Jr — In your time as a teacher of Haitian Creole, have you found that fellow Haitians find that it is an undervalued language?  If so, why is this so?  Why do you consider Haitian Creole an undervalued language?  What makes this so?

Wynnie Lamour — Yes, I have found that many Haitians often view Haitian Creole as a “lesser” language.  Having lived in the shadow of French for centuries has created a people who view their own language as something underserving of value.  Nearly 100% of Haitians speak Haitian Creole, yet the vast majority of information available to the people is in French:

  • the educational system
  • government documents
  • public works
  • etc

Wynnie Lamour — This translates to a large majority of the population being disenfranchised and lacking the proper knowledge to be able to actively participate and be agents of change in their own society.  This has slowly been changing over time.  One of the latest proponents in creating a Haitian society in which the Haitian language is revered was the creation of the Haitian Creole Academy in 2014, dedicated to the promotion of Haitian Creole.

EDITOR NOTE: A slight parallel can be made for the status or role of the Garifuna Language in Central America.  While it’s difficult to track how many people actually speak the language, it’s safe to say that it’s use is declining and like in the example above, the vast majority of information available to the people is in another language–in this instance, Spanish.  For the most part, Garifuna isn’t taught in schools, and in many instances the Garifuna language isn’t looked at as socially acceptable, especially for those looking to make a living.  Those all factor in to the Garifuna language also looked down at as a “lesser” language.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

Teofilo Colon Jr — What obstacles have you come across when trying to teach Haitian Creole over the years with / to the Diasphoric Haitian Community?

Wynnie Lamour — The biggest obstacle has been convincing some Haitians in the older generation how important it is to consciously promote, preserve and advocate for the language.  When I first founded the Haitian Creole Language Institute, my work was written off an unnecessary and unimportant.  I think that my very existence speaks counter to the French ideal and that is scary to many.  I hope to continue making people uncomfortable with the status quo and push for change.

Teofilo Colon Jr — Why should people learn the Haitian Creole, Garifuna and Quechua Languages?

Wynnie Lamour —  I encourage everyone to learn Haitian Creole, Garifuna and Quechua Languages, especially if they are culturally from those language communities.  Having an emotional connection to a language provides the speaker with a bond that cannot easily be shaken.  Speaking a language allows you to connect more closely with that culture and its people.  For those who live in the Diaspora, this is the best way to remain connected to your culture.  The younger generations should especially focus on learning these languages, to continue to preserve the most valuable aspect of every culture.

EDITOR NOTE:  On a side note, readers of this website should note the largely unexplored connection between Haitians and Garifunas.  For instance, oral tradition has it that the founder of the Garifuna town of Labuga (Livingston, Guatemala) was a Black military officer from Haiti.  While no one’s ever been able to definitively prove this, that kind of information is out there.

Also, in February 1796, a group of 307 people (officers, troops, women, young adults, children and babies) from Haiti migrated to the port town of Trujillo, Honduras during the Haitian fight for Freedom and Independence.  5

Below is VIDEO by Miss Wynnie Lamour as she gives some background on her Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York.

Mother Tongues United will bring together educators and activists from each Language Community to discuss:

  • the experience of being a speaker of a historically undervalued language
  • what is currently being done to positively promote and preserve the language
  • and how their respective diasphoric communities contribute to a shift in the perception of the language.

Guest panelists will include:

  • Milton Güity — A Garifuna Language educator and Activist from Honduras.
  • Elva Ambia Rebatta — A Quechua Language educator from Peru.
  • Charlie Uruchima — A native New Yorker of Ecuadorian descent.  Co-founder of the weekly Kichwa Hatari internet radio show.  It is the only radio program in the United States conducted in Kichwa.  6
  • James Lovell — A Garifuna Singer Songwriter, Educator and Brooklyn-based Activist from Belize.

Quechua is an indigenous South American language spoken mainly in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.

The Event: “Mother Tongues United: A Panel Discussion Exploring The Intersections of Garifuna, Haitian Creole, and Quechua as Historically Undervalued Languages” will take place on WEDNESDAY, March 25th 2015 from 6pm to 9pm.

There is a $5 Suggested Donation and it will take place at:

COMMONS BROOKLYN

388 Atlantic Avenue (between Bond Street / Hoyt Street)

Brooklyn, NY

Subway: A or C Train to the Hoyt – Schermerhorn Street Subway Stop

or

2, 3, or 4 Train to the Nevins Street Subway Stop

The Panel discussion will be followed by Language Immersion activities along with light refreshments to be provided by Table 7 Catering.

RSVP at www.bitly.com/mothertonguesunited

Unfortunately, this event takes place on the same date (and night) as the Memorial Mass for the 87 Victims of The Happy Land Social Club Fire in the Bronx.  This year marks 25 years since that sad morning and many of the victims of this tragic fire were Hondurans of Garifuna descent.   Miss Wynnie Lamour was unaware of this Memorial Mass and didn’t find out until after she booked the date and venue.  Sadly, once the date and venue were confirmed, it couldn’t be moved.  Perhaps, Garinagu who aren’t going to the Memorial Mass will decide to attend this event.

The Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York is an educational center providing a dedicated space for the study of the Haitian Creole Language.

Port Academie is an online research and reference platform for Haitian studies through an open-access digital library.

The Commons Brooklyn is an open and collaborative movement building space that provides resources to the progressive community.

Table 7 Catering strives to provide an “International Comfort Food” Experience with excellent service, love and laughter.

If you are interested, scroll to the bottom in the comment / reply box and check off the option at the bottom that says, “Notify me of new posts by email” so that you can get the latest BEING GARIFUNA postings by email as they are published.

About Wynnie Lamour

Wynnie Lamour of The Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York.  Photo courtesy of Wynnie Lamour.

Wynnie Lamour of The Haitian Creole Language Institute of New York. Photo courtesy of Wynnie Lamour.

Wynnie Lamour is an educator with a focus on Language & Communication. She has spent the last several years teaching Haitian Creole in the New York City metro area to a wide array of language learners, including non-profit professionals, public school teachers, and entrepreneurs. Wynnie has a BA in Linguistics from Cornell University and an MA in Urban Affairs from CUNY Queens College. Both degrees have allowed her a flexibility to blend effortlessly into many different sectors. Wynnie’s philosophy of teaching is rooted in the idea of “Mindfulness”, which promotes community and connectedness, while establishing a sense of pride and respect for both the Haitian language and culture.

About Milton Guity

Milton Guity Sr at the Garifuna Language Class at Casa Yurumein in the Bronx.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Milton Guity Sr at the Garifuna Language Class at Casa Yurumein in the Bronx. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Arufudahati (‘Professor’ or ‘Teacher’ in the Garifuna Language) Milton Güity (from Corozal, Honduras) has taught this Garifuna Language Course at Casa Yurumein in the Bronx since 2009 and has noted that each time he teaches the course, HE learns something new.   He looks forward to seeing Garinagu or non-Garinagu begin to learn the language that has evolved over the course of 218 years.  His Garifuna Language Classes take place every Saturday afternoon over the course of eight weeks from 1pm to 3pm.  There’s a short break (generally during the course of a holiday), and then the course begins again.

About Elva Ambia Rebatta 7

Elva Ambia Rebatta.  Photo courtesy of nyquechua.org

Elva Ambia Rebatta. Photo courtesy of nyquechua.org

Elva Ambía was born a native Quechua speaker in Huancavélica, Perú, was raised in Chincheros, Apurímac, and has lived in New York City for 50 years. After a long career in teaching, she is excited to share her Quechua language skills with the greater New York community. She sees the Quechua language as a link to her ancestors and as a means of celebrating Andean identity today. Through the NY Quechua Initiative, Elva wants to encourage everyone to maintain, promote and respect these beautiful languages.

About Charlie Uruchima  8

Charlie S. Uruchima, when on the Public Affairs show, INDEPENDENT SOURCES.  Photo courtesy of CUNY.tv

Charlie S. Uruchima, when on the Public Affairs show, INDEPENDENT SOURCES. Photo courtesy of CUNY.tv

Charlie Uruchima is a native New Yorker of Ecuadorian descent. His passions for social justice lie parallel to his current studies at New York University where he currently focuses on Quechua/Kichwa studies through a an activist-anthropological lens. In the process of exploring these interests in the Summer of 2015 Charlie met Segundo Angamarca and Luis Antonio Lema and helped found Kichwa Hatari.

About James Lovell

Garifuna Singer Musician and Educator, Belizean Garifuna Man James Lovell.  Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr.  All Rights Reserved.

Garifuna Singer Musician and Educator, Belizean Garifuna Man James Lovell. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

James Lovell was born in the village of Mango Creek, but grew up in Dangriga Town, Belize. After graduating from Ecumenical High School in Dangriga Town, James joined the Belize Police Force Band, where he learned to play several instruments such as the guitar, bass guitar, clarinet, euphonium saxophone and keyboards, and took advanced correspondence courses from the Royal School of Music. He learned to read and write music and to arrange musical compositions.

In 1990, James migrated to the United States. In June 1995, James produced and released his first professional CD album entitled Cabasan Numari. James has also produced and recorded three albums and is presently working on a bilingual children nursery rhymes album. In 2005 and 2008, he facilitated “Habinaha Garinagu” (Dance Garifuna) in Dangriga Belize, sponsored by the National Garifuna Council. He has also been the Vice President and Musical Director for “Illagulei,” a Garifuna performing arts company as well as the founder and creative director of the Afri-Garifuna Youth Ensemble in Brooklyn.

Since 2011, James was instrumental in teaching the Garifuna Language and Culture through the “YuGaCuRe” (Yurumein Garifuna Cultural Retrieval Program) Initiative; which is reclaiming and teaching the language and culture to children and adults in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which is the ancestral homeland of the Garifuna.

Under the leadership and sponsorship of the National Garifuna Council of Belize, he obtained two grants, the first from the World Bank for Indigenous People Fund in 2005, and the second from UNESCO in 2008, both which led James to be hired to facilitate the Garifuna Dance and Music Workshop in Dangriga Town, Belize.

About Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York

Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York (March 11th through April 12th) is designed to reflect on and observe the occasion of the Garifuna people (then known as Black Caribs) being kicked out of their ancestral land of St. Vincent Island on March 11th 1797 to their arrival in Central America on April 12th 1797.  The dates reference the period of time where the Garifuna voyage took place between their ancestral land and their new place of residence, where a new life was forced upon them.

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 9.

2015 Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York. (March 11th through April 12th). Logo by Ivan Moreira.

2015 Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York. (March 11th through April 12th). Logo by Ivan Moreira.

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.  Also, this as well as other activities taking place in New York during Garifuna American Heritage Month in New York are designed to further visibility of the Garifuna ethnic group to the general populace of New York City.

ABOUT The Garifuna People

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 in 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/March 1797.  About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate.  10

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

In early March 1797, 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.

Finding much of Roatan unliveable, the Garifuna people petitioned officials representing Spain and it’s government (which controlled much of Central America at the time) to be allowed to move to the Honduran mainland.  Upon being allowed to move to the Honduran mainland, namely the port town of Trujillo, Honduras in May 1797; the Garifunas settled many towns and villages along the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  They also migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.  Finally, Garifuna People have also migrated to the United States of America where generations have settled in cities like New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.  Despite their mainly Spanish surnames, their culture and history are distinct from other Afro-American and Latino ethnic groups and it’s important to keep that in mind.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.  Donations are accepted via the PAYPAL website so your potential donations are SAFE and SECURE.

Mother Tongues United Event on Wednesday, March 25th 2015

Mother Tongues United Event on Wednesday, March 25th 2015

Notes:

  1. Wynnie Lamour, “I Pay Homage To Haitian Women Through Kreyol”, The Haitian Times, March 2014. http://www.haitiancreoleinstitute.com/daughtersdiaspora/
  2. Wynnie Lamour, “Why Learn Haitian Creole?” Voices of NY, December 18th 2013. http://www.voicesofny.org/2013/12/why-learn-haitian-creole/
  3. Joyann Jeffrey, “Teaching The Diaspora Creole One Word At A Time”, Haitian Times, October 25th 2014. http://haitiantimes.com/teaching-the-diaspora-creole-one-word-at-a-time-8423/
  4. http://www.haitiancreoleinstitute.com/do-you-want-to-learn-haitian-creole/
  5. Michelle Forbes, “Garifuna: The Birth and Rise of An Identity Through Contact Language and Contact Culture”, Dissertation. May 2011
  6. Kirk Semple, “By Using Language Rooted In Andes, Internet Show’s Hosts Hope To Save It”, New York Times; August 15th 2014.
  7. http://nyquechua.org/about-contact/
  8. http://kichwahatari.org/who-we-are-quien-somos/
  9. Edna Negron, “Club Tragedy an Awakening for Garifuna”, New York Newsday, Sunday, August 18th 1991.
  10. Nancie L Gonzalez, “Sojourners of The Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pgs 21-23

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