In Memory of Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. RAYMUNDA COLON, Who Passed Away in Brooklyn, New York City

 

The deaths of several relatives of mine over the last few months have served as reminders of our mortality as humans.  We are all born and eventually, we all die.  Upon hearing that relatives of mine have passed on, I’d often review what I knew of their lives and dwell on their life’s significance and the meaning.  Despite that, I can’t say that I was in any way prepared for the passing of a woman I helped care for and brought me into this world.

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

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It is with a heavy heart and trembling fingertips that I announce that Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon, who was often referred to by her nicknames “Reina” or “Gringa”, passed away on Sunday morning, July 19th 2015 in Brooklyn, New York City.  She was my mother.

NOTE: Due to several devastating personal setbacks within the family, paying for my mother’s funeral and burial became a severe challenge as Mrs. Raymunda Colon did not have Life Insurance.  We set up a GoFundMe Page as an option for those able and willing to help cover the considerable expenses of our mother Mrs. Raymunda Colon’s modest funeral.  Those who want to help can click on the link to the GoFundMe Page for Funeral Expenses of Mrs. Raymunda Colon to help.  No amount is too small and the family will be most appreciative of any donation.

http://gofundme.com/raymundacolon

Mrs. Raymunda Colon was born Raymunda Alvarez Casildo in the small Garifuna village of Plaplaya, Honduras (“Blagriba, Indura” in the Garifuna Language) in the Department of Gracias a Dios, Honduras on July 10th 1939.  NOTE: Plaplaya, Honduras is credited as being the easternmost Garifuna community / town in Honduras.  The Department of Gracias a Dios is located in the Mosquitia region in the North Coast / Eastern Region of Honduras.  1

Raymunda’s parents were Nazario Alvarez and Vicenta Casildo, who have preceded her in death.  The fifth daughter of eight children, Carlota Alvarez (deceased), Santos Alvarez (deceased), Cirillo “Luncho” Alvarez, Juan “Juancito” Alvarez (deceased), Jorge Alvarez Sr (deceased), Maria “Zaida” Alvarez and Porfirio Alvarez.

Raymunda’s life was filled with illustrations of her love of family, friends and freedom.  Naturally a selfless individual, upon examination of her life, a common observation about Raymunda was that she was always there for others — often without regard for her own personal space, energy and time.

Honduras to United States of America

With the help of her sister, Maria “Zaida” Alvarez, Raymunda was able to enter the United States on a visa in 1972.  Once in the United States, Raymunda became reacquainted with Teofilo Colon Sr (from Tocamacho, Honduras), who she knew of in Honduras as a child, as he worked for Raymunda’s father, Nazario Alvarez.  They got married on March 24th 1973 before family and friends in New York City.

Garinagu Mr. Teofilo Colon Sr and Mrs. Raymunda Colon (a.k.a. Raymunda Alvarez Casildo) on their Wedding Day on March 24th 1973 in New York City.

Garinagu Mr. Teofilo Colon Sr and Mrs. Raymunda Colon (a.k.a. Raymunda Alvarez Casildo) on their Wedding Day on March 24th 1973 in New York City.

Growing up, I don’t recall many stories from my mother about her life as a Garifuna woman in Honduras.  The little I know I had to piece together from reviewing private documents she stored in her room.  Like many youths, I was in a narcissistic fog as I was only thinking of myself and never bothered to ask about my parents lives prior to coming to America.

As an adult, I did become curious about my mother’s story, my family’s lineage, my Garifuna culture, etc but as I will discuss below, by the time I became interested in learning about those aspects of my family history; it was too late to learn about those things from my mother.

Work

Raymunda found steady work as a domestic home aide / home attendant in New York City.  As a domestic home aide / home attendant, Raymunda’s responsibilities included cleaning the homes of the elderly or disabled and assisting them as they shopped for food or other items during the course of their everyday lives.

Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon. Photo dated late 1980s early 1990s.

Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon. Photo dated late 1980s early 1990s.

Working as a domestic in New York City wasn’t easy for Raymunda, but that profession enabled her to make a living and bring some income into the household.  Raymunda was devoted to her profession and was a true and committed professional.

Foster Parent

Throughout the mid 1980s through the mid 1990s, Raymunda also became a foster parent.  She used her home and immediate family as a refuge for children of various ethnicities and nationalities (Latin American and Black) whose lives were destined for despair and grief.  There were a number of foster care agencies she worked with over the years, but Miracle Makers Inc in Brooklyn stands out in my mind.

It is against the law to maintain contact with foster children once they move on or are reunited with their parents — but we are sure that the many foster children that came through the Colon household had their lives transformed for the better as a result of their stay there.  My siblings and I would often express frustration over how JUST as we became emotionally attached to (and contemplating adopting) the foster children, they’d be whisked away and returned to their parent or parents as far as we knew.

I’ve tried looking through my mother’s documents to see if I could get the first and last names of the foster children that we took care of.  However, I wasn’t able to find much.  I remember the first names of some of the children, but wasn’t able to find official documentation which listed most of their first and last names.   I only found the first and last name of one foster child; Ernesto Barrios.  The rest I remember only by their first names, Felix and Ralphie to name a few.  NOTE: I also had trouble finding proper photos of my mother with some of these foster children.  The photos that I did find are either too dark or just not right for one reason or another.

Raymunda Colon was there for those foster children as these young people as they sought solace from bad or unprotective backgrounds (many of the parents of these children were addicted to drugs or had debilitating diseases).

United States Citizen

On September 29th 1989, Raymunda Colon officially became a citizen of the United States of America.  Like many immigrants before her, Raymunda believed in America.  She believed in the promise of the American Dream and the potential opportunities available to her in this country.

Being a Garifuna woman in Honduras, that is, a Black woman in a Latin American country like Honduras; there was only so far she could go as far as her standard of living went.  Her race, sex and class locked her and many women like her into a very specific social status in Honduras.  With that in mind, Raymunda understandably looked at the United States of America as a land that served as a way out and a way up if you worked hard enough.  She also looked forward to helping other immigrants who aspired to a new start in the United States of America.

Front Cover to the Wake Program for Garifuna Woman Mrs. Raymunda Colon.

Front Cover to the Wake Program for Garifuna Woman Mrs. Raymunda Colon.

Upon becoming a U.S. citizen, Raymunda became a sponsor for many Honduran immigrants, and enabled them to get Immigrant Visas, which are documents that allow you to travel to the United States to work and to also apply for admission as a legal permanent resident.  My mother’s sponsorship enabled many Honduran immigrants to start anew and get a fresh start in America.  Most were relatives, some were not.  I have not been able to get an exact number of how many people my mother sponsored, but I have been told that it was a LOT.

Raymunda Colon was there for those Honduran Garifuna immigrants.  She was a beacon of light for those seeking to start a new life in America.

Life Changes

After a destructive fire in Raymunda’s private home (acquired via the innovative Nehemiah Program–which made home ownership affordable for working class families) in the fall of 1995, Raymunda’s stress level rose to a dangerous degree.  Dealing with insurance agents to rehabilitate the parts of the home damaged by fire as well as coping with the challenge of my raising my two youngest siblings; a teenage son and a pre-adolescent daughter (both my brother and I–the two oldest siblings–were in college at the time) as well as foster children in New York City proved too much to handle and in late January of 1996, Raymunda fell victim to a stroke.

In all, Raymunda spent a little over five weeks at Brookdale Hospital in Brooklyn.  The first two weeks, Raymunda was in a coma, and the remaining three weeks were spent recovering upon ‘awakening’ from the coma.  At the time of her stroke, I was en route to London for a semester abroad while I was in college.  Upon hearing the news, I dropped out of college and moved back to New York City to help take care of my mother and handle her affairs.

In the aftermath of her stroke, Raymunda was diagnosed with Aphasia , a language or communication disorder caused by a stroke or brain injury that affects a person’s ability to process and use language.

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While Aphasia does not affect intelligence, it affects victims differently.  Researchers, Doctors and Speech Pathologists have broken up the general types of Aphasia into six different categories.  And Raymunda appeared to have combinations of symptoms of several types of Aphasia.  The six different types of aphasia are:  (definitions and symptoms are quoted directly from the Aphasia website)

Anomic Aphasia —  Anomic aphasia is the least severe form. With it, individuals are often unable to supply the correct words for the things they want to talk about—objects, people, places, or events. It’s sometimes described as having a word on the tip of one’s tongue. He or she usually understands speech well and is able to read adequately, but writing ability may be poor.

Broca’s Aphasia — Broca’s aphasia is also referred to as nonfluent or expressive aphasia. This type of aphasia can be very frustrating, as a person with Broca’s aphasia knows what he or she wants to say, but is unable to accurately produce the correct word or sentence. Expressing language in the form of speech and writing will be severely reduced. The person may be limited to short “telegraphic” statements, with words like “is” or “the” left out. People who are diagnosed with severe Broca’s aphasia may benefit from an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device.

Mixed Nonfluent Aphasia — Mixed nonfluent aphasia resembles a severe form of Broca’s aphasia because the person’s speech is sparse and laborious. However, unlike Broca’s aphasia, a person with mixed nonfluent aphasia may also have limited understanding of speech and not be able to read or write beyond an elementary level.

Wernicke’s Aphasia — Persons diagnosed with Wernicke’s aphasia are unaware that the words they are producing are incorrect and nonsensical. He or she may have severe comprehension difficulties and be unable to grasp the meaning of spoken words, yet may be able to produce fluent and connected speech. Reading and writing are often severely impaired as well.

Global Aphasia — Global aphasia, as the name suggests, refers to widespread impairment. This is the most severe form of aphasia and usually occurs immediately after a stroke in patients who have experienced extensive damage to the brain’s language area. A person with global aphasia loses almost all language function and has great difficulty understanding as well as forming words and sentences. People who are suffering from global aphasia may only be able to produce a few recognizable words, understand little or no spoken speech, and be unable to read or write.

Primary Progressive Aphasia — Primary progressive aphasia is a rare degenerative brain and nervous system disorder that causes speaking and language skills to decline over time. A person becoming symptomatic with primary progressive aphasia may have trouble naming objects or may misuse word endings, verb tenses, conjunctions, and pronouns. Unlike actual aphasia, which is the result of brain damage, primary progressive aphasia is a progressive type of dementia.

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Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon on her wedding on March 24th 1973.

Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon on her wedding on March 24th 1973.

Raymunda seemed to have had a combination of Wernicke’s Aphasia, Broca’s Aphasia and Anomic Aphasia.  She often was unable to use the correct word for things she was referring to.  I was unable to tell if she even realized that, but in turn, she also didn’t understand some of what was said to her at times.  At the same time, her speech was fluent and connected in parts.  Not only were certain words used to mean several other things, she often repeated certain words or phrases and although her speech was for the most part fluent as far as enunciation is concerned, trying to talk with her became a consistent challenge for her remaining years on Earth.

Raymunda was fluent in the Garifuna, Spanish and English languages prior to her stroke, but after her stroke in 1996; she primarily spoke Spanish.  She no longer spoke nor understood Garifuna (other than the word “Garifuna”) and sometimes used basic English words like “Hello” or “Fine”.

As I got older and more curious about my cultural / ethnic background and my parents history in Honduras, it was enormously frustrating that I was robbed from having a simple conversation with my mother about those things due to her language disorder.

As far as I could tell, Raymunda was ambivalent or indifferent about her identity as a Garifuna woman.  Her approach isn’t very different from many other Garinagu of her generation.  Being Garifuna was simply who and what she was.  In a way, it was similar to the sentiment expressed by “A Raisin In The Sun” playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who memorably said, “I don’t go around thinking about being Black 24 Hours a Day!!!”  Sadly, I was never able to have a conversation with my mother about the matter of Garifuna identity.

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Due to her Aphasia, keeping up with family and friends became severely limited.  Telephone calls stopped and only those who visited the home or saw her at family outings (or other funerals) were able to exchange small talk with her.  For someone who often kept up with how people were doing, this was devastating.

Because of her condition, Raymunda had to retire from her job as a domestic home aide / home attendant as well as discontinue being a foster parent.  I still remember accompanying my mother to the headquarters of the agency she worked at so that we could formally file her retirement after her stroke.  She was fully expecting to get right back to work and felt ready to do so.  Raymunda was devoted to her job and as she paced around the headquarters of the agency that day in 1996, it became somewhat an ordeal to explain to her that she was no longer going to work.

Over the years, a consistent challenge was trying to be mindful of vendors looking to take advantage of the elderly–especially considering my mother’s Aphasia.

Joining The Ancestors

With the help of family, friends and home aides / home attendants, we all collectively tried to help Raymunda maintain her standard of living over the course of about 20 years.    Upon reflection, it’s clear that Raymunda was there for many people.  But who was there for her?

Living with her since her stroke in 1996, I developed my own routine.  I tried not taking assignments that would keep me away from the home for too long a time and for the most part, I tried to stay close to her distance-wise.   In short, I typically worked within New York City as I pursued a career in filmmaking.  I usually worked on music videos in New York City and worked with filmmakers like Hype Williams, Little X and Mark Romanek.  But as time marched on, my siblings got married, had children of their own and moved on with their lives.

My mother typically went to bed in the early evenings and woke up at about 5 in the morning.  Every morning, Mrs. Raymunda Colon made coffee.  I’d either be up all night editing photos on my computer or be half asleep snug under the covers in my bed and the mere smell of coffee was a signal to me that my mother was up and that everything was okay.

As Raymunda got older, she got skinnier and skinnier.   As far as I could tell, it wasn’t due to any condition, she just didn’t eat as much any more.  The thinner she became, the more her…frailty became more and more evident.  Due to her Aphasia, simply asking her if there was a problem wasn’t going to get anyone anywhere.   Often, I’d wait until her seasonal doctor’s appointments and address any concerns with the doctor.  Other than the obvious emergency in the case of an accident, there wasn’t much else to do.

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In the last month of her life, she did have two accidents in the home.  She was taken to the hospital each time and checked out.  In retrospect, I should have heeded those accidents as warning signs.  After her last accident in early July 2015, where she fell off her bed while asleep in the middle of the night; she walked with the assistance of cane after being checked out of the hospital.  After X-rays, cat-scans and such, the doctors simply prescribed Tylenol and making sure her legs and feet were elevated by placing pillows under her calves / feet when she went to sleep, which I did just about every night after her accident.  I noted that she had difficulty walking, but I thought she’d recover quickly as she typically did.  In many ways, I thought she was indestructible and that she’d be fine.  Raymunda craved her independence and her freedom.  In fact, most obstacles were no match for her fierce will.

Finally, she joined the ancestors on SUNDAY morning, July 19th 2015 after falling victim to an apparent heart attack.  She was 76 years old.  She will reunite in heaven with the recently departed:

Teresa Colon Witt De Guerrero

Catalina Flores

Francisco “Papi” Suazo

Sogeidy Perez Colon

Rafael Flores Sr

Teofilo Colon Sr

Jose Mateo Batiz Sr

Jorge Alvarez Sr

Final Word

Today, we will not say goodbye, but until we see you again or “Deime anunegu (“Until another day / until next time” in the Garifuna Language) since one day we will.

While Raymunda has physically left us, her spirit, her energy, her excitement about people, her infectious love and selfless nature remain with us.  We all have gained a Guardian Angel.  Deime anunegu waguchuru.

We will love you forever.  Sincerely, your children, grandchildren as well as your immediate and extended family.

More Thoughts

I hope this posting offered readers a hint as to who Mrs. Raymunda Colon was.   Mother, Sister, Aunt, Grandma, Friend, Confidant, etc were all roles she dutifully fulfilled with love, excitement, care and grace.  Perhaps you also care for an elderly parent and can relate to what I went through being responsible for my mother over the last 19 years.  If you like, write to me and we can discuss our shared experience caring for an elderly parent.

If you find the BEING GARIFUNA Website helpful and useful, please DONATE.  Every dollar donated helps keep this website in operation.


As I write this, I find that I am constantly reviewing everything my family and I did for my mother after her stroke in 1996.  In all, I treasured my time with her and I miss my mother tremendously.  However, the questions that I keep asking myself are, “Did I do enough?”  “Could I have done more?”.  In any event, I tried to be there for my mother as she was there for so many people throughout the course of her life.

I regret that I was not more successful in my filmmaking pursuits so that I could have made my mother’s life easier in some fashion.  In fact, I was not able to continue payments on Life Insurance for my mother.   Believe me, it is NOT easy for me to ask for donations to help cover my mother’s funeral expenses.

Family, Spouses, Children, etc all weigh heavily on my mind in a time like this–despite the fact that I am single and do not have children.  We are all meant to be with someone.  Hopefully you find that someone if you haven’t already.  Do right by your husband, wife, children, friends, etc.  In this life journey that we all go through, they’ll be ups and downs.  It helps to have someone by your side as you go through these ups and downs.

While she was not an activist or some sort of Garifuna Leader, my mother, Mrs. Raymunda Colon made a difference and directly impacted the lives of many Garinagu.  In comparison, I can only hope to matter in the lives of a small percentage of people.  Perhaps, you all in your own way can also matter and impact lives.

Mention of the passing of Garifuna Woman Mrs. Raymunda Colon in the Caribbeat Column of Jared McCallister in The New York Daily News.

The Viewing / Wake for Mrs. Raymunda Colon took place on SUNDAY, July 26th 2015 in Brooklyn, New York.

At the wake / viewing for Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon on SUNDAY, July 26th 2015. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

At the wake / viewing for Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon on SUNDAY, July 26th 2015. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

The Burial for Mrs. Raymunda Colon took place on MONDAY, July 27th 2015.  She is buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Behind mourners of Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya Honduras, Mrs. Raymunda Colon after her coffin was lowered into the ground at burial on MONDAY, July 27th 2015. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Behind mourners of Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya Honduras, Mrs. Raymunda Colon after her coffin was lowered into the ground at burial on MONDAY, July 27th 2015. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

The Novenario or Novena for Mrs. Raymunda Colon took place from FRIDAY, July 31st 2015 through SATURDAY August 8th 2015.   Novena or Novenario/a is a tradition for those of the Catholic faith which is a form of observance after the deceased has been laid to rest.

People seated at Novenario for Garifuna Woman, Mrs. Raymunda Colon. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

People seated at Novenario for Garifuna Woman, Mrs. Raymunda Colon. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

It involves nine consecutive days of prayer (mostly the rosaries) where those involved pray for the soul of the deceased so that he or she is forgiven for all his / her sins by God and accepted into heaven.

People standing at Novenario for Garifuna Woman, Mrs. Raymunda Colon. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

People standing at Novenario for Garifuna Woman, Mrs. Raymunda Colon. Photo by Teofilo Colon Jr. All Rights Reserved.

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.   1

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.

Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon (a.k.a. Raymunda Alvarez Casildo or "Reina" or "Gringa").

Garifuna Woman from Plaplaya, Honduras; Mrs. Raymunda Colon (a.k.a. Raymunda Alvarez Casildo or “Reina” or “Gringa”).

Notes:

  1. https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gracias_a_Dios_%28Honduras%29&prev=search

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