What was the GARIFUNA Involvement In The Raising of Superstar African-American Olympic Gymnast, SIMONE BILES?

 

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil — Called the World’s Best Gymnast, African-American Simone Biles is set for superstardom as she competes for Gold Medals in Gymnastics in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  As I read about her over the last five hours, I was intrigued upon learning about her complicated background and upbringing.  Also, my eyes widened and my head snapped back slightly when I read that a Garifuna person figured prominently in Simone Biles’s background and upbringing.  Read on and I’ll tell explain how.

Copyright 2016 by Teofilo Colon Jr. (a.k.a. “Tio Teo”).  All Rights Reserved. Telephone: (646) 961-3674.

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I learned about Simone Biles last night when I received an email from Garifuna Jewelry Designer Gina Gonzalez-Solis of the Jewels of June Jewelry Company.  In the email, she wrote that while watching the opening of the 2016 Summer Olympics last night, she remembered reading that American Gymnast Simone Biles was of Garifuna Descent.

Mrs. Gonzalez-Solis went on to write that Simone Biles is a top gymnast, is poised to win the gold, is representing the United States, that her mother is Belizean and that Simone Biles’s mother’s name is Nellie Cayetano.  Well, after getting that information, I did some researching.  What I found out isn’t entirely in line with what Mrs. Gonzalez-Solis relayed to me, but is fascinating nonetheless.

At 19 years of age, Simone Biles is the first female gymnast to win three consecutive World Championships.  If Simone Biles wins three medals in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, she will become the most decorated American gymnast EVER.

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Simone Biles was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1997, but when she was two, she and her siblings were taken away from their biological mother Shanon, who fought alcohol and drug addiction. Simone Biles and her siblings were shuttled in and out of Foster Homes.  Simone’s biological father (who apparently also had his own issues with drugs) abandoned the family and it was her African-American grandfather Ron Biles, who along with his second wife, Nellie Biles (formerly Nellie Cayetano), stepped in and formally adopted Simone and her younger sister Adria in 2003 when Simone was Six Years old.

Miss. Nellie Cayetano met Ron Biles while she was in college in San Antonio and while he was in the Air Force.  An African-American man from Cleveland, Mr. Ron Biles was a single father raising Simone’s biological mother, Shanon when he met Miss Nellie Cayetano.  He eventually married Miss Nellie Cayetano and they had two sons.  They currently live in a suburb of Houston, Texas.

Mrs. Nellie Biles became a nurse and eventually co-owned 14 Nursing homes in Texas.  WOW!  While technically, Mrs. Nellie Biles is a step-grandparent to Simone Biles, Simone considers her her mother and Mr. Ron Biles, her father.  The San Pedro Sun newspaper reports that Mrs. Nellie Cayetano-Biles is from Belize and is a Garifuna.

UPDATE: Mr. Austin Arzu wrote a comment on Facebook explaining that Mrs. Nellie Biles (maiden name, Nellie Cayetano) is the daughter of the late Mr. Silas Cayetano who is from Barranco Village, Toledo District, Belize.

UPDATE (THURSDAY, August 18th 2016): The Central American country of Belize is featured prominently in a New York Times story exploring the ties between Belize and Simone Biles.  It says that Mr. Silas Cayetano, father of Mrs. Nellie Biles was a former teacher, Belize fishing and agricultural cooperative official and senator from Belize City, Belize.

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While reading about Simone Biles, I can’t help but think about the term family, and how for Garinagu, it takes on a slightly different meaning.  In many instances, Garifuna children aren’t raised by their parents.  In some instances, their parents go off to United States in search of a better life and the children live with grandparents, uncles, aunts or other relatives.

In the Caribbean and Latin America, you have the phenomenon of “Barrel Children” — children who are left behind by their fathers and mothers who leave to go to other countries in search of a better life.  Often, these parents send home barrels of clothing, food, etc to help take care of them.  It’s under this environment, the living with other family members — an extended family — that some children in the Caribbean and Latin America live and is a common occurance there.  I mention that to say that for people from the Caribbean and Latin America, the term family is stretched into new possibilities with positives and negatives.   Perhaps this was on the mind of Mrs. Nellie Biles as her world turned upside-down with the addition of Simone Biles and her younger sister Adria into their family.

In any event, we need to know the inspiring story of how the Biles Family formally adopted their grandchildren and with love, discipline, sacrifice and attention helped focus Simone Biles talent and raised her to be the star Gymnast that she is. Whether it was canceling vacations to travel with Simone for various Gymnastics competitions, or simply putting in the hours to make sure all of Simone’s needs were met (Simone Biles began to be home-schooled at the age of 13 so she could devote most of her time to her Gymnastics passion), Ron Biles and Nellie Biles are to be saluted.  They even used their resources to build a Gym (The World Champions Centre) for Simone!!!  Be on the lookout for Simone Biles as she looks to make history at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Below is a TV commercial profiling Simone Biles and Nellie Biles.  In it, Mrs. Nellie Biles talks about raising Simone Biles.  Tip of the hat and a hearty Inebesei (“Respect” in the Garifuna Language) to the Biles family in acknowledgment of all the sacrifices they made in order to keep this young lady focused and on the right path of Gymnastics superstardom.  It isn’t easy and you all are to be commended.

If anyone reading this Being Garifuna posting would like to forward additional information about Mrs. Nellie Biles, please do so.  Go to the contact section to get my email address.  I’d like to learn more about Mrs. Nellie Biles, namely, I am curious to know if there any news stories, interviews, etc where she talks about her Garifuna background and/or heritage.  It would also be nice to read more about her co-ownership of a chain of nursing homes in Texas.  Also, if you are aware of any other Olympic athletes who are of Garifuna descent / heritage, please email me.  Any tips are welcome.

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 cultural fusion of race and ethnicities in St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose.

The Garifuna (then known as The Black Caribs) are noted for not only being the main source of resistance against European expansion into the Lesser Antilles over the course of over 150 years, but also 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.  

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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, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Boston, Miami and Boston.  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.

 

Superstar African-American Gymnast, SIMONE BILES

Superstar African-American Gymnast, SIMONE BILES

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7 thoughts on “What was the GARIFUNA Involvement In The Raising of Superstar African-American Olympic Gymnast, SIMONE BILES?

  1. Simone Biles making history has also educate us about her heritage. Knowledge is only useful when shared. Congrations to Mr. Ron Biles and Mrs. Nellie Biles on a wonderful job of not only caring but the love, patience, and time.
    Simone will continue to soar like an Eagle.
    Congrats Simone on your Great accomplishments now and in the future.
    P.S. Don’t ever forget your Grandparents, they are indeed Blessings.

  2. To show its not where you come from but where you going. Also being adopted is not a bad thing especially when you are brought up with love and success. Speaking from experience.

  3. I’m so proud of her and all her accomplishment.. Hats off to her parents. Viva Garifuna.

  4. I am pleasantly pleased… Every child deserved the best parenting… Thanks and praises goes out to Mrs. Nellie Cayetano Biles… -Mellowvision-

  5. Congrats to Ron and Nellie for raising such a talented and humble pint-sized bundle of joy! It would be wonderful if you could interview Nellie. Why not reach out to her? She is on Facebook.

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