13 Women Share What It Means To Be Garifuna

garifuna credit: Catherine Ochún Soliz-Rey

If you’ve come across #CentralAmericanTwitter, you’ve also spotted #GarifunaTwitter. The term describes both a language and group of people that reside along the coast of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. Never enslaved, the Garinagu, the plural form of Garifuna, are descendants of West African survivors of human cargo ships that were wrecked off the island of St. Vincent. They remained in the area, resisting European control, until they were ousted from the country and left on the Honduran Bay Island of Roatán.

Today, you’ll find Garinagu communities across the U.S., especially New York, New Orleans, Houston, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington, DC and, of course, throughout Central America.

Here, 13 women highlight what it means to be Garifuna.

1. Catherine Ochún Soliz-Rey

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You may recognize this Garifuna powerhouse from her shareable motivational videos on IG. Catherine Ochún Soliz-Rey is the founder of Fiercer Woman and #FiercerWomanFiles, a movement focused on empowering mujeres to make that SHIFT into the women they know they were born to be. She preserves her culture as a choreographer for the Wabafu Garifuna Dance Theater, a New York City-based company that showcases the Garifuna culture and traditions through live drumming, song and dance. “My earliest memory identifying as Garifuna is hearing the sound of the drums as a child. My mother is the director of a Garifuna dance company [Wabafu], so she would take me to practice weekly from the time I was a baby,” she told Fierce. “Being a Garifuna woman keeps me centered and confident, because I know I have a story, a story that only proves how powerful we are.”

2. Yazmin Ramos

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Hailing from the Bronx, New York, Yazmin Ramos produces some of your fave segments on The Wendy Williams Show. When she’s not working on set or corresponding with celebs, she is overseeing her organization Polished Angels, which uplifts the spirits of the elderly by offering free manicures to women at senior living centers. She attributes her giving spirit and ability to tackle whatever comes her way to her Garinagu roots. “Being Garifuna means power! The power to accomplish anything and to be bold and resilient,” she said.

3. Nory Pouncil

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In seeing a void in the health and wellness space for women of the African Diaspora, Nory Pouncil launched The Health Conscious Podcast and iAmHealthyFit, a wellness community centered on teaching people of color how to eat healthier (without ditching la cultura!). Her tips can be seen on ABC 7, Good Morning Washington, Huffington Post and Women’s Health. A proud Garifuna woman from Honduras, the culture reminds her to be fearless and unapologetic. “Being Garifuna means I come from a lineage of warriors, survivors who broke barriers and lifted entire communities from nothing,” Pouncil shares.

4. Sulma Arzu-Brown

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After a babysitter referred to her daughter’s hair as “pelo malo,” Sulma Arzu-Brown decided to pen a bilingual children’s book to empower girls to embrace their natural hair. The mother of two released “Bad Hair Does Not Exist!” (“Pelo Malo No Existe!”) in October 2014, teaching children to respect and appreciate their differences. Arzu-Brown points out the importance of storytelling and passing on traditions within the Garifuna culture. “To have our stories of survival live on through oral traditions, dances and song is a privilege as Black people. I take Garifuna everywhere I go because it’s how our ancestors kept it alive and it’s my turn to follow in their footsteps,” she said.

5. Isidra Sabio

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By day, Isidra Sabio is a behavioral research specialist at a leading medical school, but at night, she’s creating beautiful art to advocate and raise awareness about the Garinagu. She started drawing at an early age, and has illustrated several children’s books in English and Spanish to date. “We inherited a unique culture with an extremely rich and fascinating history,” says Sabio, who grew up in a Garifuna village in Honduras. “It’s our duty as Garifuna people to safeguard it and to raise awareness of our past struggles [and] the current challenges our communities face in our home countries.”

6. Brittany Martinez

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Brittany Martinez is the founder of Wraps by Bratt, a shop selling African-inspired wraps that are made to fit a queen. “Being Garifuna is not just about the food, dancing and language,” says the Belizean-American Martinez. “As the great great granddaughter of Thomas Vincent Ramos, also known as T.V. Ramos, a Belizean civil rights activist and spokesperson for Garinagu, being Garifuna means being a leader, survivor and strong willed to stay connected with my ancestors. The culture is beautiful, rich and unique.”

7. Saraciea Fennell

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A book lover, Saraciea Fennell is the brains behind the Bronx Book Festival, a two-day literary experience in one of New York’s poorest boroughs. She is also a publicist in the book publishing industry and has worked with several New York Times bestselling authors. Understanding her Garifuna roots has been an evolution for Fennell. “I still find myself discovering new things about the culture, and I’m loving every minute of it.”

8. Aleichia Williams

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Aleichia Williams is a writer, student and advocate. The UK-living, native New Yorker has written on topics of race, ethnicity, gender, class and police violence for Huffington Post and has had writing published in a book by the Oxford University Press. Her earliest memory of learning about her Garifuna identity occured when she was 14. Her tio sat her and several cousins down to share the Garinagu history of traveling from St. Vincent to Honduras. “It was a history I had never known,” said Williams. “It just makes me proud that we’re still connected to our roots.”

9. Deyla Sabio

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A girl from the Boogie Down, Deyla Sabio started Blogger from the Bronx to shed light on the positive and beautiful parts of her borough, as well as to combat the negative stereotypes associated with it. She’s also an educational counselor for Bronx Community College’s TRIO Talent Search Middle School program, which empowers first-generation and low-income students from the borough. “I want to teach our future generation about our rich culture,” says Sabio, who was raised to understand the importance of Garifuna culture. “Our culture is too rich to fade. However, it is our duty to plan and teach those who are to come after us.”

10. Isha Sumner

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Isha Sumner is an actress and founder of the Garifuna catering company Weiga/Let’s Eat. According to her, “being Garifuna means distinctively being connected to my roots: that is my identity, ethnicity, nationality, culture, language, music and delicious food.” She continues: “I can only be elated to know that I am part of a beautiful tapestry that makes up the Garifuna history. I am a living, breathing, walking dream of my ancestors.”

11. Keyanna Gotay

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Keyanna Gotay is still a student at North Carolina Central University, but she has already created the hit online shop Brown Sugar and Canela, which sells clothes that celebrate Afro-Latinidad. “It means more than being part of the culture, but also knowing and understanding our history. It’s understanding that even in the midst of trouble and sadness, my ancestors pushed through and made a way,” Gotay, who founded her school’s Aguilas Afro-Latino organization, said. “It’s the way I move my hips when I hear punta or paranda, the way that I eat my hudutu while making nom nom sounds, the way I say numaaaaa (friend) at the end of conversations with the Garifuna women in my life. Having a loving passion for the culture while also having to protect it from dying out.”

12. Sandra Garcia Lowery

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A communications powerhouse, Sandra Garcia Lowery has more than 10 years of sales and marketing experience, working with big name brands and companies like CNNMoney.com, PEOPLE, Time Warner Cable Media and Clear Channel Outdoor, to name a few. Born in La Cieba, Honduras, she associates her earliest childhood memories, especially surrounding food, with her Garifuna identity. “In addition to the history and the language, I associate being Garifuna with our traditional foods, like machuca, which is mashed plantains and lots of fish. I blame my love for seafood on being born and raised so close to the Caribbean.”

13. Renée Gaillard

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Nearly every year, Renée Gaillard heads to Belize. She recalls as a child picking up on certain Garifuna phrases like, Ida biña? as a way to relate and communicate her heritage and with other Garinagu. “Being Garifuna means being a part of a rich legacy,” Gaillard, a youth worker, says. “It means having a rich legacy filled with a resilient history, a vibrant culture, delicious food, unique traditions and a spirited people. No matter where a Garifuna may live, we can all connect to each other through this legacy that has been built by those before us and will continue after us.”

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