identities

13 Women Share What It Means To Be Garifuna

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.”

Read: 6 Afro-Latinas Open Up About What Headwraps Mean To Them

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10 Empowering Songs By Afro-Latinas About Loving Yourself

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10 Empowering Songs By Afro-Latinas About Loving Yourself

It’s Black History Month, a time to uplift and celebrate the historic events and people of African descent who have contributed to culture, achieved excellence and sparked social and political change. But it’s also a moment for reflection, of honestly evaluating how much — and how little — has changed for the African diaspora throughout the US, Latin America and beyond.

Confronting the everyday violence, discrimination, disadvantages and inequality Black individuals have and continue to endure, while necessary, could be enraging and upsetting, and makes self-care practices all the more necessary.

This year, whether you’re celebrating the beauty, resilience and magia of blackness with a Black History Month party or well-deserved care day, music can always add to the occasion. Here, a mix of Spanish and English songs by Afro-Latinas and for Black women that unapologetically declare self-love and engage in self-worship to add to any Black joy playlist for the month of February and all the days that follow it.

1. Celebrate being a daughter of “La Diaspora” with Nitty Scott.

When the Afro-Boricua rapper dropped Creature in 2017, she gifted Black women, particularly Black Latinx femmes, with a full project that saw, understood and exalted their existence. None of the bangers on the LP did this as intentionally as the song and short film “La Diaspora.”

2. Make your voice and joy heard with Christina Milian’s “Say I”

When the cubana teamed with Young Jeezy to drop this 2009 bop, she encouraged women to “do what you want to do. Don’t let nobody tell you what you’re supposed to do.” And that’s some pretty liberating ishh.

3. Some might call you “CRZY,” but Kehlani wants you to embrace the term.

Confidently dancing to the beat of your own drum, especially as a woman of color, is neither expected nor welcomed, largely because it makes it more difficult for white supremacy to thrive. With “CRZY,” the part-Mexican R&B songstress encourages femmes to embrace and reclaim the slights people throw at you for being a radiant, go-getting mami.

4. And Calma Carmona’s “I Got Life” shows that there is so much to be joyous about.

In her Spanglish rendition of Nina Simone’s “I Ain’t Got No … I Got Life,” the Puerto Rican soul singer declares all the beauty she has, from her voice, to her hair, to her smile to her life, in a world that told her she has nothing.

5. Something else you have: “Tumbao.”

In la reina de salsa’s multi-generational hit “La Negra Tiene Tumbao,” the late cubana Celia Cruz reminds Black women of that unfading, indescribable, swing and swag that Black women carry with them in every space they occupy.

6. Prefer an English joint? Cardi B will also remind you how “Bad” you are.

With “She Bad,” featuring YG, the Dominican-Trinidadian rapper engages in self-worship and encourages other Black women to feel themselves and own their sexuality without apprehension or apologies.

7. ‘Cause Like Maluca told you, you’re “la mami del block.”

In the Dominican singer-rapper’s mega bop “El Tigeraso,” Maluca makes the indisputable claim that Afro-Latinas have it all: “tengo fly, tengo party, tengo una sabrosura.”

8. And like Farina says, not everyone is deserving of your greatness.

In “la nena fina’s” urbano-pop jam “Mucho Pa’ Ti,” the colombiana raps what everyone knows: She, and you, are too much — too poppin’, too powerful, too radiant — for the unworthy.

9. Now that you’re reminded of who you are, enter every space like Melii walked into the club in her music video for “Icey.”

With sparkly, high-heeled white boots, a laced v-neck bodysuit, some tiny red shades and confidence that entraps you, dominicana-cubana Melii knows her value — as a woman and an artist — and watching or listening to how self-assured she is will undoubtedly rub off on you.

10. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you’re a “Million Dollar Girl” like Trina.

Like the Dominican-Bahamian rapper, alongside Keri Hilson and Diddy, told you in 2010: “Baby if I want it, I got it / ‘Cause I’ll be gettin’ some more / ‘Cause I’m a million dollar girl, for sure.”

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A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Entertainment

A Latina High School Student Just Won A Massive Scholarship After Writing An Essay That Praised Celia Cruz For Being ‘Unapologetically Black’

Cuban singer and world-renowned Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz (RIP) has long been an inspiration to millions of men and women around the globe. Throughout her career and after her death, Celia’s fans have hailed her as a musical icon and a Cuban force of resistance. All of these years later, and Cruz who passed away in 2003, is still inspiring the generations that came decades after her.  In fact, in a bid to stake her claim in a college scholarship program, high school student  Genesis Diaz recently applied for and won a lucrative prize from Altice USA (the provider of Optimum and Suddenlink) all thanks to an essay she wrote about the late singer.

In her inspirational essay about the  Cuban singer, Diaz wrote about admiring Celia Cruz for being “unapologetically black.”

According to BKLYNER, Altice USA holds an essay contest in the fall to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (which runs from September 15 through October 15th). The prompt, which is given to middle and high school students, is to “name a Latino, past or present, with whom you would choose to spend a day and explain why.” The grand prize this year is a whopping $1,500 check which, if you remember college costs, can really help out any student eyeing higher education.

Diaz, a senior in James Madison High School in Brooklyn, New York, won this year’s contest. Her essay was selected out of over 700 submissions from across the country, according to Jen Rivera from Altice USA, who spoke with BKLYNER.

In her powerful essay, Diaz wrote that she would want to spend the day with Celia Cruz because she exclusively surrounds herself with people who “radiate positive energy.”

“And who’s more positive than Celia Cruz?”, Diaz wrote.

But what she really captured in her essay on Cruz isn’t just her positive energy but rather the way that she was unapologetic about being Black and Cubana and how she used her African roots in her music. While writing about the artist’s accomplishments as well as her being Hispanic and Black, Diaz emphasized the effect that Cruz has had on the Latinx community throughout her life and beyond.

“Black has always been seen as a color of inferiority, which is why Celia Cruz’s early critics claimed that she did not have the right look,” she said in her essay. “She wasn’t an ideal artist simply because of her African descent.”

Diaz went onto say that Cruz “carried her African roots in her heart and through her lyrics… Celia told everyone, including me, how phenomenal and majestic it is to be unapologetically black.”

Diaz, who hopes to attend New York University and is anxiously awaiting her acceptance from the prestigious school, was celebrated last week by school officials, classmates, members of Altice USA and Council Member Chaim Deutsch

“I couldn’t believe I actually won!” Diaz said in her view.. “I was very proud and very emotional. I feel like people take entertainment figures for granted. What people don’t realize that these figures are activists also.”

Diaz’s description of Cruz as an activist and powerhouse, couldn’t be more accurate.  The Afro-Cubana proved herself to be an icon and hero in her time, when she rose to face as a salsa vocalist and eventually became the symbol and spirit of the Cuban expatriate community.

Celia Cruz has inspired countless amounts of people, including people like Amara La Negra.

“Growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me besides Celia Cruz. She was such a strong, powerful woman. She was a very inspirational person,” Amara La Negra told Latino USA about the late singer who considered her Blackness with a sense of pride that eventually turned songs like “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” into huge hits. “When Celia Cruz passed away, there was no one else to really look up to as an Afro-Latino or Afro-Latina on TV. So, I went and became a fan of Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Donna Summers, who are truly talented women and I truly admire them. But, as far as the Latin community, we really didn’t have anyone to look up to.”

For her part, Diaz, who her principal calls a “remarkable young woman,” has become her own source of inspiration. Not only did the award-winning student win the grand prize for her Celia Cruz essay but she has also started her own club “about Hispanic, Black and Carribean cultures,” according to BKLYNER. There, students can gather once a week to “discuss issues facing the school and the community as a whole.”

It’s extremely encouraging to see the younger generation fall in love (and be inspired by) Celia Cruz just as much as the rest of us were. Here’s hoping that Diaz, with her award-winning essay, continues to draw inspiration from the Cubana and that she herself embodies being “unapologetically black.”


Read: Meet Mona Marie, The Caribeña Helping Women Find Their Strength And Freedom Through Pole Dancing

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