The first-generation calling to my Garifuna Ancestral Lands
My mother’s roots are on the coastal tides of Central America that are spread out across the Garifuna diaspora in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. These lands are bounded by the coast of the Caribbean Sea where the tides rise and fall with the waxing and waning cycles of the moon. Just like the waves of the Caribbean Sea the yearning for my ancestral lands fluctuates. Every now and then I found myself craving the roots that my mother served to me in many food languages of tortilla, fresh fish, and rice and beans. Other times, I felt like an imposter to the language that my culture speaks that not even a google dictionary can help me translate. I kept my world of growing up in the Bronx, New York separate from my ancestral memories. It was the COVID-19 pandemic that brought my two worlds together. The Caribbean Sea overflowed out of pure desperation unapologetically crossing US borderlines and arrived at my doorstep to remind that I would always be Garifuna.
In many ways, the Caribbean Sea showing up unannounced overwhelmed me when I was already standing in water up to my knees. The Bronx had been hit hard by the COVID pandemic and it was hard to grasp that the black and brown people all around me were drowning without lifeboats and lifejackets. There were no lifeguards to warn us of how the pandemic would take over our bodies and our lives. I was shocked at the Caribbean sea's audacity to show and tell me that Garinagu's lives were in danger too. The Garifuna community in the Bronx who are living in low-income communities with many undocumented were concerned about their livelihood and struggling to survive. The Garifuna population on the North coast of Honduras where COVID cases were the most concentrated also struggling too. Activists from the Black Fraternal Organization of Hondurans (OFRANEH) help to provide COVID relief for Garifuna communities by giving face masks, food, and translating health information into Garifuna. However, they are unable to solve the systemic challenges of many Garifuna households that do not have running water, electricity, and are far from medical facilities. So, I prayed for that the pandemic would spare the lives of the Garinagu communities everywhere. Were my prayers enough?
But the Caribbean Sea would not go away. It submerged me for seasons when I felt the most powerless. My head was bowed low after the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, my eyes were sleepless after the death of George Floyd, and my voice was weary from screaming Breonna Taylor's name at the protest. How could the Caribbean Sea cry to me now, but it came to tell me that Garifuna lives and lands were being lost. Plans of tourist development of the Central American Caribbean coast put the Garifuna diaspora under the knee of government efforts who wanted to trample indigenous land rights and wipe out the Garinagu population. The Caribbean Sea yelled to me that lands of my great grandmother where breadfruit trees grew tall in the sky and shaded her from the sun was being lost. Lands that boarded the coastal sea where the Garifuna fished for centuries across Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua were being lost. The Honduran Activists of OFRANEH from the communities like Triunfo de la Cruz who dared to speak up against this development became enemies of their own country. In the dead of night, masked armed Honduran guards showed up to kidnap and murder anyone fighting to keep their ancestral memories. Last year, 19 Garifuna activists were murdered and the bodies continue to pile up.
Just like the Caribbean Sea, I began to see that my world in the Bronx and my ancestral lands were not so distant. The waves that once fluctuated began to run into each other
Murder George Floyd, Beonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery
Murder of Edwin Fernandez Honduran Garifuna OfraNEH activist
Murder of Antonio Bernárdez, 71, a Garifuna leader from the Punta Piedra community
The kidnapping of Alberth Snider Centeno Thomas, 27, Garifuna president of the community board and a semi-professional football player
Kidnapping of Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez, 39 OFRANEH Garifuna activist
Kidnapping of Suami Aparicio Mejía, 29
The kidnapping of Junior Rafael Juarez Mejia, 33
These names represent one sea. They are all me. No, my prayers for my ancestral lands were not enough. I vowed to do something about the disappearance of fish from the Caribbean Sea, about the disregard for Garinagu's lives during the pandemic, and about the kidnapping and murder of Garinagu land rights activist. My ancestral home was once where the fish were plentiful for my great grandfather and where my grandmother tended the land so the breadfruit trees could grow to its true potential. My ancestral lands where my great grandparents and grandparents have been laid to rest is calling me in a language that I understand. It is begging me not to be forgotten.