12 Women On How They Preserve Garifuna Culture

  With the increase in visibility surrounding Afro-Latinxs in the United States, there’s also been greater recognition of identities within such as the Garifuna community

Photo: Unsplash/@jtw4u2

Photo: Unsplash/@jtw4u2

With the increase in visibility surrounding Afro-Latinxs in the United States, there’s also been greater recognition of identities within such as the Garifuna community. Garinagu, plural of Garifuna, describes both a language and group of people that reside along the coast of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. Never enslaved, Garinagu are descendants of West African survivors of human cargo ships that were wrecked off the island of St. Vincent.

Over 200 years later—221 to be exact—the Garinagu are still present in Central America and across the U.S. Here 12 women of Guatemalan, Honduran and Belizean descent share what it means to be Garifuna and how they preserve the culture:


Keyanna Gotay, CEO at Brown Sugar & Canela and Founder of Águilas Afro-Latino


On what it means to be Garifuna:To be Garifuna to me is to know and understand my Garifuna history and lineage. To understand that my ancestors were intended for slavery but were not slaves, we are an indigenous mixture with a rich culture—a culture with no borders as our communities are in different parts of the world.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: “I preserve the Garifuna culture by dancing, listening and singing our music. I love to dance to some good ol’ punta rock, but I love to sing along to parandas. I also share about the culture, as far as my knowledge allows me, with friends and on social media. Although my organization was created for Afro-Latinidad as a whole, I made sure to educate on Garifunas as many of us are from Latin American countries and we are Afro-descendents.”


Nory Pouncil, Marketing Specialist for Wellness Brands, Advocate for Women of Color & Podcaster

On what it means to be Garifuna: “Being Garifuna means I come from a lineage of warriors, survivors rich in tradition, who broke barriers and lifted entire communities from nothing. It’s a constant reminder of my strength, the strength and resilience of my ancestors, and it emboldens me to be fearless, unapologetic and proud of where I come from.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: “Existing. My mother taught me how to dance, her sisters taught me how to cook, our ancestors rooted me spiritually. Thanks to those gifts I’ve become a vessel, sharing our foods, our stories, and speaking on the systematic challenges threatening our people.”


Alexa Dolmo-Rochez, Content Creator & Student at the Art Institute of Houston


On what it means to be Garifuna: “To be Garifuna is an honor. Being a part of the Garifuna culture is unique and beautiful and involves sharing our foods, dance, dialect and custom apparel with the world. Being Garifuna also means, that I can help my community with resources and provide direction with opening doors for those who are in need. For that reason, I love showing and speaking about it on my developing platform because there is so much unknown about our awesome principles, values, and beliefs.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: “I preserve my culture by surrounding myself with like-minded individuals who enjoy eating and cooking our delicious food while dancing punta (my favorite!). The sound of the drums do something to me every time, and the feeling is inexplicable. If you are Garifuna, then you know what I am talking about.”


Martha Arzu-McIntosh, Self-taught Sewer and Contributing Editor for The Sewcialists


On what it means to be Garifuna: “To be Garifuna is to truly understand that 200 some years ago we were exiled from Saint Vincent with little expectation of survival at sea and we are still here.  Let that sink in for a minute. In spite of…we are still here.  I was taught that at a very young age by my parents. I don’t hesitate to share our story of resistance and perseverance.  I won’t hesitate to introduce myself as a Garifuna woman. When I reflect back on my childhood, the love for our people, our rich culture and how we project that in every facet of our lives through our spiritual connection with our ancestors; being Garifuna is being true to myself and making choices that will honor my ancestors today and always.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: “It’s the way I choose to greet an elder as tia or tio when I walk into a room, even if I had never met them before because in our Garifuna culture, elders are to be respected. It’s the sacrifice hubby and I make to send the children to Livingston [Guatemala] every other summer so that grandpa can take them to the farm every day and teach them what he learned from his elders when he was the same age.  It’s videotaping my mom teaching my daughter how to make traditional dishes like hudutu, tapou and, of course, pan de coco, so those memories are seared into her in the same manner mine are when I remember cherished times with my grandmother. To be Garifuna goes beyond being able to speak the language and dance punta, or any of our other traditional dances, it’s a way of life.”


LeRuz La Rose, Award-Winning Recording Artist, Co-Founder of ARK BELIE WINE and Brand Ambassador


On what it means to be Garifuna: “Being Garifuna is very special because I am very proud of my heritage. I am proud of the dishes my ancestors created, which are rich due to their circumstances. I am proud of the different, difficult ways we dance such as junkanoo, gunjai, punta etc…our language is so special and very ancient. Most of all our ancestors left a way for us to live and carry our tradition.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: “I preserve being Garifuna by stating I am Garifuna when being asked what’s my ethnicity. I preserve being Garifuna by including punta and paranda into my performance and showcases. I preserve being Garifuna by wearing my traditional Garifuna outfit on stage. I preserve the Garifuna culture by announcing my ethnicity, and educating as many people about my culture.”


Evelyn Alvarez, Doula, Trainer and Founder of Prom King

On what it means to be Garifuna: Being Garifuna is everything! It means being connected to the Diaspora in a unique way. Our food, customs and history tell a powerful story I’m proud to be part of.”

On preserving Garifuna culture:My family is from Guatemala, and we aim to visit at least once a year. I make Garifuna food like hudutu, tikini, fritas de guineo, pan de coco…yum! I lead a dance fitness class, and I play punta during the class. The majority of participants are Asian, and they love it! We observe customs, and recently, have been learning more about our history and teaching my son.”


Renée Gaillard, Program Coordinator at a Youth-Serving Nonprofit

On what it means to be Garifuna: For me, being Garifuna means being a part of 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 be connected to this legacy and each other.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: I have been blessed to have grown up in my Garifuna culture thanks to my large Garifuna family in the Bronx, New York and yearly visits to my family in Dangriga, Belize. After moving to Boston and then Washington, D.C., it hasn’t always been the easiest to keep the culture a part of my daily life—although I’ve been lucky to find some Garinagu in these cities. Nonetheless, I always try to keep the Garifuna culture close to me by remembering holidays like the Garifuna Settlement Day for Belize (November 19), connecting with more Garinagu—both in person and in the growing online community (#GarifunaTwitter), continuing to learn more Garifuna words and phrases, and listening to the stories of my ancestors passed down by my mom. And of course, listening to Garifuna music and enjoying the bold sound of the drums! One of my favorite musical groups is The Garifuna Collective and thankfully, I got to meet and see them perform in Boston. I met more Garinagu that night and found out the group members from Belize also knew my family in Dangriga—it’s a small Garinagu world!”


Guildia Lopez, Visionary, Entrepreneur (founder of López Global) and Philanthropist (creator of Brothers and Briefcases)


On what it means to be Garifuna: “To be Garifuna means history, pride and culture, to be Garifuna means diversity, it means rhythm, it means being trilingual, it means having a strong sense of spirituality!

On preserving Garifuna culture: I preserve Garifuna culture by speaking the language, following tradition, dancing punta, supporting Garifuna artists and events, cooking the food, going back to Guatemala annually and educating those around me about the culture.”


Elkie Damarys Dilbert, CEO of WAYF Project

On what it means to be Garifuna: “Being Garifuna is a different type of strength to me. I get to stand with a group of people who fought to maintain and are fighting to preserve a culture created by people who were never enslaved. It means that no matter what obstacles I face, nor who tries to strip my identity or culture, I’m the child of a fighter, granddaughter of a survivor, heir to a culture of kings and queens.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: “I never stop talking about being Garifuna. It’s an undying conversation for me. I do everything to communicate it and share it with my nieces and nephews. It’s important to start awareness directly from home. This way they can go to school and tell their friends about this culture that their family preserves. I also have long talks with my elders. Sometimes my mom would sit at the table with me in the middle of the night and tell me stories that her great-grandmother would tell her, this lets me know that there is knowledge our elders can share with us, so I transfer these long talks and questions to my grandmother. And that’s how I educate my nieces and nephews, sometimes even my sisters.


Dina Lineth Valentin, Television Programmer and Filmmaker

On what it means to be Garifuna: To me, being Garifuna is carrying the legacy of our ancestors who are literally survivors.  I think back to our rich history and become overwhelmed at the fact that our culture, language and people are still alive today.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: “As descendants of Africa, we maintain our culture via music and dance, and I do the same. I’m not the best dancer, but I enjoy dancing punta and listening to paranda. I wish I was fluent in speaking Garifuna but I can understand it.”


Eunice Martinez, Student and Content Creator Focused on Style and Publicity


On what it means to be Garifuna: “Being Garifuna to me means that I’m a warrior. It’s my identity and what builds my character. It’s a responsibility. Being Garifuna means being a part of a legacy and rich history/culture that will never die.”

On preserving Garifuna culture: As much as we, the Garifuna people, are very present in New York, we’re still being ‘Americanized,’ which is difficult to change during these times but thankfully with the help of social media, it creates more impact educating on the Garifuna culture. I love showing and telling people to be unapologetically Garifuna, especially living in a melting pot of other beautiful cultures. I say this because being ashamed of our culture will only shatter and disrespect our people, our ancestors for the 200+ years of hard work, as well as discredit our survival. I also love to tell the many people I encounter of our culture because it defines my actions and my typical way of life. Word of mouth spreads faster than anything other form and your tone will forever create impact on other people.”


Tania Molina M.Sc, VP at Bank of New York Mellon, Founder of African Roots in Latin America, Co-Founder of the Afro-Latino Festival of New York and dancer at Joseph Chatoyer Dance Company

On what it means to be Garifuna: “To be a Garifuna woman is a blessing. Our race has survived for years it’s culture and traditions. For me, the best is ancestral connection and it’s spirituality when grabbing the maracas and feeling the energy.

On preserving Garifuna culture: I am a member of Chief Joseph Chatoyer Dance Company. Our slogan is to share and preserve our traditions. I want future generations to continue our beautiful legacy, which is a unique combination of Arawak, Carib and African. To be proud of the legacy and sacrifices of our parents, great-grandparents and our community as a whole.”

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Afro-Latina Afro-Latinxs Garifuna
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