At first, I was a little put off by the fact that black Central American immigrants, mainly in the Bronx borough of New York City, where large portions of them live, are advocating a separate category from “black” for race on various forms. They do not want to identify themselves as black or Latino because their true identity, which is Garífuna (pronounced Gar-EE-foo-nah), would be diluted. However, after my watching the film Garífuna in Peril for the second time, I developed great respect for the Garífunas and a richer understanding of why they are making that effort to preserve their ethnic identity. Many of them are trilingual with Garífuna their first language, a combination of West African and indigenous dialects, and Spanish being primarily their second language, and English becomes the third language when they arrive in the US.This is all with the exception of Belize, which is an English-speaking country.
The Black Caribs, as the British referred to them, came into being when the British brought West Africans to the island of St. Vincent on slave ships. The British were subdued by a slave revolt, and the Africans made their way over to Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua’s Central American coastline. They intermarried with the native Carib/Arawak people forming a whole new ethnic group--the Garífunas, taking pride in the fact that they were never slaves. I had an interesting conversation with a Garífuna Guatemale at the film showing, and he explained to me how Garífuna could be born and raised in Belize and have relatives in Honduras or Nicaragua. He himself learned English after spending time in Belize before coming to Oakland.
To this day, young Garifuna people are being drilled in the love and pride of their ethnic heritage, and are encouraged to never forget who they are, regardless of where they go be it the Bronx, Houston, or Los Angeles. Even in their home countries where Spanish is spoken, and in the case of Belize, English, the children are encouraged to speak their Garífuna tongue amongst themselves to stay connected with their roots, and to speak Spanish (or English) when interacting outside of their villages..