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Longstanding Garifuna relationship with SVG – Avila

Longstanding Garifuna  relationship with SVG – Avila

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The Garifuna Community in the Diaspora has had a long-standing relationship with their ancestral homeland St Vincent and the Grenadines.

This is according to the President of the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc, Jose Francisco Avila, who in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday afternoon, indicated that his group has existed since 1998 and has had relations with SVG since then.{{more}}

“Garifuna, we have always known that we were descendants from St Vincent and we have always known that nostalgic feeling of going back to Yuremei,” he said.

The leader noted that Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize are the countries of Central America where large populations of Garifuna people can be found. Outside of that continent, New York has the largest Garifuna population of 200,000 people. Due to their origins, Avila noted that a large majority of Garifuna people speak Spanish.

As a result, Belize, which has the smallest population, was the first of the Garifuna populated countries to establish ties with St Vincent and the Grenadines because they speak English.

“Even though there was always that willingness, that desire to go back, there was always that language barrier…that kind of got in the way of maintaining that relationship with St Vincent,” Avila said.

According to the Garifuna leader, relations with St Vincent began in 1997 when the members of what would be the Garifuna Coalition USA Inc organized the celebrations for the 200th Anniversary of the Arrival of Garifuna to that continent.

At that time, he said that then prime minister, James Mitchell was invited to represent the Vincentian community. It was around this time that Mitchell also had the opportunity to travel to Roatan, Honduras to unveil the only statue of Paramount Chief Joseph Chatoyer, in that country.

Avila told SEARCHLIGHT that his group, in 2008, recognized that they had no relationship with the Vincentian Diaspora and to establish that relationship, they paid a visit to the Vincentian consulate in New York.

“We were well received; the whole board of directors of the Garifuna Coalition attended this meeting. It was there that we proposed the fact that we wanted to return home to ancestral home of Garifuna,” he said.

It was then that they learned about the Homecoming initiative that was to take place in 2009 for Vincentians living abroad, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of independence.

Avila noted that after discussions with the ambassador at the time, Ellsworth John, they were able to plan a pilgrimage to this country, where they were able to connect with the local Garifuna.

“We were there from the 18th to the 23rd. We had the opportunity, for the first time to travel around the island,” Avila said.

“We went to St Vincent and we were able to reconnect not just with the country, we were able to reconnect with the people so first, we arrived on a Saturday. Sunday we travelled, we got as far as Chateaubelair. I read about Chateubelair in the books. I know that that was where Chatoyer was coming from to meet DuVallier in Kingstown. We went to set a wreath at the monument in Dorsetshire hill. We went to the other side and we started in Fancy, Owia, we went to every Garifuna community that existed in St Vincent. We didn’t just go in and out we spent time there. We mingled with the locals, we went spent the afternoon in sandy bay where we ate we the locals. There was a cultural presentation. We met with the people.”

As it relates to the future of engagement between the Garifuna community and St Vincent and the Grenadines, Avila sees the future developments surrounding culture and tourism.

“We have spoken with the current general consul general (Selmon) Walters about the fact that St Vincent’s current main industry is tourism and there are a lot of opportunities to develop a cultural tourism,” the Garifuna leader said.

“I was thinking to myself, there were 15 Garifuna that went in 2001, 15 that went in 2005 and 15 that went in 2009. That’s only 45 Garinagu. Just here in New York, there are over 200,000 of us. So what I see is that great marketing opportunity to be able to establish tourism relationship with St Vincent with Diaspora here in New York but also in Central America.”

While he has been to this country on four occasions, Avila attested that many Garifuna have not been able to travel to St Vincent and the Grenadines, their ancestral home.

According to Avila, the Argyle International Airport has a big role to play in the future relationship between Garifuna in the Diaspora and this country as it opens up opportunities for them to join forces and implement developmental plans.

“Being able to have not only a cultural exchange but a cultural exchange that is eventually going to lead to…commercial exchange down the road. After all we do live in the greatest and biggest market; at least in this part of the world,” he said.(BK)

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