CHANGING THE GARIFUNA SOCIAL DISCOURSE SUCCESS STORY

José Ángel Manaiza Jr.

1. Tell us about your success journey in influencing many Garifuna people with your leadership style.

It’s been a long, organic one. I started by watching my parents and grandparents’ work ethic, when I was growing up in the Bronx. My family worked very hard during the weekdays. On weekends, they volunteered their time, energy and money to ameliorate the conditions of their brethren back home, in Honduras. They fund-raised, engaged in social events, and generally sponsored and opened their homes to newly arrived Garinagu to the United States. A prime example of nation building for me. This, I think, was the genesis for much of the work I do now, which also revolves around dedicating my energy to improving the conditions of Garinagu people all over the world. In fall of 2017, I established a facebook live series show, Mabruiga Garinagu. The show is dedicated to reviewing our historical experience as a community from a very critical framework. With the show, I hope to steer the social discourse in the Garifuna community as we face the forces of globalization while simultaneously preserving our 700+ year old culture.

2. What is your best experience as a Garifuna influencer who will attend the GFF?

There are so many to choose from! I have three that hold a special place in my heart. The first was being invited by Afropop Worldwide to celebrate and give a speech about one of our cultural music ambassador, Mr. Aurelio Martinez, who was inducted into the Afropop Worldwide Hall of Fame. The second was during Garifuna-American Heritage Month when Bronx elected officials honored me with proclamations and citations for my body of work serving the community. The third is about the work I am embarking on with the International Garifuna Council. IGC unites, uplifts, empowers, and educates Garifuna communities in St Vincent, Central America and USA. Because I want to be a part of the change that I want to see in my community, I am elated to currently serve the IGC as the elected secretary.

I strongly believe as a community we must constantly ask the question, “how did we get here?” At the Garifuna Film Festival, I and other members of the community will forum about our current state and future as a community on the western hemisphere. The festival celebrates Garifuna and indigenous films over a 3 day span. During Garifuna film day, May 26, 7–8pm, I will be part of a forum discussing health, economic political and social equity in USA, Central America and Caribbean. For more information go to www.garifunafilmfestival.com

3. What do you do for your well-being?

Spiritually, I have fallen in love all over again with our traditional Garifuna system, Ugulendu. I constantly talk to elders and spiritualists from the community about it. I am fascinated by the way it has survived with all the atrocities that have been committed against us. Ugulendu is based on the cultural philosophy Aura Buni Amuru Nuni, which translates to: I for you, you for me. This sentence is a commandment our ancestors practiced until their dying day at Balliceaux, St Vincent. Those that survived the banishment initiated by the British Crown carried the cultural tenet with them to Honduras and beyond.

Physically, health and wellness are of paramount importance in my life. I started this new year doing a 60 day Bikram yoga challenge and lost about 15–20 pounds. Currently, I am transitioning to a plant based diet, effectively trying to find the intersection between my Garifuna palate and whole foods, grains, fruits and vegetables. I have also embraced the art of continuous meditation and self reflection. I plan on commencing another 60 day bikram yoga challenge this summer.

Bio:

Born along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, in Santa Rosa de Aguán, Pablo Blanco is a steward of Garifuna culture and history. Blanco traces his lineage back to Sebastian, Silvia and Juan Arriola, 3 siblings who arrived onto the shores of Honduras on April 12, 1797.

As a member of the small and distinguished Garinagu nation, Mr. Blanco always knew there was something special about the community he visited every summer after emigrating to the Bronx, New York in 1982. During his first return visit to Santa Rosa de Aguan in 1985, Blanco was reintroduced and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of all aspects of his culture in its native essence. Because of the vibrant yet marginalized nature of the Garifuna culture in Honduras, his curiosity was sparked and the experience made Pablo create a pact with himself to increase his awareness and knowledge of the history, language, dance and spiritual traditions of the merging of west african and kalinago cultures that comprises the Garinagu community. In May 2001, in an effort to preserve and revitalize Garifuna culture worldwide, UNESCO proclaimed Garifuna language, dance and music as a, “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”

In summer 2014, approximately 100 Garifuna women refugees arrived in New York City from Honduras with their children. After the 2009 coup there, life became unbearable for indigenous Garifuna women and children. Many fled because of rising unemployment and vicious tax imposed by gangs towards working class families. In addition, the Honduran government began privatizing Garinagu ancestral territory for sale to foreign investors. These factors forced women along with their children on a dangerous trek north to America. Once in the United States they are arrested and their children are at risk of being part of the adoption system. Mr. Blanco saw the inhumanity inflicted by the immigration and customs enforcement (ICE) agency, which compelled him to become an advocate for women and marginalized communities.

In the fall of 2014, Blanco participated in a solidarity caravan whose purpose was to raise awareness about various social issues affecting all communities, which include immigration, militarization, economic development and police brutality. All the aforementioned issues affect the Garifuna community in the United States and Central America. Blanco has presented these issues in as many as 10 major cities along the eastern corridor, including Texas and two cities in Mexico to name just a few.

Blanco, considered an expert in Garifuna historical experiences in St Vincent, Central America, and United States, has served as guest lecturer and panelist in discussions about the Garinagu community experience in New York City. Blanco has also presented at Rutgers University, Duke University, Monroe College, The CUNY Graduate Center and at the City College of NY.

Visit http://www.pabloblancoonline.com/

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