In the darkness of the afternoon from Southern Boulevard, three yellow, white and black-colored balloons mark the entrance. Their colors make up the Garifuna flag. From the street one can hear traditional Central American music.
Inside, members of the Afro-Central American Garifuna community in the Bronx are beginning to gather. Hanging from the wall are the flags of Honduras, Guatemala, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, and a pride flag.
This is the grand re-opening of Casa Yurumein, a Garifuna cultural center now located just north of Longwood, which took place on Feb. 25.
The Garifuna community is originally from the coasts of Honduras, Guatemala and Belize where they were brought from the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines by British forces. Community members speak a language which has its origins in the native Arawak family. Throughout the 20th century and into the present, many Garífuna people have immigrated to the United States, and The Bronx in particular.
“This is our community. This is us. These are the Garifuna,” said Mirtha Colón, the activist and native from Honduras who founded Casa Yurumein in 1992 and opened a physical space in 2008, after years of work in the Central American Black Organization.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the center lost its space on Prospect Avenue, which had provided food and cultural events for one of the largest Garífuna communities outside of Central America. Now, in a new location on Southern Boulevard, the community is excited to continue preserving their culture and language.
“This struggle is for all of you,” Colón said. “This is the struggle of the Garífuna people. This space is the home of the Garifuna community in the Bronx.”
She also stressed that the Garifuna people have had a presence in New York dating back to the 1930s and now have 20 organizations, locally known as “patronatos” that work on projects focused on improving community ties.
The Garifuna community in New York also has “more than 20 patronage organizations, leading projects for our countries.” said Colón.
More than 100 people came to celebrate, including well-known Central American singers Aurelio Martinez from Honduras and Paula Castillo from Guatemala, as well as elected officials from New York.
Representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate were present, but the event lacked the presence of the Honduran Consulate, despite an invitation extended to Jessica Canahuati, the Consul General in New York.
For Rosa Guzman, a native of Rio Esteban, Honduras, Casa Yurumein means “an opportunity for the Garifuna community to be noticed in this state, and throughout the United States … [so that] even though we are from another country, our roots are not covered up.”
Cherly Thomas, who immigrated to New York 20 years ago from Cusuna, Honduras, shared that she is excited to have a space of her own.
“There’s a large Garifuna community in the South Bronx, and it seemed like the ideal place to have it,” she said. “We needed it.”
“I’m proud to see my fellow Garífuna people thriving, with businesses, homeownership,” she added, commenting that she’s seen “a lot of Garifuna businesses and restaurants recently.”
The famous Honduran singer Aurelio Martinez also spoke to the Mott Haven Herald about the importance for him of preserving his culture.
“For me to continue defending this culture … It has been a life project. I was born to be a musician, I was born making Garifuna music and that is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” he explained.
“I believe that the Garífuna culture is an essential part of Honduran culture. It should be declared a rhythm, or a dance or a representative culture for all Hondurans, not only of the Garífuna,” said Martínez.
Casa Yurumein is located at 1300 Southern Boulevard, right next to the Freeman stop on the 2 train. It will be open Fridays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.