Unattached, Not American, Latina or Garifuna Enough

Keyanna Gotay, North Carolina Central University

Born a first-generation American in New York to Garifuna parents from Honduras, I grew up identifying as a Garifuna-American or Black Latina. However, my identity was questioned and even tested when my family moved from New York to North Carolina. When I began school I slowly began to realize that I wasn’t like my other schoolmates. I was a black girl that spoke Spanish whose family also spoke a third language, Garifuna; my schoolmates never believed that I was Latina. I’d constantly be asked “Why, are you black?” “How can you be black from Honduras?” “Are you adopted?” those are just some to mention; there were also comments such as “You just want to deny that you’re black” “I can tell you’re mixed because of your hair”, etc. 

In the middle school I attended you were either Caucasian, African-American or Mexican. I obviously didn’t fit into those categories. My race isn’t white; therefore, I automatically didn’t fit in with my Caucasian schoolmates. Although I am black I didn’t identify as an African-American due to the culture difference. Lastly, Central American and Mexican cultures are different, with the Spanish language being what we mostly have in common, even that has a difference. Many didn’t understand the fact that there were black Latinos, therefore explaining to people about my culture, Garifuna was more frustrating.

Parade led by Garifuna women

Parade led by Garifuna women

Garifuna people are a mixture of African, Arawak and black Carib. Our story began in the motherland, Africa where we were enslaved. The ship that our ancestors were on, shipwrecked on the island of St. Vincent, where the inhabitants were the Arawak and black Caribs. Those three groups intertwined and became the Garifunas; however, later the British came onto the island and after a long fight they were exiled off. On April 12th,1797 the Garifunas landed in what is now Punta Gorda, Roatan, Honduras. The Garifunas dispersed their selves throughout the coast of Honduras and surrounding countries Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. While our ancestors had their language; Garifuna, they also had to learn the language of the country they were living in which for Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua was Spanish with Belize, speaking English.

Although my family is from Honduras, I never felt Latina enough because I was black, even if I speak Spanish and visit Honduras quite often, I’ll never be accepted as a Latina by society. Anti-blackness is a worldwide thing, not just a North American issue. Now that I am older I have fully understood and accepted that. However, most times I don’t even feel American enough, I’ve had people tell me that I’m not black enough without realizing that I too go through the same struggle as any other black person. Simply looking at me and my name, anyone will assume that I am African-American. I am Garifuna, I have always known about my roots and culture. However, some have said I am not a true Garifuna because I don’t speak the language, don’t cook the food how our ancestors did, etc. It has constantly been a battle of proving my Latina, American or Garifuna side. It can be quite draining at times, but it’s more painful when people of your own race, in my case black people, don’t accept me for being of a different culture.

Traditional dress and dance of Garifuna woman

Traditional dress and dance of Garifuna woman

For many years there have been misunderstandings with black people across the world, debates about which culture is better such as Caribbean vs African Americans or Africans vs Caribbean. Attending a historically black college/university has taught me the similarities and differences within various black cultures. Many people, including myself have said that the only thing that differentiates us is a boat stop. From food, music, dance, language we all have similarities and differences that should be admired and accepted. I just hope that one day we can all accept that at the end of the day we are all Black, victims of oppression and anti-blackness. Black Unity is what I wish to see one day in the future for society.