1st Annual Afro Latino Festival of New York: Bringing People Together
by Kim Haas
Seeking to unite the diverse Afro-Latino populations, Tania Molina, a proud Garifuna, reached out to her friend Mai-Elka Prado, an Afro-Panamanian. Together, the two Afro-Latinas created the 1st Afro-Latino Festival of New York held Saturday, June 29 at Brooklyn’s Parkside Train Station Plaza.
In the United States, there are an estimated four million Afro-Latinos – the great majority of whom reside in the New York City area. From countries as different as Andean Peru and tropical Cuba, to the Garifuna population of Central America and to the innumerable descendents of Afro-Latinos who may have never set foot in their parents or grandparents homeland, this mega city of eight million is home to Latin America’s African Diaspora.
Despite the diversity of Afro-Latinos in New York City, when there are gatherings and events, the focus is often on one particular group, nationality or concern like an Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba Performance or an Afro Colombian Land Rights Symposium. Rarely are there events focusing on Afro-Latinos as an entire group.
Tania is very clear about her inspiration for the festival, “I used to go to festivals and events, but I never saw a representation fully of us. Either the Afro-Cubans were doing something or the Afro-Panamanians were doing something and it was nothing like a collaboration.”
Working my way through the crowds and talking with festival attendees, there was one single sentiment commonly shared. Karen Robergeau, an Afro-Latina from Puerto Limón, Costa Rica echoed the thoughts of many: “I came out because growing up in Brooklyn, unfortunately, I think people are familiar with the images of Latinos that they see in the media which tend to be of a lighter hue, of Caucasian descent. And so for me, growing up, it was always a challenge explaining to people that there is such a thing as an Afro-Latino. So, when I heard there was going to be a festival actually celebrating that, there was no way I could miss it. My heart was overjoyed. Finally, we are being recognized. We are going to get some acknowledgment and a sense of pride. We are here.”
During the Festival’s six hours, hundreds of Afro-Latinos and people of African descent delighted in a performance by Hijos de Agueybana, a Bomba/Plena performance group, savored curry chicken and rice and beans prepared by Afro-Panamanian cook Raquel and were fascinated by Chief Joseph Chatoyer’s Garifuna Folkloric Ballet (see video below, the group’s dancers are Garifunas from Honduras & Guatemala). Festival performers, vendors and attendees represented the vast diversity of Afro-Latino cultures, realizing Tania’s vision of bringing Afro-Latinos together.
Acknowledging the Festival’s success, Tania looks forward to next year’s event. Like so many Garifuna, she’s exceptionally proud of her culture and traditions. And in true Garifuna style, she looks forward to sharing the treasures of her culture, especially with Afro-Latino youth. “I’m so blessed that the universe gave me to the womb of my mother. Because being a Garifuna is being a true Afro descendiente. We have our culture, we have our language, the essence of the diaspora. We carry that with a of pride. The drums, the ancestors. We pay a lot of homage to our ancestors. I’m so blessed to be Garifuna. …. We want to have a platform for all the youth, all the kids that are Afro descendiente here in New York, to know and be proud of their African heritage….proud to be Afro-Latino.”