When Nora Flores arrived in her family's hometown of Punta Gorda in Roatán, Honduras, for Garifuna Settlement Day, she knew this particular trip would be different. Witnessing the reenactment of the April 12, 1797 arrival of the Garínagu (plural for Garífuna) to Roatán, after being exiled by the British from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, sent goosebumps all over her body. Her older sister, Audrey, felt there was something special, even ancestral, about this trip, too.
"The spirituality of our culture is really the backbone," says Nora, who is en route to becoming a buyei, or spiritual leader. "I didn't grow up in the pueblo, but that's something that is in our blood; it's in our DNA. The more you tap in, the more they [ancestors] will guide you."
After their trip, the sisters returned to Brooklyn, NY; however, they made another trip back to their ancestral homeland — this time, answering the call to stay. The duo spent time soul searching while reviving their father's bar-turned-restaurant, but, in 2014, an "aha" moment led them on a purpose-driven path to preserve Garífuna culture on a larger scale. After sharing their journey with a tourist, the woman remarked that they should start a cultural center.
"Now we have this idea. Everyone knows it's important to preserve Indigenous culture, but who knows how to make that sustainable? That's what we've been trying to figure out, and thank God we got it now," Audrey shares. "But that was a struggle."
In 2018, the Garifuna Cultural Center was born. In addition to providing a bevy of classes — from cooking and painting to drumming and dancing — they're also advocating on behalf of Garífuna cultural performers, ensuring that they're paid fairly for their work. The Flores sisters also serve as a bridge for the Garífuna diaspora, connecting with leaders in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Vincent, and Honduras to invite them to the center this upcoming Garífuna Settlement Day. Furthermore, they're hosting an international Garífuna conference in July 2022.
"The focus is bridging the gap, being the connector," Audrey says.