Culture

The Garifuna Market Is Reconnecting People With Their Culture

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

Scrolling through The Garifuna Market’s Instagram page, you’ll see a combination of compelling images and insightful videos highlighting the rich yet often misunderstood culture of the Garinagu. An Afro-Indigenous community that lives on the Caribbean coast of Central America and increasingly in cities throughout the United States, the Garinagu’s once strictly oral legacy is becoming digitally preserved.

Alvarez is igniting Garifuna pride.

One video shows Isha Sumner, owner of the Garifuna food blog Weiga/Let’s Eat, making durudia, a coconut milk-based flour tortilla, while another shows the makings of hudutu, a seafood soup also known as machuca. Several others showcase a variety of Garifuna dance styles, including punta and wanaragua, to name a few. An array of colors — hues of yellow, blue, green and brown — pop throughout the grid, evident in the photographs of the culture’s traditional garb, the stillness of the ocean, mouth-watering cuisine and the ancestral lands of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. 

For Siria Alvarez, founder and CEO of The Garifuna Market, an e-commerce shop that sells items that represent the Garinagu, it’s all intentional. Alvarez is igniting Garifuna pride through the flags, headwear, jewelry and other merchandise from her online shop as well as the historical and cultural information shared through the brand’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages. 

“I use colors from the ocean, the greens of the trees, the blues of the skies, the browns of the sand,” Alvarez, who has a background in branding and digital marketing, tells Remezcla “I like to highlight happiness. People just enjoying their culture — dancing, singing and everything that portrays the positive qualities of our culture.” 

Photo by Omar Cana. Courtesy of The Garifuna Market.

As a way to deepen her own cultural knowledge, Alvarez founded The Garifuna Market in June of 2019. The origin of the commerce platform began two years prior when she visited her home country of Honduras in search of her birth mother. Although she was born in Roatán, an island off the northern coast of Honduras, and lived in La Ceiba, a northern port city, until roughly the age of three — visiting Honduras with family every couple of years — the now 30-year-old entrepreneur grew up in the Bronx, New York. Garifuna culture was undeniably present in the art and photos taken by her great-aunt positioned throughout her home, food and occasional visits to Crotona Park, a gathering spot for many Garinagu. However, being raised in the U.S., Alvarez yearned for a greater connection to her homeland. 

“I like to highlight happiness. People just enjoying their culture.”

“I went on a journey to figure it out,” she says. “It was an intense journey, and I came back wanting to know more. Not just about my birth parents but more about my culture and to get to know myself even more.” 

She was hesitant at first, wondering how The Garifuna Market would be received, but went live seven months ago and hasn’t looked back. What she appreciates most about these defining months is the community being built and deepening her own knowledge of cultural traditions. 

“There’s so much about the Garifuna culture that I did not know, so I feel like I’m learning with my followers,” Alvarez says. “We’re learning together. I’m telling them things I know, they’re telling me things that I didn’t know. I’m learning something new every day and so are they.”

As the chief executive and sole employee, the Garifuna-American entrepreneur is also learning to juggle many roles. Alvarez spends countless hours researching information and content to feature across The Garifuna Market’s platforms, designing and editing the graphics, coordinating photo shoots and handling the orders that come in. 

 “Night and day, I’m ordering the items. I’ll sketch the items that I need to be made,” she shares. “I’ll send them to whoever needs to make them. I’ll send the changes. If they arrive messed up, I’ll ship them back. I take the orders to the Post Office. I handle the customer service. I’m tweeting, I’m Instagramming, I’m Insta-Storying.” 

Photo by Siria Alvarez. Courtesy of The Garifuna Market.

While Alvarez confesses that her “head is spinning sometimes,” she has ultimately found the experience rewarding. 

Guildia Lopez, founder of the national professional development initiative Brothers and Briefcases, was elated to see herself reflected when she first discovered The Garifuna Market in a friend’s Instagram Story.

“The Garifuna Market represents the culture well,” says Lopez, who was born in Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, Guatemala and raised in Livingston, an easterm department, until the age of nine. 

“We’re learning together.”

“As a Garifuna vía Guatemala, at times, I feel like we aren’t represented in the Garifuna space here in America, and to be able to see the peninsula where I was raised highlighted, it’s amazing,” she says.

The Garifuna Market is keeping the culture — and history — going while firmly planting the story of resilience that began in the Caribbean’s St. Vincent and the Grenadines islands and resulted in the 300,000 Garinagu that exist today. 

Alvarez is excited about what’s in the works, including an official launch party, in-person experiences and inclusion of Garifuna artisans. She’s also exploring ways to best support Garinagu brands with her marketing expertise and to provide job opportunities down the line. 

Garinagu pride is at the core of what Alvarez does and will continue to do. 

“I want the next generation to grow up proud to be Garifuna,” she says. “This is what I am, and this is who we are, period.”