By Wellington C. Ramos
For years now, Ms Mirtha Colon, a long time Garifuna activist, who is the president and CEO of Hondurenos Contra El Sida and the manager of a Garifuna center by the name of “Casa Yurumein” in Bronx, New York, has been sponsoring the annual Ms Garifuna Pageant. This contest is the largest one held in the United States for young Garifuna women to compete for the title of Ms Garifuna and normally attracts about 800 people from all over the city.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
On Sunday 27th April 2014 at 5:00 pm, the contest was held at the Riverside Park Auditorium on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, New York City, and about 400 people turned out to witness this annual historic occasion.
Ms Colon has been reaching out to the parents of all the various Garifuna communities from the countries of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, “Yurumein” St Vincent and the Grenadines and the United States to enroll their young daughters in the competition.
It was always difficult for her to get a Belizean to participate in this event. Why? Many Belizeans felt that they do not stand a chance to win because it is being sponsored by somebody from Honduras, which always has the most contestants and also the majority of Garifuna people in New York City and throughout the entire world. This year she was able to convince Ms Brenda Ellis to enroll her daughter Erin Arzu to participate in the pageant.
Along with her, competing for the title, were Ms Yadelin Gil, Ms Santa Fe; Ms Darling Mejia, Ms Tornabe; Ms Kathy Nunez, Ms San Juan; Ms Eva Martinez, Ms Corozal; Ms Maribel Flores, Ms San Antonio; Ms Destiny Arzu, Ms Rio Esteban; Ms Kendra Avila. Ms Punta Piedra; and Ms Tamara Palacios, Ms Puerto Barrios, Guatemala.
Once these young ladies are enrolled in this Ms Garifuna competition, Casa Yurumein has a staff that provides them with rigorous and extensive training so that they can learn about all the aspects of the Garifuna culture, which includes language, religion, arts, crafts, music, dance, food, farming, storytelling, and medicinal cures. By the time their training is completed, these young ladies are so prepared that, even though some of them were born here in the United States and knew very little about their Garifuna culture, you would think that they just arrived from one of their native countries mentioned above.
The organizers of the Ms Garifuna Pageant also select two masters of ceremonies and judges from various Garifuna communities and organizations throughout the city. Ms Luz Soliz, the president and CEO of the Garifuna Heritage Center for the Arts & Culture Inc., and her daughter Catherine Soliz-Rey, assistant dance choreographer, were the masters of ceremony.
It began with the introduction of the candidates, a question and answer session of the candidates, a creative talent produced by each candidate and then dancing. During the intermissions there were cultural performances displayed by the following Garifuna dance groups: Hamalai Wayunagu Dance Company, Budari Dance Company and Chief Joseph Chotoyer Dance Company.
After all the talents were displayed by all the nine candidates who participated in this pageant, the judges handed over their results to the announcer and they were as follows: third runner up Ms Kendra Avila, representing Punta Piedra, Honduras, who received a $250 cash prize; second runner up Ms Kathy Nunez, representing San Juan, Honduras, who received a $500 cash prize; and Ms Garifuna 2014 Ms Erin Arzu, representing Dangriga, Belize, who received a $1,000 cash prize. These prizes were all donated by the law firm of Martin Munitz, which has been the main sponsor for this event for some years now.
All the Belizeans who attended the pageant were jubilant and they started to wave their Belizean flags and ran up to the stage to congratulate their candidate. There was picture taking with family members, friends and supporters and the session came to a close.
Throughout the entire event, Ms Dangriga, Belize, demonstrated all her attributes and talents and most people felt that she was going to capture the title. She sounded articulate and confident and expressed herself without any fear. This year each candidate was given a crown for representing their community and there were fewer dissatisfied people leaving the pageant compared to the previous years that I have attended.
We now look forward to the 2015 Ms Garifuna Pageant.