When teenage Jimena Mejia walks down the street in the South Bronx, people assume she is African-American because of her skin color, or Latina, because she speaks fluent Spanish. But officially, she is neither. Jimena identifies herself as Garifuna and has been trying to hold onto her unique culture since she arrived in New York two years ago.
The Garifuna are people of West African and Amerindian descent who live along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Their ancestors arrived in the Americas when two slave ships crashed off the coast of St. Vincent in the 17th century. The survivors intermarried with local people on the island, creating a rich and distinct blend of cultures. The descendents of this community maintain their own language and a system of customs and beliefs, both in their homeland and in diaspora.
In the past years, thousands of Garifuna have left their homes in Central America mostly in response to rising levels of urban violence, racial discrimination and the ongoing seizure of traditional lands by the government, colonial powers and foreign investors.
In New York, there are approximately 100,000 people who identify as Garifuna, a higher concentration than in their native countries.
As a result of the city's demographic diversity and the pressure to assimilate into American culture, the Garifuna community undergoes constant transformation yet maintains expressions of their ethnic and cultural identity. While the migrant generations try to safeguard their heritage, the younger ones have to navigate their multiple cultures and ethnicities in their adoptive new country, the United States.
This project documents their journey by focusing on issues of representation and belonging in the private sphere of the "home," both the symbolic and real place, where the meanings of identity and community are initially shaped.