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Covid-19 Impact On NYC’s Garifuna Community

By: José Francisco Ávila & Thurito Martínez

New York City has emerged as the epicenter of the global 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, making the fight to halt its spread within the five boroughs one of the great public health challenges of our time.

New York reported 12,822 statewide deaths as of Friday morning, including 630 more fatalities in the past day of New Yorkers who have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Thursday, the state reported 8,893 deaths of New York City residents. As of Thursday, 17,035 New Yorkers were hospitalized with the coronavirus. It

A search of our social media networks, has identified approximately thirty six (36) Garífuna deaths in New York City since April 2. This alarming number is equivalent to 56% of the Garifuna people killed in the Happy Land Social Club Fire, on March 25, 1990. At this rate, the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will kill more Garífunas than the entire 87 people killed in the Happy Land Social Club Fire. GALENT and Thurito Martinez Enterprise have launched a project to track every Garifuna who dies during the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

What is the reason for such a tragic situation?

According to the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc., New York City is home to the largest Garifuna population outside of Central America with over 225,000 living in the South Bronx, Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn, and Harlem.

According to the New York Times, during the first month of the outbreak in the city, the epicenter of America’s coronavirus crisis many of the neighborhoods with the most confirmed virus cases were in areas with the lowest median incomes, the data shows. The biggest hot spots included communities in the South Bronx and western Queens. The South Bronx is home to more than half of New York City’s Garifuna population.

The Garifuna are a hybrid people resulting from a biological and cultural mixture between Carib and Arawak Indigenous People of the Caribbean and people of African origin. New York City’s Garifuna Community is made up of immigrants from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defines “Hispanic or Latino” as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American (Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in the case of the Garifuna), regardless of race.

Most Garifuna immigrants work on the “essential jobs” list that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) mentions in its guidelines during the national emergency.

They are essential workers necessary to maintain the services and functions that New Yorkers depend on on a daily basis and who need to be able to operate resiliently during the COVID-19 pandemic response. They include home health care workers or aides for the elderly, many Garifuna women work in this field. They include building cleaning and maintenance, a popular source of employment for Garifuna men. The pandemic is likely to hit Garifunas particularly hard, both in terms of health and economics, few can work from home.

Furthermore, many Garifuna represent undocumented immigrants, who have migrated to New York City and as part of the various Central American migrant caravans that travel from the Guatemala–Mexico border to the Mexico–United States border.

The recent Paycheck Protection Program, which provides one-time cash payments to low- and middle-income households, excludes undocumented immigrants in the country as well as children who are U.S. citizens but have at least one parent who is undocumented.

On Thursday, April 16, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a partnership with the Open Society Foundations to establish an emergency relief program for immigrants affected by COVID-19, regardless of their immigration status. The $ 20 million fund seeks to provide emergency monetary relief to immigrant workers and their families.

According to the report “Protecting NYC’s Most Vulnerable Populations During COVID-19”, published by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, Black and Latino New Yorkers are twice as likely to die of the virus than Whites.

This is due to the deep, existing inequities based on class and race which have been brought into stark relief by the current outbreak.

These inequities are due to decades of public health disparities pertaining to asthma, diabetes, obesity, and other conditions that can complicate COVID-19, as well as a historic lack of access to quality preventative care in lower income communities of color.

The current shutdown and quarantine have placed unique stresses and strains on communities of color, immigrants, seniors, and low-income New Yorkers such as the Garifuna. Consider the single parents, living in poverty, trying to teach their children remotely while struggling to keep them fed.

Or the many non-citizens and undocumented New Yorkers living in overcrowded, poorly maintained apartments across the city who are barred from accessing federal benefits, and yet today are increasingly unemployed and struggling to pay the rent or put food on the table.

Or the seniors, many of them living alone, disconnected from family and social supports. Or the disabled, cut off from their nurses and home health aides, whose limited mobility makes navigating the city in this time of long lines and social distancing that much more challenging.

In these trying times, it is essential that vulnerable communities such as the Garifuna, whether suffering amidst quarantine or with an increased likelihood of COVID-19 infection are rapidly identified and cared for.

As she did thirty years ago, Mirtha Colón answered the call. Mirtha Colón is a Honduran born Garifuna transnational activist, community organizer and social worker who assists Caribbean migrants in The Bronx and Central America.

She is the President of Hondurans Against AIDS, Inc., a nonprofit organization she founded in 1992, in response to the HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) virus health crisis, which was devastating the New York Garifuna Community, just like the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is doing now.

Hondurans Against AIDS, Inc. operates Casa Yurumein a center for Garifuna–descendants, with the mission to pass on the Garifuna culture to those who live in the New York area, where the pressures of assimilation are strong.

On March 16, World Central Kitchen Partners partnered with New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake to Feed Bronxites and New Yorkers in Midst of Coronavirus Pandemic.

Beginning Tuesday, March 17, World Central Kitchen started distributing thousands of fresh, individually packaged grab-and-go meals to local families across the Bronx.

These meals are available to anyone in the area who needs extra support during this uncertain time. Using World Central Kitchen’s expertise as a food logistics organization, they have been distributing meals at designated sites. Hondurans Against AIDS, Inc.‘s Casa Yurumein is one of the designated sites, serving six hundred meals to Garifuna families, including approximately three hundred living in Homeless shelters, as well as Garifuna seniors, many of them living alone, disconnected from family and social supports during the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

New York City has emerged as the epicenter of the global 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As of Thursday, April 16, New York state reported 8,893 deaths of New York City residents, including 36 Garífunas. This alarming number is equivalent to 58% of the Garifuna people killed in the Happy Land Social Club Fire, on March 25, 1990. This is due to the deep, existing inequities based on class and race which have been brought into stark relief by the current outbreak.

Garifunas Lost to COVID-19 Pandemic
GALENT and Thurito Martinez Enterprise have launched a project to track every Garifuna who dies during the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Click here to submit a victim

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