“Our thoughts and prayers are for the families of the 87 people who perished 31 years ago at the Happy Land social club fire on March 25, 1990. 🙏🏾😇🌹
March 25th marks the 31st Anniversary of the Happy Land Social Club Fire, on March 25, 1990 and the third significant milestone within Garifuna-American Heritage Month in New York. Its significance stems from the fact that it’s the only historical event within the month, that occurred in New York City, home to the largest Garifuna Community outside of Central America!
The Happy Land Social Club Fire, on March 25, 1990, was an arson fire that killed 87 people trapped in an unlicensed social club in the Bronx. Most of the victims were young Hondurans celebrating, largely drawn from members of the local Garifuna American community. It was through the Happy Land Social Fire that New York City discovered the Garifuna People! As expressed by the late Dominican activist Astin Jacobo:
“Today, Spanish echoes through hallways and on side streets. No one plays stickball anymore, but the soccer games live on, this time among the Honduran immigrants who have carved out a niche here in recent years. And as with other groups, it took a tragedy before the rest of the city learned they even existed. In the Hondurans’ case, it was the Happy Land fire. “We felt powerless when that happened. Until a tragedy happens, nobody knows the importance of a community.” Astin Jacobo
The reason I say that New York City discovered the Garifuna People after the Happy Land Social Club Fire, is because due to the fact that Hondurans make up the largest segment of the New York City Garifuna population, everyone referred to them as “Hondurans”. This was validated by Assembly member Jose Rivera, during the annual proclamation of Garifuna-American Heritage Month in the New York Assembly. During his participation, he reminds everyone that he was the City council member for the District where the fire occurred, he also said that when he went to the site, since the media said Hondurans, he tough the people looked like him. To his surprise, not only were they Black, they spoke a language he had never heard.
That’s the reason that the Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc., placed nurturing and promotion of the Garifuna identity and pride at the center of its community organizing initiative. We knew that the Diaspora was made up of Garifunas from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua and we also knew that some of the deceased were Guatemalans and other nationalities. It was this organizing initiative that led to the development of the first ever Garifuna Census 2010 campaign to make sure that Garinagu were counted in the United States and self identify as Garifuna.
As we reflect on the greatest tragedy for the Garifuna Community in the United States and as we pay tribute to the 87 victims of the Happy Land Social Club Fire; we also remember the more than 90 Garifuna lives taken by the COVID-19 crisis. The Garifuna Pastoral at St Augustin / Our Lady of Victory Church, has scheduled A memorial Mass on Sunday, March 28, 2021 at 3 PM, at 1512 Webster Avenue (171st Street).
I conclude with the words eternally chiseled in the memorial at the intersection of Southern Boulevard and East Tremont Avenue, appropriately co-named “Ochenta Y Siete Boulevard”:
“In Memory of the 87 men and women who lost their lives in the Happy Land Social Club fire at 1859 Southern Boulevard, west of this site on March 25, 1990. Dedicated 1995
May they all be happy in eternity. Although we cannot see them. Forever they will be a beautiful part of our hearts’ memory.”
May They Rest In Peace
By José Francisco Ávila