Members of ALA Garifuna Women gathered together

Nosotros Existimos—Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous Perspectives on Hispanic Heritage Month

By Vanesa Gutierrez, with Shaylan Dolmo, Etelbina Houser, and Antonio Flores Quin

Every year, many people across the United States with cultural ties to Latin America kick off Hispanic Heritage Month by celebrating their country’s independence from Spanish rule. Latin America, however, is more than its ties to Spanish colonization.

“Podemos reconocer la historia violenta como parte de la colonización, el abuso que sufrieron nuestros antecesores, principalmente las mujeres, pero también podemos enaltar a las comunidades afrodescendientes e indígenas. Hemos hecho mucho trabajo para ser reconocidos, y si el censo lo hizo, también pueden enaltecer a las comunidades originarias en estos días de herencia hispana para recordar el suelo que pisamos,”1 explains Antonio Flores Quin, a Purhepecha and a member of the Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios. Pueblos Originarios is a multicultural group of Indigenous communities—mainly the Ñuu Savi, Purhepecha, and Kichwa—that advocates for displaced Indigenous people who currently reside in Coast Salish Land, known as Western Washington.

It is vital we honor the Indigenous, African, and Afro-Indigenous people who have built and sustained a legacy of resistance in Latin American and beyond. Afro-indigenous and Indigenous peoples continue resisting the erasure of their cultures by preserving their customs, uplifting and empowering their communities, and building coalition among other communities.

“Nuestra cultura trae riqueza a nivel mundial,”2 proclaims Etelbina Houser, the Board Director at Anichigu Luma Amenigini (ALA) Garifuna Women, an organization empowering the Garifuna community through education and community building throughout Washington. In Central America the Garifuna are known for Punta, a traditional dance, but Shaylan Dolmo, President of ALA Garifuna Women, invites people to learn about the Garifuna people to combat stereotypes about their community. “Fuera de la comunidad Garífuna, no nos conoce mucha gente. Somos la minoría en todos los aspectos. Pero conocernos honestamente ayuda a evitar el mito de que solo somos morenas que bailan punta.” 3

Antonio Flores Quin is a comunero4 working with the Indigenous and Latino communities to improve social conditions in Washington. In 2009, Antonio participated in conversations encouraging King County to adopt sanctuary policies to ensure undocumented people have equal access to healthcare services. In 2010, Antonio received an award from the Washington State Commission of Hispanic Affairs for his work organizing Indigenous and Latino communities against local law enforcement cooperating with the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the city of Pacific. Though, Antonio is proud to build power among all communities experiencing marginalization, he is not Hispanic. He requested the award recognize his identity before he accepted. The Commission obliged, and Antonio received his award with a letter signed by then-Governor Christine Gregoire correctly identifying him as Purhepecha.

This Hispanic Heritage Month, Seattle Foundation invites our community to learn about these cultures often obscured and omitted by the concept of latinidad.

We can start by recognizing Afro-Indigenous and Indigenous people beyond the stereotypes present in media and society. “Quiero que sepan que existimos,”5 says Shaylan. “La cultura Garífuna es rica. La lengua, la comida, la danza incluso. La identificación que otros nos dan los demás no ofende, porque es nuestra cultura. Pero queremos que se nos reconozca también por lo que podemos desarrollar como profesionales, como mujeres, como seres humanos.”6

Celebrate Garifuna Heritage Month on April 29, 2023 with ALA Garifuna Women. Their annual gala will be held at the Filipino Community Center in Seattle. Contact Shaylan Dolmo with questions.

Pictured are members of El Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios
Members of El Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios

We must also learn that honoring Indigenous people means honoring the land. For the Purhepecha, people come from nature—“la naturaleza nos da la vida, nos sostiene y cura.” 7 To understand the relationship between land and people, Antonio retells a story told to him by an Indigenous friend and teacher from Ecuador. “The same way there are trees with thin trunks and giant trunks, and animals who fly and those who swim, so too are humans diverse—la naturaleza es la diversidad.”8 Forcing people into categories they did not create or choose for themselves dishonors the diversity of people.

Learn more about El Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios through the Learning from Community Stories project, funded by Communities of Opportunity, to hear their stories of communal resilience throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Indigenous people and cultures are not a monolith. Learning with humility and compassion is the first step in true allyship. Etelbina and Shaylan remind us, “Juntos podemos. Cuando conocemos la historia y la cultura de los demás podemos aliarnos y luchar juntos.”9

Vanesa Gutierrez is a Seattle Foundation Program Officer. Shaylan Dolmo and Etelbina Houser of ALA Garifuna Women and Antonio Flores Quin of Colectivo de Pueblos Originarios contributed.

Notes and Translations

1. “We can recognize the violent history of colonization, the abuse suffered by our predecessors, mainly women, but we can also uplift Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities. We have done a lot of work to be seen, and if the census can recognize us, then others can recognize and uplift Indigenous communities throughout Hispanic heritage to remember the ground we walk on.”
2. “Our culture brings a richness to the world.”
3. “Outside of the Garifuna community, not many people know us. We are a minority in every respect. But truly getting to know us helps to avoid the myth that we are only Black women who dance Punta.”
4. A cultural term loosely translated as “of the community.” Antonio explains his actions reflect the requests made by his community; he works in service and honor of this community.
5. “I want everyone to know that we exist.”
6. “The Garifuna culture is rich. The language, the food, and our dances too. The way others identify us is not offensive, because it is our culture. But we also want to be recognized for what we can do as professionals, as women, as human beings.”
7. “Nature gives us life, sustains and heals us.”
8. “Nature is diversity.”
9. “Together we can. When we know each other’s history and culture, we can partner and fight together.”