Community and black resistance, what OFRANEH builds in Vallecito

20 March 2023

Today, March 21, is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On this day we remember the massacre against demonstrators protesting the imposition of apartheid[1] at the hands of the South African police. Currently, half a century after this horrendous event, black communities around the world continue to fight for dignified spaces within society. This is precisely what motivates me to tell you about the pleasant experience I had when visiting a sacred territory located in a particular corner of Central America, a small Zion for the Honduran Garífuna community. This place is very special to me, as it was the place where I felt, for the first time in my life, that I was safe as a black woman in the world.

Several people arrived from different territories of Abya Yala, and after long hours of travel we began what would become one of the most memorable experiences of my life. When our bus began to drive on unpaved roads, I felt as if I had traveled back in time to my childhood, when I lived in a jungle area in Chocó, Colombia.

The road we traveled to get to Vallecito was surrounded by an endless monoculture of African palm. Our only company was trucks full of the coveted fruit that – as social organizations say – bleeds Honduras dry. The African palms gradually turned into coconut palms and native vegetation, and after almost seven hours of conversation, our arrival in the long-awaited Vallecito, a place of great importance for the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH), was announced.

The open sky welcomed us, accompanied by the last rays of sun. As soon as I set foot there, I felt at home: a few people from the community came to welcome us, and I experienced the particular phenomenon that happens among black people and that is still difficult for me to explain; when, regardless of nationality or age, we recognize each other as family immediately, through a complicit glance.

We were led to a large, covered space, but before arriving, I observed some large mango trees, which have undoubtedly attested to the history of Faya – the name of Vallecito in Garífuna –, but I perceived strangely that under the trees were four heavily armed soldiers. Later I found out that, contradictorily, they were there to protect the life of the general coordinator of the organization, because when someone dares to confront the dominant structure, there will always be powers seeking to silence those dissenting voices.

Inside the large hall without walls and full of wooden benches, our hosts were finishing fine-tuning the details of the event the following day, which fortunately we would be part of. We greeted each other shyly at first, but over time that shyness led to hugs, conversations, complicit smiles, and later, reflections and learning, both personal and collective. Returning to the entrance to the hall, we were given indications about our stay and were invited to go to the dining area.

It was there that I began to understand the community dynamics of this place. Each of us was assigned utensils to eat and we were informed about the dining schedule. It is worth mentioning that the dining area played a fundamental role in socializing among the diversity of people who converged in Faya that weekend.

At dawn the next day, a beautiful virgin beach that OFRANEH protects awaited us. As we boarded a boat to cross the lagoon and reach the beach, we heard stories about how drug traffickers had desecrated this sacred place with their eccentric celebrations, and also about how much it has cost the Garífuna people to retake their territories. When I saw the sea, I felt the presence of Yemanjá, and of my ancestors; I immersed myself in Her, I thanked them for guiding my path, for the privilege of being present in this place, for taking care of my sisters and, in each wave that I embraced, I felt her kind response that soaked my entire being.

Back in the hall, I listened attentively to how and why the Garífuna and indigenous communities have put their bodies and their lives on the line to protect their territories, and thereby, preserve their culture, language, spirituality, and customs. I also heard about how they have survived thanks to community work and dynamics. Through this I understood that Vallecito exists and resists because we live in a violently racist society, under a structure carefully designed to perpetuate and concentrate power in a few – a structure that provides the last social link for Afro-descendant and indigenous peoples of the continent. We live daily before the complicit gaze of society, with the dehumanization of our dark bodies, the social denial of our rights as thinking subjects, with the exotification, objectification and folklorization of our ancestry, with zero access to justice and development of our communities.

This is why it is urgent to emphasize that the situation of dispossession and marginalization of the Garífuna people and Afro-descendant communities in Latin America is closely linked to transatlantic trafficking, which was the first great manifestation of trading on a large scale in the capitalist system and where the product of exchange was our ancestors. 500 years after this brutality, the dehumanization of Afro-descendant communities continues to be more present than ever, with black people continuing to experience very high levels of exclusion. There is no more space to tolerate the ignorance of our oppressors. We cannot continue looking to the side; the colonial system needs to be exposed, confronted, evidenced, and dismantled, in order to begin to cohabit in harmony with all beings that are part of the construction of future memory in this multiethnic and multicultural Abyayala[MG1].

Examples like Vallecito present us with the opportunity to show society that the struggle of black communities is more alive than ever, because being born in a black body is to be born resisting. Faced with these injustices, we fight. However, today there is a lack of partners and in the face of impunity, in the face of precariousness, in the face of impoverishment, in the face of patriarchal racist violence: what shall we do? Will we continue to be paralyzed by fear or numbed by the system? Will we continue to wait for others to fight our battles? Aren't we already tired of feeling racist and patriarchal violence in our own bodies? Of being despised by society? It is time to organize ourselves, to follow the example of OFRANEH, of Vallecito, and of many others who have stood up before to raise their voices and position themselves where we should be.

Vallecito is an ancestral territory recovered from drug trafficking and landowners linked to the African palm that resists time and shows that it is possible to generate spaces for community organizing that bear fruit, where all the people who make up a community can contribute, where children, grandmothers and grandfathers, trans people, gender and sex diverse people, those who have gone to university and those who are knowledgeable about other trades. In short, where all people play a fundamental part so that the community works self-sufficiently. The spiritual strength that Vallecito gives recharged my energy to continue fighting for our black dignity, because inconformity with what has been established moves us to challenge the structure and bet on change.


[1] The system of racial segregation formally established in South Africa in 1948 that stripped the majority black population of their rights.

[MG1]Debo esto ser "Abya Yala" como lo es arriba?

Join     the community FAU-AL