- Tell us about your success with the Garifuna Museum of Los Angeles?
I believe my success with GaMOLA is a dream that I had continuously about seeking a museum. That’s what I feel is driving me still. It is to open up awareness of my culture to the diaspora of the Garinagu people. So many like me know bits of our ceremonies and dance. But where, when, how, and why was not explained. With the help of people volunteering to maintain and update this wonderful museum, now all can come and learn. The founder Ruben Reyes is my main source of info. The library we have has opened up a whole new world for an adventure into our culture. That is where I am now trying to read and absorb the richness of a never enslaved people.
2. What do you recommend to young people who want to follow tour footsteps in appreciating Garifuna history?
I recommend for young people to “Come to GaMOLA” and see where they would like to start first in learning about our culture. Some may want to start with “Artifacts Room”. Others the “Heroes Room” to see many influential Garinague are all around. The timeline of our history is summarized in our “display room”, which is a tantalizing start.
3. What do you do for your well-being?
First and foremost for my well-being, I seek God. Then I try to stay healthy by walking 3 miles a day during the week or exercise “Sweatin with the Oldies”. I love to dance. Anything, Old Skool, Rock n Roll dance, Latin dancing. I play Scrabble to strengthen my mind. I love teaching my grandchildren of our culture by taking the “Back Home”. We go to Honduras where my Mother Estefana Martinez was born in 1918. Then to Livingston, Labuga, Guatemala where she was raised by Abuela Alfonsa Lopez Noguera, We head to Belize where they have more fun because English is spoken there. Ancestry.com is where I really feel intrigued to research. It boosts my well-being to tell my family that my Father Henry Billy Johnson helped my Mother start the Garifuna settlement movement in Calif. It actually started as a group in the ’60s to help newly arriving Garifuna to get established here. As others joined then it later turned into the Garifuna Settlement group. There are photos in the museum of them.
Cynthia Lewis is a first-generation American born Garifuna. She was born in 1952 to Henry Billy Johnson and Estefana Herrera Martinez (Esther Johnson). Cynthia attended Holy Family Grammar School. In 1966, this was the first time she visited Masca, Omoa, Honduras. Her mother’s birthplace. Belize and Guatemala are where her mother was raised. She developed a deep love of the culture.
She graduated in 1970 from Phineas Banning High School and obtained an LVN nursing license in 1972. She worked for 30 years as a Marine Clerk. She is the founder of He Can Do 4 U Ministries which sends donations to Livingston, Guatemala churches, and to the locals in need. She is presently retired and serves as an enthusiastic volunteer for the Garifuna Museum of Los Angeles. (GaMoLA).
Following a vision to promote Garifuna culture awareness, she met with Ruben Reyes, founder of GaMoLA in 2018. One of her goals for GaMoLA is to share with the diaspora of Garifuna people that they were never enslaved. Secondly, Garinagu have been adopting cultures of where they live from Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua to the U.S. which has diluted the culture. One example of this is her parents; the generation was told. “you live in America, you speak English!”. This led to many children not learning the language. The museum helps to bridge that gap and presents the culture in a manner that all can be informed and proud of. GaMoLA offers Garifuna language seminars, a library, and artifacts as resources for learning about the Garifuna Nation. Don’t miss out. “Come to GaMoLA!” as Cynthia would say.