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African Fashion Reconnects Caribbean Islanders To Their Roots

Unless you heard of Usher’s tweet last week, chances are, you may not have heard of the tiny Caribbean island, Curaçao. Located by Spanish explorers in 1499, it was colonized by the Dutch in 1634 and became a major point of transfer for Africans caught in the transatlantic slave trade starting in 1662. 350 years later, one woman is using her love of fashion to teach her fellow Afro-Curaçaoans about their heritage.

Curaçao resident Marilyn Alicia Isaac-La Cruz turned 50 years old in 2013 and decided it was time to make a difference.

“I had a lot of knowledge of my heritage,” she told NBC News recently. “So did my husband Angelo and so I said hey…let’s do something where we can attract more people, especially younger people and we can share our knowledge.”

Her organization, African Fashion on Na Kòrsou, was born that year. Na Kòrsou is the name of the island in Papiamento, a creole language that blends Portuguese with several African languages and some of the American Indian languages spoken by the Arawaks who lived on the island before Europeans arrived.

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Models pose for the camera during a show at the Curaçao Ostrich Farm last May. (Photo: African Fashion on Na Kòrsou facebook page)

African-descended people make up the majority of Curaçao’s population, but like many places where blacks have been taught to look down on their race, many of them choose not to identify with it.

“You can be of African heritage but you don’t accept it. A lot people often say I’m half of another nationality and they never say I’m African,” says Isaac-La Cruz.

African Fashion on Na Kòrsou uses fashion shows and cultural education to instill a sense of self-knowledge and pride among Afro-Curaçaoans. Now on her fourth model call, La Cruz’s fashion shows are open to participants of all ages. Everyone receives professional model training for months in advance of the big night.

Younger participants are introduced to a milder form of cultural education via field trips to museums and historic neighborhoods. Models over 18 agree to attend classes where they learn about Afro-Caribbean freedom fighters, different types of cooperative businesses their community members have used to survive and succeed, and of course, training on how to walk the stage.

Read more: Face2faceafrica

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Written by PH

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