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African Fashion Reconnects Caribbean Islanders to their Roots

April 13, 2016 at 10:45 am | Lifestyle

Deidre Gantt

Deidre Gantt | Associate Editor, F2FA

April 13, 2016 at 10:45 am | Lifestyle

Models from Curaçao are helping to promote awareness of the islanders' African heritage. (Photo: African Fashion on Na Kòrsou facebook page)

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.

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.

“To talk about our heritage is very important,” says Isaac-La Cruz. “Our youngsters on the island they need role models. We also as a people need to know who we are and the greatness of where we come from and be proud,” said Isaac-La Cruz.

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Cultural pioneer Marilyn Alicia Isaac-La Cruz poses in front of a statue dedicated to Tula, an enslaved African who led a one-month rebellion on the island before being captured and brutally executed. African-American R&B singer Usher Raymond tweeted a picture of himself last week in front of the same statue. (Photo: African Fashion on Na Kòrsou Facebook page)

On the day of the annual African Fashion show, the models exchange their western wear for a dazzling display of wax prints, kente cloth, and West African clothing styles. This year’s annual show is set for November, with the model call being announced now for the last weekend in May.

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

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

The first show was held at the Curaçao Museum. Since then, Isaac-La Cruz’s organization has expanded to hold additional shows and markets throughout the year, including events last May at the Curaçao Ostrich Farm. The organization’s facebook page contains several albums with photos of past fashion shows and a catalog of each year’s designs for interested buyers.

Fashion is just one of many creative, fun and interactive ways that African descendants throughout the diaspora are reconnecting to our African heritage and passing that legacy on to future generations.

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