If left up to the small or large screen, your favorite glossy or newspaper, or even big budget advertising campaigns, you wouldn’t know an Afro-Latina if she tapped you on the shoulder. But we are out there, and we’re letting our voice be heard. Ain’t I Latina?’s Everyday Chica series highlights millennial Latinas that are blazing a trail in their respective industries, leading by example for future generations of Latinas. This week, we’re featuring a NYC-based author and events professional named Sulma Arzu-Brown. This Garifuna woman embraces her roots wholeheartedly.
Tell me about yourself: Where are you from? Discuss your upbringing — how did it help you craft your identity?
I am a Garifuna woman from Honduras. My parents are both college graduates in Honduras and majored in accounting. After my mother was overlooked for a higher position at the bank she worked for in Honduras because she was Black, they made the decision to come to the US for a better opportunity.
My older brother and I were left in the care of my grandmother and godmother at the age 2 and 3. As a mother now, I can understand how difficult of a decision that was for my parents. I am indebted and grateful for them! My grandmother had the largest and most efficient bodega in my small town of Santa Fe and I remember her early morning routine to ride the horse to the farm, and make sure the cows were milked and the barrels were full just to have them ready for when the rest of the village awakened. She was always negotiating deals with vendors to get the necessary products for the town. And if anyone in town needed financial assistance, my grandmother was who they looked for. She was a respected figure. My grandmother is my identity- I wholeheartedly believe her spirit lives in me, even though I have a long way to go to be half a great as she was.
Talk to me a little bit about your career. How did you get your start with the Garifuna Coalition USA and, ultimately, the New York City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce?
I graduated from Lehman College with a B.A. in Mass Communications. My dream was to go into the field of production. While in school I did internships in public relations, TV, radio, sales and marketing. The day after graduation, I literally moved to Los Angeles, CA to work on the Essence Awards, then the ESPY Awards. And, lastly, I entered the world of digital advertising. However, something didn’t feel right and I felt a need to give back because to whom much is given, much is required. I’d been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities, why not share and teach my Garifuna people, especially the youth, how to get this too? After being part of the Garifuna Coalition’s Board of Directors, the funding became available to hire a staff member. Unbelievable as it may be, I was the only Garifuna that applied for the position! Part of my position at the GCU included fundraising events, which I enjoyed. However, I realized that to be successful you have to put yourself out there and immerse yourself in other networks to create partnerships. At age 35, I took an internship with the NYC Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to assist with their business banquet. The event was a success and I was hired part-time. A couple of months later, I was brought on full-time as the Director of Events.
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