Preserving Goombay: FIU to document iconic Miami festival | FIU News

Preserving Goombay: FIU to document iconic Miami festival | FIU News

In a city that represents a vibrant kaleidoscope of peoples and cultures drawn from throughout the globe, the Goombay Festival stands out for its emphasis on the roots, history and culture of one of Miami’s earliest groups of settlers: the Bahamians who came to call Coconut Grove home. And now a research project spearheaded by FIU’s Wolfsonian Public Humanities Laboratory (WPHL) is documenting for perpetuity the iconic festival and the Bahamian community it celebrates.

A grant from the Library of Congress American Folklife Center is supporting the project that is led by principal investigator (PI) Rebecca Friedman, director of WPHL and professor of history; co-PI Valerie Patterson, director of the African and African Diaspora Studies Program and clinical associate professor of public administration; and Aaarti Mehta-Kroll, a Ph.D. student in Global and Sociocultural Affairs.

The project is especially significant in light of the far-reaching gentrification of Coconut Grove, which has displaced original residents and markedly changed the area’s character.

“By building on existing oral history, this project will document how the festival brings together a once tight-knit community that is trying to preserve their connection to and heritage of the neighborhood,” said Friedman. “Linking narratives about the past to stories and images from the present, we will create spaces for dialogues about the challenges and opportunities of cultural preservation.”

The project includes several components:

  • interviews with past and present organizers of the festival, with the goal of documenting how it has evolved since its inception
  • data collection during the two days of this year’s festival in the spring
  • youth living in Coconut Grove will take photos of the community as part of a “photovoice project”
  • “history harvests” will gather artifacts and ephemera associated with the festival

The final component, which is slated for the end of this year, will be a public exhibition of the material collected and curated as part of the project. There has been discussion among local officials about the possible creation of a Bahamian culture museum to permanently house the materials, with digital copies going to the Library of Congress.

Since the 1976 founding of the festival, the earliest such cultural event in Miami, Black and white Grove residents have collaborated to present the event. The free festival highllights the music and arts of the Bahamas and of multi-ethnic Miami with a parade, performances, food and musical activities. Bahamian roots in Miami run deep, with migrants from the islands settling in what became Coconut Grove during the late 1800s before the incorporation of the City of Miami. The West Grove was officially renamed “Little Bahamas” by the City of Miami in 2022.

“We realized that Goombay would be a wonderful event to document and capture because it’s been a part of the community for so long – and Coconut Grove is changing rapidly,” said Mehta Kroll, whose dissertation is on the neighborhood. “The population from just a couple of years ago is now so different, but this festival perseveres. And so we thought this would be a great story to tell – a wonderful way to engage the community and create a space for intergenerational conversations.”

At a past festival, Patterson had a booth with information about her FIU program as well as posters on the residents and history of the community, all of which struck a chord with many that day. As a woman of Bahamian descent who grew up in the Grove and whose grandmother settled there in 1916, Patterson has a desire to conduct more work in the Grove.

“I can’t tell you how exciting and important it is for me,” Patterson said. “I call it building on the momentum of memory. This is a festival with a very deep and profound and impactful history. And so ultimately, us as an institution, being able to do that kind of community-engaged scholarship benefits our students and the communities who we serve.

“This work has revealed to me how the Grove as a place, as a community, is very unique. What we’re seeing now in all of this work – and what people for many years have understood – is that this history has to be preserved.”

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