Grabbing a tasty lunch at Sazón Garifuna in the Brays Oaks Management District also means visiting the scene now represented in a Washington, D.C., museum to teach the world about the culture and history of the Garifuna people.

Writer John Nova Lomax captured the scene, with two truck workers, in a photo that accompanied his story for the District in late 2020.

The photo is displayed as a graphic in a section about Latino immigration stories in the exhibit ¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History. It will be on view in Washington until December 2025, when the exhibit closes.

(Lomax, 53, died May 22 in Houston. He was a well-known and prolific writer who produced several books. His articles appeared in the Houston Press, Texas Monthly. Spin, the New York Times, the Village Voice, LA Weekly and on the websites of Brays Oaks, Spring Branch, East Aldine and 5 Corners management districts.

(In a remembrance, Houston Chronicle writer Andrew Dansby wrote that his friend Lomax “told Houston stories that otherwise would have gone untold.”)

In February 2021, Leigh Armstrong, a consulting researcher for the Smithsonian Latino Center, reached out to the Brays Oaks District asking to license a copy of the photograph for development of the exhibition.

“We liked this photo because it showed Garifuna culture in the context of a woman-owned business,” said Ranald Woodaman, exhibitions director for the National Museum of the American Latino at the Smithsonian Institution. “We also like that it showed Houston, since the U.S. Garifuna community can be found across the country, from New York City — where it is somewhat well-known — to Los Angeles.”

Lomax, who had used his cell phone to take the photo,  described one of two meals he had at the food truck as “filling and delightful.” But, of course, he wrote much more than just that. He detailed the history of the Garifuna people, providing a glimpse into the experience of those who prepared the delicious food before him.

Lomax visited the food truck with his old friend and Strake Jesuit High School classmate Charles Arzu, a native of Belize and a Garifuna himself. The two feasted on pastelitos de pescado (fish empanadas); baleadas especiales (big Honduran-style quesadillas smeared with mashed beans and sprinkled with queso blanco, avocado, scrambled egg, and carne asada, all inside a large hand-made flour tortilla); and camarones al ajillo (fish, shrimp and conch in a garlic sauce, served with beans and rice and a cabbage/cucumber salad).

While they ate, Arzu filled Lomax in on the history of the Garifuna people.

“The Garifuna originated on St. Vincent,” Arzu said. “They were exiled by the British because they did not want to succumb to slavery. The British put them on a boat and said, ‘See you later.’”

Woodaman said the museum was looking for contemporary images of Garifuna culture in the United States.

“As an Afro-Indigenous community with a layered migration history, the Garifuna story added complexity and diversity to the exhibit’s section on immigration stories,” Woodaman said.

The National Museum of the American Latino is located inside the the National Museum of American History on the National Mall at Constitution Avenue, N.W., between 12th and 14th Streets, Washington, D.C.

“Since this exhibition is an intro to U.S. Latino history, a section on immigration was important to help visitors understand the push and pull factors behind the mass movement of people from Latin America to the United States over the past century,” Woodaman said.

Sazón Garifuna’s motto is “Honduran Food with Garifuna Seasoning.” (Sazón, of course, means seasoning.)

On a Smithsonian web page, the photo of the food truck is accompanied by the following description:

“Latina entrepreneurs are impacting communities and economies across the United States. In 2018, just over 40 percent of Latino-owned business were in three U.S. sectors: construction businesses had the highest percentage at about 16 percent; accommodation and food services made up over 13 percent; and professional, scientific, and technical services rounded out the top three at almost 11 percent of Latino-owned businesses. The women-owned Sazón Garifuna food truck is an example of Latina entrepreneurship in the accommodation and food service industry. This food truck, parked in Houston, Texas, serves Garifuna food such as pastelitos de pescado (fish empanadas) and machuca (traditional seafood stew). The Garifuna are a mixed African-Indigenous community from Central America and the Caribbean. Many Garifuna immigrants have settled in U.S. cities, like Houston, Los Angeles, and New York City.”

Sazón Garifuna
8700 S. Braeswood

¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States
National Museum of American History

— By Dorothy Puch Lillig