In many ways, the British Hondurans who began migrating to live and work in the United States fifty and sixty years ago were making an intelligent, realistic decision. Back then, British Hondurans, especially those who lived in the population center/capital city, were of the opinion that Belize was mainly a swamp, and that their future and their children’s future lay up north, where the eagle flew in the largest economy in the world.
When some of those Belizeans began coming home to visit back in the 1970s and 1980s, they essentially returned as conquering heroes and heroines. When Belizeans return home from the States these days, however, they do so quietly, without fanfare. What has changed?
The British Hondurans who stayed in Belize when the work force began migrating, were mostly older or younger than the migrants. To an extent, these were people who had no other choice. The few who had an opportunity to leave but still decided to remain in Belize, may have been romantic, instead of realistic. Who knows?
It is almost foolish to generalize where these matters are concerned, because every individual has his/her own story, and every family history is different. The thing is, in the absence of the necessary research, one simply cannot discuss the issues having to do with Belizeans in the diaspora as opposed to Belizeans at home, without generalizing. And, we submit, Belize has reached a critical point in its existence, where the wheat has to be separated from the chaff. Belizeans at home and abroad have to decide whether The Jewel is worth fighting for.
If there was one good thing that came out of tourism, it was the fact that Belizeans in the diaspora began seeing television images and listening to tourist stories of how beautiful their home country was, and later Belizeans in the diaspora began to be educated as to how valuable our 8,866 square miles actually were.
This began to happen after independence in 1981 and television in 1982, which means that it began to happen after Belize had changed from a black colonial country to an independent Mestizo one, and after our national consciousness had become less urban and more rural.
The important thing we must always remember is that the mighty United States, through the medium of Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals in 1968, had already made it clear to us what their intentions were for the territory of Belize. The territory, even if it was to become “independent” in name, was to become a satellite state of the republic of Guatemala. In 1968, Belize was a decidedly black country, but things have changed.
In 2015, the most nationalistic Belizeans have begun coming out of Orange Walk, and the leaders of the Orange Walk Town-based Northern Territorial Volunteers are Mestizo Belizeans. When Belizean footballers unexpectedly reached the Gold Cup tournament finals in the United States a couple years ago, it provided an opportunity for diaspora Belizeans in major American cities to show their faces and wave their Belizean flags. A large percentage of these Belizeans were Mestizos. This was a feel-good moment for Belize.
When the Right Hon. George Price developed his vision of a sovereign, independent Belize, he had to deal with the fact that Maya and Mestizo Belizeans had been seriously discriminated against in colonial British Honduras. There were privileged black Belizeans who then accused Mr. Price of “Latinizing” Belize. To be sure, Mr. Price was about setting things right, and he stayed the course. After Mr. Price and the UBAD movement ran afoul of each other in 1970, Mr. Price later negotiated with that young movement.
So then, in 2015 we are where we are, and what has changed since Hurricane Hattie in 1961 is that we all now know that The Jewel is a gem. We Belizeans say that this Jewel is ours, but Guatemala insists on claiming it. We have a Guatemala problem. Some ethnic tensions remain in Belize, but black, Maya and Mestizo Belizeans are more united in nationalism today than we have ever been. There are, however, immigrant Belizeans who have come here from Asia since Belize’s independence who place themselves apart and do not participate in our community. The Mennonites are another story. These are problems. As we face this critical time in the history of the Guatemalan claim, we seek national unity, above all else. The people united will never be defeated. El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.
We note with interest that there is a growing class of Belizeans who are intent on having their cake and eating it too. By that we mean that they live and work in Belize, but they have purchased homes in the United States and Canada as holiday and retirement options. It’s nice work if you can get it, as the song says, but the Belizean jet setters are still only a tiny elite minority.
At this newspaper, we are more concerned about those Belizeans in the diaspora who are inordinately affected by UDP and PUP electoral politics. You have to understand that in 2015 Belize, an increasing number of Belizeans are skeptical about the PUDP politicians. That is because we are beginning to understand that it is through the PUDP that Buckingham Palace retains monarchical rule over Belize. Queen Elizabeth II does not care who is elected, whether UDP or PUP: they both have to report to her Governor-General. Straight up.
The Queen of England does not need any more jewels. In fact, she rides in a chariot made of gold. In Belize, meanwhile, we are still fighting for our sovereignty and territorial integrity. We’ve come a long way. In 1951, two of our anti-colonial heroes wrote that there were two roads to development – evolution or revolution. For that, the King of England, Elizabeth’s father, sent them to jail. In Belize today, we write what we want. But at the mouth of the Sarstoon it’s no longer about writing. Last week it was about our Coast Guard standing strong. There will be more of these episodes. The Jewel: it is worth it. Remember, respect Danny Conorquie!
Power to the people.