I don’t know if any of Neri Briceño’s barbs (see his thought-provoking letter, “The Slow Gentrification of PG,” Amandala, January 6) were aimed at me but it is not the intent of this letter to defend myself or others of my race. I, too, remember Punta Gorda in the 1970’s and my wife and I have described those days in our memoirs, Treehouse Perspectives and Chance Along.
I agree that great changes have taken place in the town during the last four decades. Mr. Briceño’s letter highlights business and infrastructural alterations (gentrification), while it is the change in the people that I would like to comment on, specifically their values.
In the 70’s Punta Gorda had its bakery, its tailors, its fleet of dory fishermen, its shopkeepers, housewives, farmers, its teachers, preachers, and civil servants. It had a restaurant and a few hotel rooms and people came and went on the Maya Prince and later on Adrian’s bus (James was the conductor) or on one of several freight trucks that plied the new but rough road to Dangriga.
For the wealthy and hurried there was the occasional airplane. Wednesdays and Saturdays were market days; trucks arrived from the villages and Mayas exchanged their produce for basic supplies and maybe a treat of orange Fanta and white bread. It was a community in which everyone was related, if not by blood, then in the fact that each had a role to play in the larger community.
Most importantly, each person had an identity. Even we newcomers were recognized as “that white family that lives in a tree.” In those days a person’s worth was based on his skills, personal traits, and how well he played his family and his community role; could she make good coco bun, jonnie cake or wangla; were her children clean and well-mannered, was he a good fisherman or dory maker, could he thatch a tight roof, did they share when their neighbor was in need, and give a hand out to mentally-challenged Junior?
Certainly those “titans of industry” (Mr. Briceño’s term) had an abundance of business savvy but their success was more due to the fact that they had gained the respect of the community by understanding those who had less and by being fair and even compassionate in their business dealings.
But life is ever-changing; first television, later the internet, returning Belizean-Americans, and yes, we “Whitemen,” introduced a different value system, one that judges a person not by who he or she is but by what he or she owns: house, car, level of education, job title, clothes, bling, and most recently his or her smart phone.
In essence Punta Gorda residents began accepting someone else’s yardstick to measure themselves by and that has had a profound effect on the society. Dissatisfaction is an element that is required to keep people consuming; so is competition between individuals and it is the goal of advertising to bring out these emotions.
The result is that a consumer economy is gradually replacing what was once a self-sufficient community, with a collection of dissatisfied and alienated individuals. Trust is disappearing and crime and drug use are on the rise.
But perhaps the most significant casualty in this scenario is self-confidence, for the money game requires an innate ruthlessness that compassionate and community-oriented Belizeans don’t possess (witness our country’s losing record to the British Lord).
A seventy-five-year study at Harvard shows clearly that those who maintain meaningful relationships within their family and community and have purposeful and creative work will live more happily than those who seek fame, fortune, and high achievement. They will also be healthier and will live longer.
The older generations of PG folks (maybe all Belizeans) didn’t need a Harvard study to tell them that; they knew it instinctively and conducted their lives accordingly.
I beg Mr. Briceño’s forgiveness in borrowing and augmenting his very apt by-line.
It is all about the people—it is not about their possessions.
Kirby G. Salisbury