In the summer of 1966, on weekends we used to take the subway trains and travel all over New York City looking for parties, primarily Belizean ones. I was 19, a college student, and mostly broke. I was “ketching and killing” in the richest city in the world. This is almost fifty years ago, so I can’t swear for the accuracy of every single one of the following details. You understand.
During that summer I got a better sense of the British Hondurans/Belizeans who had reached New York City and were about making a new life. The Sainsburys, for instance, lived just a few blocks from where my grandaunt, Gladys Lindo Ysaguirre, owned her own home on Rutland Road in Brooklyn. She had been one of the first to reach New York, perhaps after World War I. I think the Sainsburys used to live on George Street (or West) in Belize City before the family migrated. The oldest son, Ronald, was around my age or a little older. He was a tall, upright brother, and I believe he ended up going to Vietnam, where he was shot, but survived. Ronald had at least two younger brothers, one of whom visited Belize and looked me up maybe ten years ago or so. He was working in a lithographic section of The New York Times.
I guess I would have met Ronald and the Sainsburys through my double cousins, the brothers Bill and Michael Lindo, who lived on Midwood Street, around the lane from Rutland Road in the opposite direction from the Sainsburys. By the summer of 1966, Mike had already moved out of his mom’s home and rented a room from the late Eric Card on Snediker Avenue. Michael was in a serious love relationship with the lady Penny Griffith, whom he went to England to marry a few months later.
Anyway, sometimes when I leave home for work in the dark, pre-dawn hours, I think of Junior and Carlota. I believe it was in the summer of 1966 that Junior Reneau married Carlota. Junior was a few years older than I, but his had been a reasonably familiar face in my Southside Belize City neighborhood. I think Junior was related to the late cultural icon, Bob Reneau, and I think Junior lived around the Richards Sidewalk area before he left for New York City.
All I knew of Carlota was that she was light-skinned and beautiful. To be truthful, I am not even sure she was Belizean. I’d never seen her before the wedding. Her mom was quite dark-skinned, so her dad, who was not in evidence, must have been light in color. A wedding is always a time of optimism and gaiety, even if the bride and groom are of humble means. It’s a long time ago, but I seem to remember that the wedding festivities for Junior and Carlota were held in a basement. For sure, Junior and Carlota went to live in a public apartment building, which is not where rich folk live.
I was at the wedding celebration for Junior and Carlota because I was tagging along with Bill and Michael. (Sometimes Chibby Rosado ran with us.) I’m sure I didn’t bring a wedding gift for the young couple, because I was so broke. When you’re young, you don’t feel embarrassed about such things. You’re just happy to be at a function and check out the fine ladies. The vibes were all good. I think Carlota’s mom had made the tamales. They were nice. Junior and Carlota, in love and beginning their married life together. Sweet.
I really can’t remember how long Junior’s and Carlota’s wedding bliss lasted. I really can’t say when or where I got the news. I suppose I was at school in New Hampshire when I heard that Carlota had been raped and murdered by a Puerto Rican.
This is how the story was told to me. The Puerto Rican lived in the same apartment building where Junior and Carlota were making life. Junior and Carlota got a little careless, something you do not want to do in the tough sections of New York City, and the little carelessness cost Carlota her life. My friends told me that if Junior forgot anything when he left for work, he would run up back to their apartment and Carlota would open the door without going through the necessary security checks. The Puerto Rican had apparently been monitoring their moves. One morning shortly after Junior left, he walked to the apartment door and knocked, or rang the bell, I can’t say. Carlota immediately opened up, thinking it was her loved one.
It’s 54 years since our people’s exodus to America began for real. Many of us have made it from Belize to the United States over the course of these five plus decades, and there are no statistics as to how many of us have returned. Indeed, there are no statistics as to how many of us left in the first place. In New York City, I always used to look at the living conditions of most Belizeans, and wonder about the trade that we had made. At that time, the vast majority of Belizeans in America were absolutely sure they had a made a good trade – the eagle in place of the swamp.
Today, the center of Belizean life in the United States has moved from New York City to Los Angeles. Older Belizeans who used to work in New York City have moved to Florida to retire. Now and then, Belizeans in America throw big parties in places like New York City and Miami where they come from all over the States to have fun times. All the large American cities will feature annual Belizean parties in September when our people come together for St. George’s Caye Day and Independence Day celebrations.
Personally, I feel there is so much of the Belizean reality in the United States about which I would like to know more. It just seems to me that we have been swallowed up in America. I understand why Belizeans migrated. For myself, there were a couple times when things got so bad I was tempted to return to America. But, the reality of my crushing plane phobia was always a deterrent. I could never move back and forth as freely as I would have liked.
I would like to hear the individual stories of the Belizeans and the Belizean families who made the big move back there in the 1960s. I would like to hear how Junior made life after Carlota. One evening in the summer of 1966 in New York City, they started out like storybook children. Life, baby, life can be so unspeakably cruel.