Information, entertainment, and communications technologies have captivated the minds of our young generations and dramatically changed our Belizean way of life.
It really started, I suppose, with television in the population center around 1982 or so. To be truthful, the northern areas of Belize had been seeing Mexican television from back in the 1960s. I don’t have the slightest idea how widespread access to Mexican television was for Belizean norteños and how it affected their daily lives. All I know is that in football circles in Belize City, we began to get the idea that football in Belize’s north was benefiting from seeing quality international football on television, such as the World Cup in Mexico City in 1970.
Those of us who spent Easter, summer, and other holidays at cayes and coastal villages back in the 1950s and 1960s spent our waking hours in a way of life similar to that of rural villagers in many respects. The key thing was the absence of electricity, so light came from the moon and the stars when the sun went down. Inside our abodes at night, we lit hurricane lanterns, which burned kerosene. We young people spent a lot of time playing games, telling stories, chasing crabs, and entertaining ourselves in various ways which involved interaction and group activity. During the daylight hours at cayes and coastal villages, there was swimming, fishing, cricket and football games, and where the work section was concerned there would be the cooking, the washing and drying of clothes, cutting of grass, sweeping of houses, and so on.
If you vacationed in a rural area, then the fishing and swimming would be in a river or lagoon, and there was picking of fruit, planting of crops, and hunting of game, but the lifestyle was similar. The main thing is, we did not sit around watching a television set. We listened to some radio, but there was only one station. Old and young Belizeans were interacting. Almost all our entertainment was homemade, local, authentic, Belizean.
In Belize City itself, the daily gossiping started in the pre-dawn hours at the Central Market, and then the latest news would be carried down Cemetery Road and Albert Street for dispersal to the Southside, while the news for the Northside would travel across the Swing Bridge to circulate down North Front Street, Queen Street, New Road and so on. All the gossip was local, Belizean.
Back in those days we had communities. Today, we have islands of individuals who are linked by sophisticated telephones, computer e-mail, and social media. The dominant force in our lives is the television set, which means the United States. The television set has replaced Palace and Majestic Theaters (movies), Bird’s Isle (dancing and boxing), MCC Grounds (football), Bliss Institute (dance and drama), Parish Hall (basketball) and so on. We communicate, but we do not intermingle. As a result, we no longer have communities, only communications.
Institutionally back then, indeed, we were a British colony where our public service, legal system, schools, churches, and so on were concerned. It was in our homes, in our streets, our places of sports and culture that we were Belizean. We mingled with each other. We were all we had.
Still, we young ones longed for the outside world. Our Americanization perhaps began with machines – cars, speedboats, washers, dryers and the jet planes which flew us to the big cities in the north. Cable television completed our Americanization, and then followed globalization. What this meant was that nothing Belizean became good for us anymore. We were part of the international audience and consumer market. America and the world used technology to capture our soul.
Today we Belizeans walk and drive nonchalantly past our starving children, our unwashed homeless and we are vicious in our treatment of the mentally challenged. The shameful news this week is that we are now using the modern technology to mock our own people in order to achieve what we may consider a globalized level of entertainment.
Beloved, there’s no denying that progress was what we wanted. We were dying to become a part of the outside world. But sometimes it seems to me the outside world used us for their garbage cans. Some of us make our living now by convincing ourselves that we are inferior, and then behaving thusly. And we’re too focused on trying to show each other down.
Success isn’t your baubles, your bangles and your beads. Success is how contented you are with yourself, in your soul. We were small, but we were communities, and we cherished each other. We did not consider ourselves successful, as such, but we cared for each other. This was the Belizean way. We had something else precious back then: we had privacy. Today, there’s a lot of noise in the marketplace. The chatter is loud, and it never stops. This is how it is in the modern world, the successful world.
Some of us Belizeans, again, make a living these days because those from the modern, successful world are seeking somewhere quiet, somewhere private, somewhere slow, Jack. In some ways, we’re in a good place here, Belizeans. We still have some control over our reality and our destiny. At least, I think and hope we do.
Back when I was young, we Belizeans had a really good thing going in some respects, but it is in the nature of the young to be restless. We moved on. We achieved some stuff, but we know these days how much we lost. And now, this is the time of the new generations. We did have our time. So be it. All we can say to our youth is, slow down sometimes and smell the coffee. Belize is still sweet. Belize is special. Small, yes, but sweet and special.
Power to the people!