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The swamp that became The Jewel

EditorialThe swamp that became The Jewel

At this newspaper, we feel the most important thing you have to know about Belizeans who left here for the United States, if you would begin to understand their psyche, is that the vast majority of us were leaving here with an inferiority complex where our country of origin was concerned.

It appears that fairly significant migration began after 1950 when middle class Belizeans, many of whom were civil servants (as public officers were known back then), became uncomfortable with the anti- colonial agitation of the young People’s United Party (PUP). The PUP was threatening to disrupt the traditional British order of things, so some families decided to leave.

In the 1950s, light-skinned families migrated to New Orleans, where they tried to pass for white, and darker-skinned Belizeans took the plane through Miami to New York City, the financial center of the wealthy United States of America. From New York, some Belizeans moved across to Chicago, which is like an industrial center of the U.S., the processing center for the American Midwestern states, which are the breadbasket of America. In the 1950s, Los Angeles was not as attractive for Belizeans as now.  Nor was Houston. Today, Houston is a big deal.

Belizeans who migrated to the United States in the 1950s were anti-PUP. Hurricane Hattie in 1961 opened up immigration opportunities for Belizeans who had relatives living in the U.S., so the early post-Hattie migration was also anti-PUP. That is why Belizeans in New York and New Jersey formed the British Honduras Freedom Committee to fight against Hon. George Price and the PUP: they were basically middle class Creoles who had been comfortable with the British, and they were scared to death of Guatemala.

Later in the 1960s, the percentage of working class Belizeans in the migration increased. The United States was at war in Vietnam and needed soldiers. In addition, America needed black faces to fill the quotas which the civil rights movement had demanded and acquired in the working place. Belizeans were reasonably educated, and they were not militant. They did not rock the American boat. The American economy was roaring along in the 1960s, and employment opportunities were many.  Diaspora Belizeans are no longer anti-PUP by definition, as was the case back then. But the PUP does not appear to know this.

The percentage of working class Belizeans in the migration increased in the 1970s and 1980s, by which time L.A. had become a major destination.

It is critical to understanding the Belize immigration phenomenon to know that it was not until the late 1970s that Belizeans in the population center, Belize City, finally enjoyed a modern water and sewerage system. It was for the lack of running water and the fact of open sewers that almost all Belizeans left here with an inferiority complex. We were ashamed of the lack of quality, if not actual degradation, in our lives here.

 When the move to America began in the 1950s, Belizeans in the population center, except for our fishermen, knew nothing about Half Moon Caye, Lighthouse Reef, the Turneffe atoll, the Blue Hole, Glovers Reef, Placencia, Hunting Caye and the like. Caye Caulker was an island of fishing families, and San Pedro Ambergris Caye was large, bushy, and relatively uninhabited in the 1950s. Belize City Belizeans knew nothing about the Mountain Pine Ridge, Chiquibul, the Pomona Valley, Caracol, Xunantunich and all the numerous Maya civilization sites and so on and so forth. City people knew almost nothing about Crooked Tree, the Progreso lagoon, Sarteneja, and so on. Chetumal was just a primitive little Mexican town. When we left here in the 1950s and 1960s and early 1970s, then, we felt we were exchanging swamp for the great America. We were absolutely positive we were getting the better part of that exchange.

In the back of many Belizeans’ minds, especially the early, middle class migrants of the 1950s and 1960s, those of them who were still sentimental about Belize and the Tenth of September, they were always praying for a change of government from the PUP. When that change finally came in 1984, there was great optimism. Belizeans almost immediately formed the Belizean Consortium for Development, which was intended to be a financial and business vehicle through which diaspora Belizeans would develop their home. But the Consortium became a social club for successful diaspora Belizeans.  Belizeans were never seriously organized at the working class base in America. The Consortium, upper and middle class, failed completely.

Watching what has happened in Belize since political independence in 1981 and the change of government in 1984, diaspora Belizeans no longer have an inferiority complex. The swamp has become The Jewel. But, it is Mennonites, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indians, Americans, and others who have emerged as the movers and shakers in this new Belize.

What we have seen out of the 2018 diaspora Belizeans is that they want to be able to sit in the Belize House of Representatives and retain their U.S. citizenship. That issue does not resonate with home Belizeans. The problem in Belize is not that there are not enough Belizeans in the House: the problem is that people of foreign origin have almost completely taken over the economy, and these people of foreign origin are giving instructions to native political leaders, who are on their payroll.

The critical diaspora issue in 2018 has to be, how come naturalized Guatemalans who were illegally granted Belizean citizenship will be able to re-register beginning next month and will be able to vote in the April 10, 2019 referendum on Belize’s future, while diaspora Belizeans who have been propping up Belize’s economy for decades will not be able to register to vote unless they come home and live for two months. This is the matter on which the diaspora should have been totally focused. Their most vocal leaders, however, became distracted with the House eligibility issue and were wasting precious energy and time on a matter which most Belizeans feel is academic, or even irrelevant.

It is for sure that no home Belizean considers the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum next April to be academic, much less irrelevant. Diaspora Belizeans need to get on the same page as home Belizeans in this existential battle. The most urgent step in that direction has to be communication and discourse between the home and the diaspora.Fortunately, we live in an age when electronic communication is easier than ever before.
Listen, in the primitive communication days of the 1960s, the Freedom Committee organized between 5,000 to 8,000 diaspora Belizeans who subscribed $10 each per month. That’s 50 to 80 grand US every 30 days. They used the money to fight Mr. Price and the PUP. In 2018, what are you doing on a concrete basis to fight the Guatemalan claim, diaspora Belizeans? Get real. Get organized.

Power to the people.

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