5th MAY 2017
“And the air was full of thoughts and things to say.”
¯ Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Today we launch the Caste War educational project, which includes an exhibition, a web portal, and a brochure and more importantly we go on the public record about how we need to disrupt our school system.
Today marks four years, a high school cycle, of our project to transform the way we teach history. We pause to present a full curriculum on Latin American and Central American history all designed, curated and prepared by our small history department.
Today we present a gift of 1145 eBOOKS on flash drive for our school.
We are people of the Yucatan Peninsula, what I like to call the Hurricane Zone. But our hurricanes are not just atmospheric, they are social, economic, political and yes historical. Today I want to snatch a few seconds of your precious time and share some thoughts.
I am grateful today. Grateful for example for the trust of the residents of San Lazaro who loaned us two of their most precious and well preserved historical artifacts. Grateful for the presence of Clinton Canul Luna Uh, a beautiful mind, whose weekly submissions to the Amandala are now beyond twelve years. Grateful because my young colleagues Carlos Quiroz, Vianney Novelo, and Delmer Tzib recognize the importance of collaboration.
For those who are prepared to think deeply it is clear that a big part of the narrative of this country argues against the truth of who we are. Our history teaching is still emotionally and psychologically suffocating, still segregated and superficial, still suffering with denial and disrespect.
Am I not African? Am I not Maya? And from these root line identities, am I not Belizean and all hyphenation in between? And it is at this hyphenated intersection where learning and curiosity live, a space to grow and discover ourselves. Let us not mix metaphors, we are children of corn and cassava, children of stone and fire, children of the land and the sea, children of healing and hope.
Our education today, in the new era of Trump and fake facts, must seek to inoculate us from the constant barrage of electronic mental garbage being deposited into our minds like razor blades cutting us up into more pieces, pushing a growing fragmentation and a celebration of the anti-society. Every time we ignore our intelligence we create more suffering. Every time we turn our backs on self-determination we allow our children to suffer.
Education is not what we cover, but what we discover.
The very first issue of Amandala on August 1, 1969, stated that the new publication would publish extracts from African and Indian history “so that we can gain greater knowledge of self and kind.”
The RAM (Revolitical Action Movement), in issue no. 11 of AMANDALA WITH FIRE, dated December 11, 1969, presented an 11 point program, demands on the government. Point No. 11 demanded “that our schools immediately include courses on African and Indian history and matters pertaining to an indigenous culture.”
On 1st January 1973 St. John’s College published its first National Studies – a journal of social research and thought, this journal eventually morphed into Belizean Studies. Its first two editors were Jesuits Richard Buhler and Richard Hadel.
And since then SJC has been one of Belize’s vanguard in the field of research and pedagogy, specifically in the area of Belizean studies. So today is part of a continuum.
In June 2013 Evan X Hyde, writer and publisher of the Amandala, visited St. John’s College. The story of X and the Jesuits is for another moment. Let us just accept that June 2013 was a turning point and that today we continue to forge a new engagement with the digital generation. And let us accept that what the X has done for Belize is gigantic.
The Caste War educational project is just a small piece of a new Belizean puzzle, an atom with ambition. It is about putting our creativity to work, the engine being our imagination. We are prepared to be wrong, so that we can come up with something original.
This project is just one more example of how we fight against cynicism and academic fatigue. Our simple vision is to create an environment for curiosity, so that with one hand we can inspire our youth and with the other we can reach out to our community.
Reform is a long experience requiring tenacity and grit. Let us not take things for granted. We are in a fight for a new development. One way to fight is teaching our youth to develop a passion for ideas and then to live to fulfill those ideas.
It is our duty and responsibility to reach out to each other in a spirit of friendship and solidarity, to work in a frame of collaboration and cooperation. So today I call out to all the misfits, the radicals, the progressives and the cultural activists to find new ways to continue what our ancestors gifted us – a legacy of rebellion, resistance, creativity and survival.
The Caste War cost about 250,000 lives, with hundreds of towns destroyed. The Yucatan Peninsula lost 1/3 to 1/2 its population, killed or forced to flee from the violence. For the thousands who crossed the Rio Hondo in the 19th century, including my great grandmother Agustina from Chan Santa Cruz, we are the descendants of faith and fight. This project is a gift, so please help us, keeping the giving and expanding its reach and intention.
The Caste War educational project is an opportunity to use knowledge to inspire, to provoke, to debate, to think critically, to act, to believe in community and society. When we share ideas we bring the human experience into play. I like to think of it as ping pong. I love ping pong. Ping pong is like history, back and forth, a focused collaboration, the ball sometimes can seem like the moon, and sometimes like the sun.
For the students I say, put the QUESTION first. Don’t worry too much right now about answers, BELIEVE IN THE QUESTIONS. When you take intellectual responsibility, it means analyzing the official, established portrayals of history, but it also means that one must dig deeper into a critical circus of the mind and heart,to reflect and reexamine the hidden and not so hidden sources of power that actively seek to destroy who we are.
For modern Belize the issues of race, land rights, human rights, culture and labour are very real in 2017, as they were in 1847 when the Caste War erupted. If you don’t believe it, ask two questions: why is Efrain Rios Montt still free? And why is the American Sugar Refinery (ASR) here?