MEMORIAL PARK, Belize City, Tues. Sept. 10, 2019– There is a story of origin about this day, and to me that story is unlike any other. What we know is that on September 10, 1798, the Spaniards, after several failed efforts, made one final attempt at claiming our Belize. On that day a battle ensued, and our forefathers, whom we so admirably call the “Baymen”, thwarted these efforts and deterred the Spaniards permanently. As a result, we celebrate today as one of the key historical events leading up to an independent Belize. HIP HIP HOORAY!
I refer to this tale as “unlike any other” because the Baymen were mainly enslaved blacks fighting alongside their white masters. Those masters gave an account of a battle wherein their faithful black brothers risked their lives to defend a colony that treated them so well. However, though I did not stand on that battlefield those two hundred and twenty one years ago, I feel that the Baymen fought for a different cause. They were fighting for the things we still fight for today.
Granted, there is a major contrast between the conditions we live in today and the conditions our ancestors lived in so long ago. You and I have the will and the right to think, speak and move as we please. But the Baymen really were fighting for a new era. They were fighting for the mere hope that life would become easier. That they would not need to toil for so many hours and reap so little reward. They fought with the hope that the violence against them would cease and their children would be born into a society and not into a system.
When I look around today I still see hopelessness, frustration, and fear. I see violence. But there are no Spanish invaders on the horizon, so we point our arms at one another. I still see people toiling for meager wages and an outcry for change over two centuries later. Institutions such as family, and patriotism and faith have been obscured by status and notoriety. Compassion has turned to competition and devotion to division.
Admittedly, Belize is maturing into a nation with greater problems. But it is in remembering where we came from that we can have a better understanding of where we are going. We were devoted to God and collective progression. Leaders sought to inspire and uplift their supporters. Everyone knew that our greatest resource was our fellow man, because we were a family.
We are bordered by people who flee their countries because there are not enough basic provisions to sustain them. There are super powers ruling the north and the east that monopolize trade and finance so that social segregation has become a very harsh reality. As we speak our neighbors in the Bahamas are trying to figure out how they will rebuild their lives from the scraps left by Hurricane Dorian, and we stand in support and solidarity with them during this time. We are surrounded by external turmoil and disaster, and yet it seems our conflicts come from within.
My people, the battle is long over. We have overcome decades of adversity, and it is important that we take this time to celebrate. Our theme this year tells us that we have risen from Maya grandeur to modern glory, and together we are shaping the Belizean story. And what a true statement that is. Our story is still being written and we are the authors. We have the ability to shape our norms and be the change that the Baymen gave their lives for. There is a bright tomorrow in store for each of us if we combine our efforts. My Belizean family, I pray that God continues to smile upon us, so that in turn, we can begin to smile upon one another.
HIP HIP HOORAY! HIP HIP HOORAY!