I dabble in the art of poetry now and again. In fact, I have been writing poetry since the time of the art-centric youth organization named Youth Voices. A group that bred leaders of the coveted Spoken Word 501 group that now has its own anthology and boasts international representation in festivals that celebrate the language art form. I wrote this poem some time ago to perform at the CARICOM Youth Ambassadors event on May 5, 2018, on the banks of the Belize River on North Front Street. It was my only poetic performance and I was terrified. Once I was through, though, none other than Leroy “Grandmaster” Young came to congratulate me on the performance, and really that was the only validation I needed.
A day after Emancipation Day, I share with you a piece I call “Diplomacy Policy”:
Before I was anything I am today
I was a black gyal pickni weh bawn da this place wah name Belize.
Later I learned I was Garinagu, only half though, because my ma side of the family kinda omit the “kerobe thing,” as my dark-skinned grandmother would say. I would also learn that on either side of my family I was only a member of the third generation of born Belizeans. Two of my four great grandparents came from El Salvador (One more step backward into my generational history and that number rises), and in my first act of disgrace to the ancestors I speak neither Spanish nor Garifuna.
Further down the line I learned I was Caribbean, but surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries…alright. Okay.
So now I travel a lot and I introduce myself to people and, sometimes forgetting the white man’s tongue, always ecstatic, and I say, “I name Dominique! I dah fah Belize! “
“Sorry, where is it, is that in Africa?”
“No, no we’re Caribbean!”
“Ohhhh! I hear it now from your accent, so next to Jamaica, you’re an island, yes?”
“No. We’re a mainland country in the Americas.”
“Okay, so South America, you must speak Spanish?”
“Well, not South America and I don’t speak Spanish fluently, but some Belizeans do! But you know where we are now, right?”
“I’m sorry, I just can’t place Belize.”
*holds forehead *
So I get into stance now and say, “Mexico. Belize is juuust below Mexico (who by the way has a claim on Belize too, Happy Cinco de Mayo).”
I watch them Google B.E.L.I.Z.E., and then they say “but Guatemala is claiming Belize.”
Then I have to try to give a diplomatic history lesson that makes me sound like I only want to talk about Belize when really I just wanted you to know and understand that BASICALLY we’re a sovereign Central American nation with a history stained by that of British colonialism, but decorated by the spirit of Caribbean culture that some delusional country that lies just to the west and south of us can’t seem to grasp because, well… I’ll stop now because I don’t want to further offend anyone.
So we’re Sistema Integracion de Centro Americano, we’re Organization of American States, we’re a part of the British Empire 2.0; the fancy euphemism we use is the Commonwealth; we are the strong and mighty UN, and yes we are the good old CARICOM, circa West Indian Federation.
Belize is that awkward, weird kid in class that hasn’t found the right clique yet, in a class of her own. Belize, though, now more than ever, needs all the friends it can get to win the fight against its seemingly formidable bully. The only question: is the CARICOM posse fully on her side? Is CARICOM our strongest ally?
I am not only blessed to be born within this 8867sq.mls, I am Belize.
Belize: the perfect case study for diplomacy, tact, international politics and the “peaceful” revolution, or might I dare say, evolution.
Long live Belize!
And Belize is whatever I make her to be, because she cannot be simply defined or placed within another rigid structure. I like to listen to our sometimes fictional story-telling, American-accent tour guides as they lecture the tourists, “You have to be happy here because it’s the only country you can say its name and immediately there’s a smile across your face!”
So say it with me, “Belizeeee!”
I wrote this as a performative piece. At the time I was overdosing on the history of the Belize-Guatemala territorial differendum, and so it was also a reflective piece questioning the active role of the Caribbean Community in Belize, an organization we have been a part of since before our 1981 Independence. As I write this on Emancipation day, I reflect on all the physical atrocities that have been done to my people, the systematic barriers that continue to stand, and the psychological barriers that still shackle us. I give thanks for my ancestors then, and I give thanks to them today and every day for creating a space for me here and now. I will continue to manifest their wildest dreams.