Mon. Dec. 13, 2021
This must really be “The New Jerusalem”! There has never been a place like this. As bad as things are, and as bad as they seem to be, in times to come, these will be, for another generation, “the good old days.” It’s not because life is any better now than “back eena di day”, not that our athletes are more excellent, our musicians more entertaining, our artists more creative, our youths more ambitious, our students more brilliant, or even our politicians more honest and more visionary than in times past. Maybe it’s none of the above; but Belize still has something. This little Jewel, with all our mix-up, mix-up, has managed to hold on to something that has been the forever trademark of this once backward and slowly modernizing enclave in the “heart of the Caribbean basin,” and that is a feeling, a spirit, an unspoken but always enduring consciousness and appreciation that, despite all our differences, and there are many, still, we hold on to that special something inside us that says simply, “All a wi da one!” And as long as that spirit endures, “no halla, no bawl, Belizean,” some of us may pass away, but the rest of us will push on through the tough times, and get a chance to enjoy some more of “the blessings of this life,” that we are still able to live inside these borders. (“Belize Nice” – Leroy “Base” Castillo) They say we are a melting pot, of cultures as varied as any place upon this planet; but still we say we are Belizeans. We have undergone massive demographic changes in a short time, and there may be more changes to come; and the test will be if we can hold on to that something. And in passing that test, it may be that a greater appreciation must be developed among our leaders for the immense value of our sportsmen/women and our artists in keeping this tapestry woven together, and in stopping this melting pot from boiling over.
The world has witnessed some human atrocities that were sparked by tension and distrust between cultures and ethnicities and nationalities. But the poet/artist Curtis Mayfield has observed that, “People are the same everywhere. They have the same fears; shed similar tears, die in so many years…” Blood runs red in all our veins. And in this little “jam up, jam up” place we grew up in, it has always been natural for us to play and enjoy sports together, as performers and as fans; we’ve danced to the music of all our cultures, together; and by-and-by, “boy meets girl” in our social interactions, and one things leads to another. Sure, there has been colorism and racism and discrimination in this little Belize “from king hatchet was a hammer,” but the exceptions keep increasing against that stupid rule of “prejudice;” and so it has been hard for any would-be ethnic fanatic to try and lead others down that “ethnic cleansing and genocide” road. The inevitability of color-mixing is as evident as the increasing effects of global warming. And Belizeans are wise to this stark reality. Everybody has somebody in their family, some brother, or sister, or cousin, etc., or very close friend who has made a union, common-law or legal, with a partner who appears to be of another ethnicity, and the children thus share both parents’ ancestry. This is Belize.
Because of political opportunism, some Belizean politicians have exploited the predicament of poor immigrants seeking a better life, and have used the process of nationalization to secure votes in our elections. They have all done it over the years. Of course, it was all with the blessing and support of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), when civil wars were raging in Central America (C.A.) in the 1970s and 80s and beyond. Even while many Belizeans, mostly the so-called Creoles and Garinagu (black and brown) were “checking out” to seek a better life in “the Big Apple” or other U.S. cities, many Central American immigrants of mostly Hispanic (“Spanish”) background were “checking in” to the Jewel, where opportunities existed that they could not even dream of in their own country – land to own and farm, higher wages, and with the UNHCR programme, there was assistance with housing, schools and access to basic healthcare. Belizean immigrants worked hard in the U.S.; and Central American immigrants worked hard in Belize. Many Belizeans became U.S. citizens – thus with dual citizenship; and many Central American immigrants became Belizean citizens, and their children are born Belizeans. The world turns; and the melting pot boils.
The first football team coming out of the new capital Belmopan back in the early 1970s was made up of mostly black or brown, Creole or Garifuna players. But with the growth of new communities of C.A. immigrants in the expanding Belmopan – Las Flores, Salvapan, etc. — the pictures of teams in the Belmopan football competitions now show a much lighter complexion, with a majority of the players now being of Hispanic origin. Many of their parents were immigrants, but these youths are now born Belizeans. And the ball keeps rolling, and the music keeps playing, and Belize keeps growing. We still battle the ever-present problems of crime and poverty and corruption in government, and now the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic; but all in all, we are crying together when another murder or fatal traffic accident occurs, and we celebrate together when a Belizean wins Miss Earth, or is a member of MLS champions New York Cosmos, or signs a first-ever female professional cycling contract in L.A. “All a wi da one!”
With all our economic and health challenges, along with the crime and violence and road accidents taking away more and more of our productive citizens – parents and children — as a people we can, and, God willing, we will weather the storms and keep our melting pot from ever boiling over. All our political leaders need to do is remain vigilant and conscious of the unfortunate impact on the mostly black and brown citizens whose opportunities for jobs and livelihood are, and have been significantly impacted over the years by the increasing numbers of hardworking but desperate immigrants who are, and have been, taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers. It has been widely accepted that undocumented workers pay no taxes or Social Security contributions, and their employers pay them low wages, thus they prefer these workers to the so-called “lazy boys from back-a-town,” who are Belizean citizens, born and raised.
A good number of villages in rural Belize are said to have an adjoining “Spanish Town” comprising an immigrant population that was assisted in settling under the UNHCR programme.
The mixing of the populations has been slow between the new immigrants and the long established Belizean citizens, and that is likely due to the rapid pace of immigration that has occurred in the past few decades.
Everything takes time, but the melting pot continues to boil, from generation to generation. Amnesty for some 40,000-plus undocumented immigrants is one thing, and, as our old folks used to say, “Hope we be no more strangers;” but our leaders also need to be keenly aware of, and empathetic toward, the plight of born and raised Belizeans who have been experiencing a hard time competing for jobs with these immigrants who are now soon to become legal residents. It may never happen, the coalescing of desperate individuals along ethnic and color lines to fight against their perceived unfair competition; but just to be sure, a special government department may need to be assigned to assist those unemployed Belizeans to develop marketable skills to allow them to survive in this increasingly competitive, immigrant-dominated labor market.
Let’s keep Belize “nice.” “Good maanin, Belize!” – Mr. Wilfred Peters. “Ooooh! Dis da Crismos!” – Heights a Vibes. “Covid-19 Calypso” – Lord Rhaburn. Stay safe and blessed this Christmas, Belizeans!