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The Poet As Seer (Part 1)

Come Centenary
Around this time
old people say Centenary
that’s when it really
really hit you —
transplanted Belizean
migrated Belizean
resident alien.
Worse if you drinking,
don’t your heart feel full
and your eyes
somewhat moist
in 80 Anno Domini
when you consider
your glorious flight
into the fantasy
of The Apple.
It was hallucinations,
‘cause the real riches
is here,
and you there
YOU AN EXILE
YOU IN EXILE
a blind wandering
to a destination unknown,
and soon you
will never come home
again, because
land of the gods
is leased and sold
and parceled…

by Evan X Hyde (1980)

Very few of us can see, much less predict the future. Yet, fewer of us can verbalise our predictions as Evan X Hyde effectively did in his poem, written over four decades ago. Hyde was then a young man of 33 — the same span of years that Jesus Christ, The Messiah, had lived on Planet Earth before his death. How did this Belizean youth know, as far back as 1980, that Belize, “The Jewel”, and “the land of the gods”, (according to Samuel Alfred Haynes, another Belizean poet) would in 2021 be “leased and sold and parceled”?

How was Hyde, who except for his university years at an Ivy League college in the US, had stubbornly remained in Belize, able to tap into the spiritual predicament and emotional ebb and flow of most immigrants? How was he able to access their half-way house state of consciousness and often concealed dilemmas, irrespective of their success in assimilating? Undoubtedly, that is why we have pockets of immigrants everywhere, whether they are Chinese, Armenian, Caribbean, Nigerian or Belizean, who in small and big ways, consciously and unconsciously, attempt to recreate “home” wherever they reside. There is for them a visceral pull, that no matter how life was at home, it continues to tug at their innards. At times, the immigrant despises what home has currently become; and nostalgically longs for the past, at times perceived through rose-tinted lens. Other times, he violently resents any criticism of home, and even argues that home is no worse than where he now lives. But tell him to return permanently, and that is when you will realise that he actually prefers to remain on familiar terrain. This is because home has been brutally transformed in his absence to “a destination unknown”, precisely in the same way the country he emigrated to years ago was at one point in time: “a destination unknown”. Hyde definitively pinpoints this state of being   — “…YOU AN EXILE/ YOU IN EXILE… and soon you/ will never come home again…”

However, everyone who has voluntarily left his homeland to live in another’s, irrespective of the number of years he has spent, does so because of LOVE. Love can emanate because the immigrant loves, and in fact desires, a better life with more opportunities, or to be happy— more than what he experienced at home. This is true of the growing number of Americans and Canadians who it is claimed represent around 60 per cent and 35 per cent respectively of Belize’s immigrant community. These expatriates with their pensions, or land and real estate investments in Belize, live far better lives as members of an elite than if they had remained in the anonymity of the US or Canada.

Then there are the thousands of Mestizo and Maya immigrants who since the 1980s fled from the insecurity and poverty of neighbouring Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to increase Belize’s Latinx population to now 52 per cent of the entire population. There are also other immigrants who have become Belizean, like the Mennonites, Chinese, Taiwanese, Asian Indians and Arabs, most of whom are economic migrants. They all find Belize superior to what they left behind, or else they would have departed a long time ago without any compunction.

Since the 1960s, Belize’s Diaspora, consisting mainly of Creole and Garifuna Belizeans, have largely resided in the US, and less so in Canada, the U.K., and the English-speaking Caribbean. Those Creole and Garifuna Belizeans, who still live in Belize, are together less than one third of Belize’s population, which is around 400,000.  Half of Belize’s population now live permanently abroad, with more than 160,000 alone living in the US. This situation arose because the former dominant and major ethnic group, the Creole, along with their Garifuna cousins, either went to these countries as students, or economic migrants, and remained. There are now first, second, and third-generation Belizeans making up this Diaspora, some of whom are respected professionals and highly educated people. Paradoxically, this genuine Diaspora of born Belizeans, as well as those who can trace their Belizean ancestry to at least three generations, are today grappling in America to pay their mortgages, fund home refurbishments, and pay health insurance and the multitudinous taxes and bills that are the economic imperatives in a highly developed capitalist society. Those who are retirees, sell their homes up in the wintry Northern cities to purchase cheaper ones in Florida, away from the cold of The Big Apple or The Windy City.

For immigrants, LOVE also forces those who genuinely desire freedom, and the need to escape oppression and discrimination, to emigrate. Or, an individual decides to marry for love and, therefore, must make his or her home in the country that is the husband’s or wife’s. Yet, in another category are those whose inordinate ambition and sole desire is to be extremely rich, and so they emigrate to where it is far easier to make a killing than at home. They are, at times, almost reminiscent of the footloose and fancy-free, opportunistic buccaneers and pirates of old. So, they traverse vulnerable nations like Belize, or one of the 54 countries in Africa, the most resource-rich continent in the world, where most politicians and bureaucrats are economically and politically illiterate, as well as traitorous, and can be easily bought and sold for a mess of pottage.

Part 2 of this piece will be published in the Friday, July 23 issue of the Amandala.

Thérèse Belisle-Nweke resides in Lagos, Nigeria.

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