From Belize to Mobile Bay

The “Land of the Free, by the Carib Sea” is the country I call home. Belize, situated on the mainland of Central America and still considered Caribbean, is where I was born and raised. It is often referred to as ‘a melting pot’ of rich cultures. We are one people, with diverse backgrounds which makes it a challenge to keep track of one’s lineage. Why? Because we are a nation with 8 ethnic groups and 6 languages. The ethnic groups are Creole, Garifuna, Maya, Mestizo, East Indian, Chinese, Mennonite, and Lebanese. The official Language is English but everyone has to know Creole (English based). At the same time each ethnic group speaks its own language. Over the years Belize has become a haven for many different groups trying to escape Colonial slavery and recently modern-day slavery, civil war and political persecution. Most countries in this hemisphere became independent almost 200 years ago but Belize only became independent on September 21, 1981.

Personally, I trace my ancestry to the Mayan, Mestizo and Creole ethnic groups in Belize. Historically, Belizeans are all in some way, tied to the Mayan groups, because they were the indigenous people and the first inhabitants of the land we now live on. Their eccentric cities and temples that they built from Limestone, surround us and are a daily reminder of our heritage. I live 30 minutes away from two Mayan sites, Xunantunich (pronounced Shu-naan-tu-nitch) and Cahal Pech (pronounced Ka-haal Petch) which translates in English to, “Maiden of the Rock” and “Place of Ticks,” respectively. These sites date back to roughly 1000 A.D. I enjoy visiting these sites when hiking because they tell stories of people who were innovators, and created their own devices for survival. The Mayans were intelligent astronomers and mathematicians, who worshipped multiple deities for specific purposes, such as the Sun God, Kinich Ahau (Ki-nitch A-haw) and who engaged in ritualistic sacrifices to please the Gods.

As a member of the Mestizo group, my Hispanic roots become alive when it comes to traditions and rites of passage. Spanish was my first language, and my extended family and I participate in many longstanding cultural practices. We gather every year and participate in “El Día De Los Muertos” (The Day of the Dead) on November 1. We prepare food comprised of a fermented purple corn porridge (Ixpaxa, pronounced Ish-pa-sha) and Tamales made of ground corn and meat, wrapped in plantain leaves. More importantly, we pray and honor the dead in our family. Other traditions include a girl’s 15th birthday; in my family we’ve celebrated a couple. The ‘Quince Anos’ is the mark that a girl is entering the phase of womanhood. It’s a festive event including a dance, and a toast in honor of the ‘Quinceañera.’ 

Creole is the third part of my cultural identity. As a people, we are a mix between different races. My dad comes from an African and Hispanic background, while my mom is of Hispanic descent. Culturally, the Creole are famous for our food, Creole Bread, Rice & Beans (the national dish of Belize), and ‘Brukdown’ and ‘Punta’ music. ‘Brukdown’ and ‘Punta’ are African style rhythmic music played with handheld drums and live instruments. 

To me, my history and heritage have always been important growing up. We are encouraged to embrace our mixed culture. As I get older, I see the value and importance since moving to Mobile, Alabama. My identity is something I cherish and celebrate no matter what. Of late, I wear a tattoo depicting my Mayan Nahual (Na-waal), my spirit animal. Being of mixed ethnicity also gives me an advantage because I can appreciate and understand different views and bring a new perspective, especially when interacting with people from different backgrounds. It connects me to home, and helps me connect to the other Belizeans who are also abroad. My identity is showcased by the color of my skin, the hair on my head, the languages that I speak, the tattoo on my back and the pride with which I carry myself.