Culture Clash. Written by Aria Lightfoot

my way or highway

I have gone back and forth with my thoughts regarding the incident in Santa Cruz. Unlike many people, I was not taken aback seeing a Black man hogtied by the Mayans because I have seen that image before. The time before that, the detained man was a child molester in a village somewhere in the Cayo District.

I grew up in a smaller community in Belize, I know that residents many times take matters into their own hands, with follow up help of the police department. Village justice if you will. However, when I heard Myles’s claim of discrimination and eviction due to that discrimination,  I was taken aback. He claims that he was a victim of racial discrimination. The feisty Mayan woman in the background seems to support his claim, even though she said nothing, her body language suggested a frustrated woman. The video showing the interview with Myles also presented a young polite Mayan police obviously carrying out the will of someone else. There were several follow up photographs and video images; one with Christina Coc using a rag over her face as a sign of rebellion maybe;  and then Coc being confrontational with a local politician;  and then finally a video of the Mayans chasing out a videographer out the village with machetes in hands. All these videos were aimed to inflame emotions but really shared little information about what truly transpired, leaving the conspiracy theorists to their active imaginations. As expected, social media lit up with many opinion pieces regarding the incident, most supporters of either side accepting a one- sided version of events to make a point.

I am someone who attempts to see things from all perspectives. Many times I examine issues through heated discussions and many times I would reread the discussions and rethink my position.  I love learning about cultures and I have an affinity for Mayan culture because I grew up in a household with a young archeologist aunt who absolutely loved everything cultural and Mayan. I was also told that my great grandmother, part Ketchi, had a sister who was a traditional Ketchi woman who visited often when my mother was young. I preview that story with my opinion because I want to highlight how many of us in Belize have multi cultural interactions and relationships regardless of how we look or which culture we currently subscribe to.

Belize is a melting pot of cultures and to some extent I understand the Mayan’s plight to secure a permanent place in Belize due to changing demographics, demand and exploitation of land that has equated to a loss of security and stability for many. Recently Nigel Petillo had a similar fight and was able to secure a large plot of land divided into individual lots. I think overall many Belizeans can admit to having a fleeting sense that Belize has caught the attention of those with bigger wallets and more influence over our leaders. To another extent I see why they fight for communal land is a preference over individual properties.  The same fleeting sense warns of a foreboding that individuals would be susceptible to the influence of Big Oil and money especially in an environment of poverty made worse by the influence of western images of wealth. Ultimately, I think each side saw this dispute from different understandable angles.

Myles is in a common law marriage to a Mayan woman and have decided to live amongst the Mayans. I am not sure where Myles grew up and how he perceives power in Belize but I think that he may be ignorant to the ways of the Mayan people. This ignorance helped fuel this incident.  Evan X Hyde advocated for Indigenous and African History to be taught in schools because we were subjected to Belize history as written by the Europeans instead of Belize History – the true story. The first time I learned about the Alcalde system was taking my paralegal course at UB. The very idea was foreign to me and arguably foreign to Myles. Myles wanted to build a home with his family – a Mayan woman and children who would likely be part Mayan. The laws of Belize allows one to defend their home to the extend of death if they feel threatened and maybe Myles felt he was defending his home and did not understand the Mayan tradition or the power of the Alcalde.

On the flip side of things, the Alcade system is deeply rooted in the Mayan culture and coupled with a recent ruling with the CCJ, the Mayan has the Alcalde system and the highest court backing. They also have many international attorneys, association and financial backers, so they have become a powerful voice. They saw the actions of Myles disregard for their traditions and laws so severe that they decided to arrest and evict him. However, according to our laws, they are not granted the power of eviction and arguably they may or may not have the power of arrest based on the facts available.

The question is who is wrong and who is right? Both arguably have laws allowing them some level of power; one the power over his home and domain and the other the power over the affairs of the village. My mother use to say that power is something that many people want and few can truly handle because many have power and lack discretion.

First Myles wanted to live in a Mayan village and he ought to understand that in a small village, you have to live and socialize with your neighbors. In small places, individualism is viewed as rebellion and disrespect. He lacked the understanding of the system in place and probably didn’t take time to become a full participating citizen in the community. He lacked discretion to understand that fighting a community could ultimately become volatile fast.

Second, Christina Coc showed poor leadership during this incident. This should have been her opportunity to educate while advocating. Even with an Alcade in place, it seems that she plays a powerful role in her community. She has the respect of her people. Wearing a mask and demanding respect is no way to gain respect. When one juxtaposes Myles rebellion to the Alcade system as Coc did to the Belize legal system, you see two very stubborn people who want things their way only. Coc has powerful lobbyist friends on her side and she has well respected attorneys at her call.   She could have used the same power of the media to force the government to address the situation before it reached deteriorating levels. It has now deteriorated into derogatory cultural biases from different sides.

Third, the Alcalde maybe should have sought out the help of a higher authority before ordering action. The government moves at a snail pace and maybe a rush to action may have help to contribute to this. However I understand that as a leader in his community, there had to be some decisive action to undo the perceived threat and disrespect.

Finally, the police could have carried out the arrest in a different manner. How much of a threat did the Mayans really pose to the gun carrying officers? Arresting them at night may have been strategic so as not to cause a riot, but allowing them to dress properly should have been the very least respect shown to the Mayans who were merely acting according to the will and tradition of their leaders.

Finally, the gas-throwing politicians in the mix- you know who you are! You are fanning a dangerous flame in Belize. Racial divide in a multicultural community will blow up in your face.   Belizeans are a very interrelated people. Many of us carry the DNA of every race in Belize and we have close family members and friends from every race and culture in Belize. This is the best time for discretion- withhold the urge to gain brownie points from this incident because there are absolutely no winners. This incident was a teaching moment for me. It highlighted to me many different issues of Belize cultural identity and ignorance about cultures. The media is so heavily based in Belize City that the nation of Belize is really served up  lopsided views of cultures, news and information. The books and teachers have not done much in teaching real Belizean history and culture and the media personalities and politicians are agenda driven to divisiveness that they serve no purpose except to make what could have been settled by a mediator into an international incident.

It leads me to reach out different opinions from people I respect.  Please take time to read the entries from Christopher Nesbitt, Dr. Jerome Straughn, Mario Lara, Hubert Pipersburg and Jeremy Enriquez. Please click on the names below to read their essays

Jeremy Enriquez

Mario Lara

Dr. Jerome Straughn

Christopher Nesbitt

Hubert Pipersburg