Belizeans at home and abroad must begin to realize that despite the fact that time, space and location separates us, we have a shared identity and culture that makes us stronger together than separately. REMEMBERING is what heals: remembering our cultural traditions, our enthusiasm for sports, our passion for politics, our very good food, our Belizean music in all its varieties, our childhood proclivity for hopping fences to steal mangoes and craboo, riding our bikes to fetch buckets of water at the pipe stand, and many more. Oh yes! And playing bruk makachistah, bruk me bak!
Funnily enough bruk makachistah is full of symbolism and meaning as it applies to our Belizean cultural heritage, personalities, attitudes, and our strength in the face of adversity. With hands akimbo and chest pumping, the entire game, if you will, is premised on defiance and a dare; a challenge that if you think you can bruk my bak, try it! The words and imagery signify our spirited, Belizean assertiveness, unafraid to face down a bully because we’ll duke it out fistycuffs, your mother will come to my mother’s house, we’ll both get our rear ends belted, and eventually after our egos have settled down, we’ll move on to becoming friends again. Times have changed I know, but this is the Belize WE know, WE love, and WE share…immigrants will come and go, but WE know OUR identity and WE know OUR culture!
Belizeans share so many great experiences along with a strong and proud identity so why this division, this love/hate relationship, between us: based Belizeans vs. diaspora Belizeans? the Diaspora feel invisible, resented and unwanted to those at home and those at home feel abandoned, angry and resentful for being left behind “to suffah.” If we are to overcome this great divide that separates us, we must critically interrogate both perspectives to get a deeper understanding of the root causes. Understanding the psychology of abandonment is very important to the discourse if we are to heal our wounds and start fresh.
So what exactly is abandonment? According to J. Ray Rice, M.S.W., who has written several self-help books on the issue, “Abandonment is emotions, feelings, and acts that leave us with feelings, or experience of alienation, loss, betrayal, desertion, separation and segregation […]. These experiences or issues left unresolved affect our ability to reason, bond, trust, love, communicate, problem-solve […] respect the rights of all and live with our neighbors in peace.” http://blog.itsallaboutabandonment.com
Many Belizeans, particularly children, have experienced abandonment due to a parent(s) or spouse(s) making the tough decision to leave their loved ones behind in order to provide a better life for them at home, not realizing the traumatic impact such an event will have on those they love. Those left behind may experience the inability to feel safe due to threatening circumstances, feel emotional neglect, or might not have been provided adequate shelter which creates fear and a strong sense of insecurity. Unfortunately, victims of abandonment often live a lifetime of fear that abandonment will recur. Dr. Claudia Black, M.S.W., states, “Shame arises from the painful message implied in abandonment: ‘You are not important. You are not of value.’ This is the pain from which people need to heal.”
Based Belizeans feel a strong sense of betrayal toward its diaspora who they believe left them behind in search of “greener pastures,” and who might be prospering, while they at home continue to suffer. I would argue that these feelings of abandonment is the site of our contest. This deeply rooted grudge that manifests itself in a desire to somehow even the score even if it means shooting oneself in the foot. Belizeans at home often express a sense of entitlement to all things Belizean, attempt to shut us out of the political discourse by silencing our voices, our Constitution condones (or perhaps sets the standard for) this behavior by taking away our birthright, they criticize diaspora activists for being out of touch with the political reality on the ground whose politics is detached from the complexities of their lived reality, and the tension builds with accusations that the diaspora are cowards who ran away, or would run back to the States from the frontline of the struggle when things go wrong; the guilt-shaming list is long and harsh, but here is our perspective…
While the diaspora appreciate the validity of some of these arguments, the Belizean discourse reveals that, in a limited way, we are dealing with a reality that is more complex than the argument presented. As I write this I am conscious of how my criticism will be received, I am conscious of that oppressive chasm that exists between us, and the notion that “home” is not necessarily a comfortable, welcoming place for the diaspora. We hear the echo of your voices telling us, “why you no go bak da States,” or the mumbling voices that ridicule us when we speak English, “e fahget how fuh talk creole.” It is within this context that based Belizeans fail to bridge the gap and why the diaspora, paralyzed by these criticisms, may refuse to cross over to shake the hand of our brothers and sisters. For us it is clear, based Belizeans do not allow for the crossing and re-crossing of our borders and see it as an invasion rather than a re-connection.
It is partially true that to be from the diaspora implies a certain level of consumption and opportunity to achieve wealth and a good education, but it also implies responsibility and obligation to family and dependents at home. To be fair, Belizeans in the diaspora face three challenges when they go abroad: surviving in a new and hostile environment away from the support of family, struggling to taking care of themselves while taking care of their families at home. Basically, supporting two households! Their mission to send remittances, boxes of clothes and other necessities to their families in order to provide economic relief props up the Belizean economy, but some pay a very high price to achieve this goal. Attracted to the possibility of work and the opportunity to acquire a good education, diaspora Belizeans sacrifice a great deal when taking this leap of faith. For most, it’s a hard life and not all it is cracked up to be; therefore, YOUR perception at home is not necessarily OUR reality abroad.
Further, not everyone who takes the giant leap to seek better opportunities abroad end up living a grand lifestyle. Some of our people (particularly in the “States”) come here with limited education, some illegally, they end up working two or three jobs to send money home to feed their families, they live in some of the most violent and depressed neighborhoods, their kids are exposed to tough gangs in schools, and they spend most of their time scrambling to survive so they can keep their families at home afloat. There is only a very small percentage of Belizeans who by a stroke of luck, or by their own perseverance, can claim success and wealth that allow them to go to and fro.
To be honest, our struggle to survive in a hostile, foreign land would be made a lot easier if Belizeans at home would welcome us with gratitude and appreciation for our sacrifice, instead of resentful displays and hurtful words. We get that most Belizeans at home cannot afford to travel anywhere and are perhaps stuck in the boredom of their lives, so when they see us, they are reminded of that. But what they must realize is that WE are happy to be home, away from the rat race, and envy the simplicity of THEIR lives. It is exactly our inability to reconnect with each other that cause the distancing and misunderstandings.
The term “diaspora” clearly has elitist connotations. It conjures up an idea that builds on a fantasy that coming to America means affluence and easy riches. These perceptions are often reinforced by some members of the diaspora (not all) who do return home flaunting their newfound status with “states clothes,” an American accent, and that Yankee dollar; this is true. But for many who are faced with hardships, along with the shame that they might not be living up to your expectations, your criticisms and your resentments are undeserved and hurtful.
Yes, there are advantages but there are also limitations to living in the diaspora. When we arrive the diaspora is engaged in an ongoing process of negotiating our identity for our selves and our children. Understanding our displacement, the cultural challenges we face, surviving the politics of a new country, having to maneuver and negotiate our space in unfamiliar territory, or trying to blend into a new society that we sometimes do not fully understand, or cannot fully penetrate, can sometimes beat us down. So, yes, protracted exclusion is our daily reality (at home and abroad).
We regret that your echoing voices misnaming us, truncating our Belizean identity while simultaneously inscribing us with your language of exclusion and marginality, may never stop. But we hope the term BelAm will be subject to new analysis, new understandings, if we are to unlock a discourse that continues to inscribe the diaspora as outsiders. Why are these definitions being deployed against us? Your language of separation is mostly applied to Belizeans in America; the eye opener for us is that Belizeans living in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Africa have no such negative inscriptions. The term BelAm suggests a state of opposition or resistance when juxtaposed against Belizeans at home.
With that said, Belizeans in the diaspora will continue its ongoing search to find language to articulate ourselves. We have no desire to negotiate the terms of our identities in ways other than “representing” OUR Belizeanness because anything else would contribute to our destruction. It is in this context of refusing to surrender OUR love for Belize, OUR Belizean identity and OUR culture…this forced construction, that we demand our seat at the table so OUR voices can be heard. Based Belizeans are not more entitled to all things Belizean than us. Concessions will have to be made and there is no need for an unnecessary war of words. Paula Giddings once wrote, “A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”
The Belizean diaspora is not going anywhere because we love our country too. We have been criticized for our inability to effectively organize ourselves so we can make a difference at home and that is a fair argument. The Belizean diaspora often bemoan our lack of unity, our failure to organize and mobilize in an effective way, how we often undermine ourselves by factionalism from different groups, how scattered and divided we are across regions, and how we have a tendency to compete for political space rather than cooperating with each other. We are distrustful of some of our fellow Belizeans who quickly change course when they see a better opportunity elsewhere, but some of us refuse to give up and where there is a will, there is a way.
Our determination and strong sense of responsibility to The Jewel is boosted enormously by new communication technologies that allow us to communicate, organize and spread the message through social media and the Internet. Facebook offers us the opportunity to communicate, argue amongst ourselves as Belizeans often do, it offers the cross-fertilization of ideas and the possibility of immediate exchange between us in all our scattered locations. The texts we create in our discourses have the ability to circulate in communities far and wide and have brought us closer together in more meaningful ways than we could ever imagine.
If Belizeans at home and abroad can draw on a shared cultural repertoire of ideas perhaps we can find some common ground. At the end of the day REMEMBERING…that we share the same love of country, the same cultural identity, the same political concerns for Belize’s political transformation, the same hope for Belize, then perhaps once we recognize that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, we can start extending the hand of friendship, maintain some degree of civility towards each other that results in dignity and hope for ALL. We are on the same page folks! We are on the same page!
Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Debbie Curling was a member of the Belizean Diaspora and has recently returned home to Belize.