The Parable of the Prodigal son in the Bible describes a father with two sons, one stays at home and takes care of his father while the younger son leaves home, squanders his fortunes and returns home destitute. The older son wants the father to scorn him and accept him back ONLY as a servant but the father in his wisdom welcomes him back with celebration and feasting. The father stated “but it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost and is found.”
The parable is a powerful short story highlighting the dynamics of human relationships and emotions that accompany separation, abandonment, forgiveness and reunification. Lately I have been examining what is it about the diaspora that negatively strikes at the emotions of Belizeans at home. The diaspora is fighting for the rights of inclusion and full recognition of citizenship at the reluctance of the leadership in Belize and many Belizeans at home; even though Belize faces a existential threat from Guatemala; even though born Guatemalans have been nationalized without consent of the Belizean people or constitutional authority; and even though Belize faces one of the most important votes in the history of Belize where born Guatemalans will get a say and born Belizeans will not. What would subject Belizeans to such self destructive animosity against their own?
I look internally at my own experiences for answers. I moved to the United States at the age of 27 and on my own accord. I left to pursue an education without scholarship or invite from family. When I left Belize, my son was six years old and I left him for two and half years in Belize as I pursued my education. When I talk to my adult son today, he shares that he felt deserted even though I called him every week and visited home or he visited every vacation and even after we were reunited, he still feels that he was separated from seeing his father regularly because of living in the United States.
Talking to my son brought me to a deeper understanding of this animosity towards the prodigal children of Belize by Belizeans at home. As a people we don’t examine our deep feelings of hurt and abandonment, we instead lash out in anger and resentment like the older son’s reaction in the parable of the prodigal son. Strong emotions of love and fulfillment can be uplifting, but emotions of pain and resentment can be debilitating and self-destructive. The father in the story knew the younger son learned his lesson and understood that reunification would be the start of something new and positive and he understood the pain of the older son, but he also knew that you cannot heal when you hold on to resentment.
My mother was the only one of six children that never moved out of Belize or married a non- Belizean. She did consider moving but changed her mind and said that she did not want to raise her children in the United States. My grandparents, my mom’s parents, also moved to Canada as they grew older and I think that even though we kept close to my family in the era before social media when communications were letter writing and special occasion phone calls, we only knew tidbits of each other and when my mother died, the relationships were constrained.
If we dig deeper, we may uncover feelings of abandonment when families leave. If your parents left you behind, like an orphan, you navigate without a compass to find an identity with no parent to help you develop or direct your path. When all my mom’s family were living in the diaspora, there were no cousins to interact with daily; there were no aunts to visit or interact with thru regular visits; communications were formal and infrequent and there were no deep relationship building. Once my grandparents left there were no more generational stories; no more homemade recipes and cooking; and no more holiday gatherings for all family members. A loss is created for the families left behind, even if we do not consciously acknowledge it, there is a void that is created.
Families left behind get to know their families via pictures, gifts sent home, anecdotal stories, and occasional visits. Many times, the families abroad treat their families at home as charity cases rather than deep bonded families. Families abroad are seen enjoying the spoils of a more developed and progressive environment, TV quality Christmases and living conditions, access to school and medical care not afforded to families left behind and through no conscious undertaking, animosity and jealousies develop and these feelings manifest itself as resentment.
The Leader of the Opposition described the diaspora as “people who drive in nice a/c cars and on good roads” further proof that the perception of Belizeans enjoying life while families are back home suffering or struggling to overcome. What I imagine adds insult is when some Belizeans return home retired, after living a life in the lap of luxury, owning assets they were able to attain with foreign income. Many Belizeans at home face daily economic struggle and many are unable obtain savings, assets and wealth after living in Belize and enduring the struggles in their everyday lives. One young lady lashed out on Facebook saying “unu nuh deh ya di tek lick”.
Some of these feeling may be legitimate, but I suspect most of these feelings may be misplaced and deeply embedded in perception rather than reality. Many people in diaspora left Belize because upward mobility was not a reality; many remember a colonial Belize where they were excluded from tertiary level education or access without the right blood lines or connections. Many in the diaspora are not “living the dream” but are working several jobs to make ends meet and struggling for a place that is not receptive to foreign cultures. Some have no legal status and have no ability to return home without losing their investments. Some are escaping a life of poverty and pain, Some are working hard hoping to create a better situation for their families at home; many are subjected to racism and exclusion; many long to return home but see no opportunities to return home. Some are forced home thru deportations or extreme poverty.
It is not coincidental that Belizeans in the diaspora fiercely hold on to their Belizean heritage; many Belizeans in the diaspora long to live in Belize and long to become a contributing force, diaspora Belizeans see home based Belizeans as blessed and fortunate; Belizeans at home see the diaspora as fortunate and privileged and disconnected from the realities of Belize.
Obviously there are many existing emotions that need further examination, but I must say that it is refreshing and reassuring to see a young Belizean politician, Hon. Kareem Musa elevate the dialogue by stating publicly on national TV – “ I want all Belizeans to come home” . Musa is currently lobbying the House of Representatives via a private bill to include the diaspora in the ICJ vote. Kareem received an unlikely endorsement from Shyne Barrow, another young politician, who is standard bearer for the opposing party and the son of the current Prime Minister. The young Barrow went a step further and stated that the diaspora should be fully included in all elections in Belize. Both young men are children of leaders and both have differentiated their approach from the status quo; both seem to grasp the idea of inclusion, taking the pathway of the father in the prodigal son parable.
The United States allows their diaspora to vote; Ireland recently held a referendum vote where hundreds of their diaspora returned home to vote. Some African leaders are calling for their enslaved diaspora to visit Africa and we are seeing transformational leaders call home their diaspora. Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Motley, recently called on their diaspora to come home and contribute; Mexico is benefiting from their diaspora as mass exodus of Mexicans return home with construction and specialized skills gained in the first world. Mexico is going a step further and setting up special programs for their deportees to hone their skills so it can be used to enhance the development of their nation.
Since the mass exodus of Belizeans the world has changed dramatically, communication is easier and immediate, flights to Belize are affordable and frequent, the bridge has been built, and the gap is closing and families are reuniting, . The politicians who want to be future leaders of Belize ought be able to recognize the world is evolving at lightning speed; if leaders are smart and strategic, they will see allies in the diaspora in a globalized environment where the diaspora can be a rich source of expertise, funding and manpower and especially with Belize’s sovereignty at risk.
The alternative is to be stuck in old colonial politics of exclusion, divide and conquer. Kareem is a breath of fresh air because he is aligned to a new generation of politics. I suspect the younger generation of Belizeans will have none of their parents’ politics. The young Belizeans are far more adept to globalization and very connected; they have access to information unlike any other time in our history and I suspect that both Kareem and Shyne are thinking progressively and strategizing for a future Belize leadership challenge and I would endorse both!