Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Being Belizean American

Discovering Belize by Nicole McKinstry

My name is Nicole McKinstry and I consider myself to be a Belizean-American. I was born in Corozal, Belize which is the most northern town of Belize that borders Mexico. Since I was plucked from Belize at the tender age of six months, I cannot describe our house, what we did, or even what we ate, but even so, my home in Houston was the setting for a variety of Belizean holidays, traditions, and routines.
My family’s history points everywhere else except residing in Belize. My grandparents on my father’s side are from Barbados, whom after whirlwind travels to Africa, England, and other parts of the West Indies, simply just fell in love with this Caribbean escape and decided to settle there. They built a farm in Cayo which believe it or not, was next door to my mom’s farm, but their love story didn’t begin until later on. I’m told my grandfather built the house and a boat at the farm by himself. He was called crazy for building a boat so far away from the sea, but when a hurricane came and flooded parts of Belize he was the one smiling and waving in the end.
My mother’s side holds our Lebanese and Scottish roots. I do not know much history of this side because a lot are scattered throughout Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and the States. I do know that I have to eat taboule, which is an Arabic dish that my taste buds do not agree with and that names like Nazha, Aisha, and Nasim run in my family. Speaking for my Scottish side, the only thing I can manage to say is there are a lot of us and we are Catholic. Period.
My parents to this day have spent 50% of their lives in Belize and the other half of it in the States. They managed to spend their childhood, adolescence, and part of their adulthood in Belize and with that comes many aspects of Belizean culture. We, Belizeans like food. We like rice, beans, rice and beans, and meat - and plenty of it. Since my parents grew up on this staple diet (or lack of), we at home in Houston eat rice and beans or rice with beans for most of the week. Being the hyphenated American, we also enjoy our baked potatoes, Tex- Mex food, and any other cuisine, but for the most part it’s an unmistakable choice every night - rice and beans or rice with beans.
As part of any culture, there’s its music. I like to think my parent’s met under a musical moon, or for the not-so-romantic, at a dance. My dad was one of the few white, non-Spanish of Belize and I think my mom liked him for that very reason. My mom was at a dance with her friend who desperately wanted to go home because no one would ask her to dance, while my dad was trying to coax my mom for a spin. My mom refused to leave her friend so my dad got one of his friends to do him a ‘favor’, and the line, “Can I walk you home, Ms. Reyes?” at the end of the night was it. The type of music I’m sure was played at the dance was the hits of the bell-bottomed 70s, as well as the Belizean flare. In Houston, Belizean music was and still is part of my life. At any celebration, party, or a simple get together my family plays Belizean hits from artists such as Gil Harry, Punta Rebels, Titiman Flores, and Griga Boys, as well different Caribbean genres like calypso, soca, and ‘rockers’. Now we simply have added that basis and incorporated American music into our festivities. But I must say, no one is as rhythmically enhanced as a Belizean.
Moving away from the music of Belize, there is an even more important culture trait which is language. It is important to note that yes, the official language of Belize is English, but when you hear it, it doesn’t sound like English a foreigner can easily identify with. This is the language of Belizeans, which is called Kriol. There’s been arguments across the board that say the dialect of English Belizeans speak is exactly that, just a dialect. There are others who say Kriol is a full blown language having a uniform grammatical system. Whatever your stance is, it is different.
As a Belizean-American my family and friends speak to me in both Kriol and in English. I do hesitate in answering them back, but I’m completely aware of what it is they are saying. My parents talk to each other and amongst their friends in Kriol and when I was smaller they would constantly refer to me and my siblings as ‘pickney’ a Kriol word meaning kids, which I think more sounds like rodents than anything else. I’ve been scolded with not particularly Kriol sayings, but sayings said in Kriol, like “you deh fly past ya nest” or “you only deh one ruud lee baby”. The first means you’re going too far from what you know and you’re bound to get in trouble and the second means that I never did anything right as a child. Jokes and stories were always told in Kriol within my family. I still relish in listening to my grandfather tell stories of wrestling with snakes, meeting my grandmother, and doing daredevil stunts- true or not, with a hint of Kriol they are so much more compelling and entertaining .The point that I’m trying to make is that my ears have grown accustomed to Kriol. It’s a cultural trait that I may not have by the reins, but I think I’m stably mounted on the horse.
Being a Belizean-American is not an identity crisis for the most part, it can be frustrating on where I check under ethnicity or if people ask me, “So what exactly are you?”, because I’m simply bewildered as what to say. I’m still compelled to say Belizean for the most part, but my geographical location says differently. I like being American because honestly I do have better opportunities as an American than as a Belizean. Being American things can be overwhelmingly fast-paced, but things are on time and there when you need it. I have more options of anything I could desire in the U.S., but on the other hand, I identify much more with Belizean Culture because of what my family has instilled in me. Belizeans have a sense of strife, a desire for working with your hands, and a more relaxed view on life. Things seem to slow down in Belize, money although wanted and needed, is not more important than family.
To be honest, I wish Belize was better off economically and politically than it currently is, but that’s in the hands of Belizeans that are there. The handful of Belizeans I have met here in the States that have left Belize or are studying abroad, always have that urge to do something for their country and that speaks of the quality of its vibrant people, no matter where their lineage or location lies. Belize is in its own sense is a melting pot just like the States is deemed and in the end as a Belizean-American, I am just blessed with the two.
Happy Adventures!