The Belizean Identity

What is your Belizean identity? Are you African, Mayan, East Indian, Chinese, European, American? It takes all types to make up this melting pot – but a new exhibit at the Museum of Belize encourages visitors to confront and embrace the multiplicity of their identity. We visited today.

Jules Vasquez Reporting,
It may look like a passport, but check inside and it’s an identity card, assigning a number and colour to the many ethnic strands that make up the Belizean boil up. And it asks, at a fundamental level, what is your identity?

Lita Krohn, Cultural Thinker
“The reason we’re having the exhibit is to try to figure out who we are.”

But does it even matter if you’re part-Mayan, part-English, part-Spanish, part-African? Isn’t that mix all-Belizean? Froyla Tzalam and Dr. Carla Barnett gave presentations on ethnicity this morning and they told us why it does matter what all components make up your identity.

Froyla Tzalam, Cultural Thinker
“If we say we are Belizean but we’re only looking at the western side of our inheritance, as you were saying earlier if I look Maya and I deny any black or European in me, I am denying a basic part of who I am. As Belizeans if we deny the other sections we are denying who we are as well so it is not enough to just say I am Belizean.

I am not 100% Maya, I actually have European and African.”

Jules Vasquez,
So when people ask your identity which do you say first?

Froyla Tzalam,
“I define myself culturally and say I am a Mopan Maya.”

Jules Vasquez,
When you have to fill in the categories, you are of mix, Mayan-African ancestry, how do you fill it in?

Dr. Carla Barnett, Cultural Thinker
“Well people make choices, you have to make a choice. I am obviously going to put myself in Creole. The point I was making today is the way Creole is normally defined it forces you by choosing it to ignore or not take account of those other parts of your person that may come from a mixed Maya background or Mestizo or some other mixture that is not defined in our thinking.”

Jules Vasquez,
But isn’t your identity really defined by cultural practices and our cultural practices are those of Belizeans?

Lita Krohn,
“Yes that makes us a multi-ethnic and a multi-lingual country and that is fine and that if that is what we are then we won’t be characterizing ourselves into just little pigeon holes. Many of us do not fit into only Creole. I know this is my passport and I need my picture taken and I will be taking black, Caucasian, Creole, some Maya because if I say I am Mestizo that means I am Maya/Mestizo/Spanish – all of these things. That’s me and this is the little passport that we’re asking people to come and see if they can figure out who they are. So what does that make me? It is a Belizean yes but at the same time maybe I want to identify myself as Latina-Caribbean.”

And according to these cultural thinkers, many Belizeans are ashamed to claim all their identities:

Froyla Tzalam,
“I think it has to go back with a low self-esteem. A lot of my people, when we leave Toledo we are very glad when people call us Spanish and it is because to be Indian as we are called is to be negative like somehow we are subhuman. It is not a good thing, it is not as good as being white, it is not as good as being Spanish, even though many of the Spanish looking people look just like me and we eat the same food, the corn, the beans, and increasingly rice and beans as well. But I think it has to go back to a low self-esteem and it is a part of the whole colonization legacy. We were never taught to be a part of something good.”

And while this challenging exhibit may not reverse those years of perverse cultural programming, it does provoke visitors to ask themselves and each other who they are.

The exhibit is currently open to the public at the Museum of Belize. Visitors get a passport, fill in all their various ethnic backgrounds, get their picture taken and then the museum mails it to them.
Live and let live