by G. Michael Reid (GMike)
Belizeans have a saying when a person butts into a conversation uninvited that they are acting like a “bad Spanish station”. Back in the days when radio was our only source of telecommunications and entertainment, those fortunate enough to own one, would search the dial daily to try and locate a good station. Anything in English would be considered a good station but quite often, all that was available were “bad Spanish stations”. I still have an old Phillips radio that my dad used to tinker with in an effort to pick up a good station. The two that were usually available were US Armed Forces and WGN.
WGN is a Chicago based station owned by the Chicago Tribune Newspaper. The call letters of the station is actually an acronym of the paper’s slogan, World’s Greatest Newspaper. At the time, WGN was one of the few stations with a high-powered AM signal that reached outside of the US into Canada, Australia, Europe, South America and fortunately for us, Belize.
Apart from news and weather, WGN carried sports and was the official station of the Chicago Cubs. Later when television came on stream, it was WGN again, whose Channel Nine, reached across the miles to bring us Cubs and Bulls games. It followed naturally then, that the Cubs and later the Bulls, would become almost Belize’s home teams. It mattered not that the Cubs had not won a championship in over a century, but they were our very own, “lovable losers”. While Belize knew pretty much everything about the Cubs, including name, number and statistics of the last man on the bench, the familiarity was not necessarily mutual. In a March 1983 interview with a Los Angeles Newspaper, Manager at the time, Jim Frey had this to say: "I had never heard of that place, what is it called, Belize? When Dallas Green (Cub general manager) was talking to me about this idea the other day and asked me about Belize, I thought he was talking about another player he wanted to trade for. I said to Dallas: 'I don't believe I know this guy. What position does he play?' "
Frey’s ignorance of Belize did little to lessen Belize’s loyalty to their beloved Cubs, and in his 1994 “Colonial Time and Television Time”, writer Richard Wilk had this to say: “A 1984 visit by Gary Matthews, outfielder for the Chicago Cubs and New hero of Belizean youth, drew a bigger and more enthusiastic crowd than a visit by Queen Elizabeth or Pope John Paul.” According to Wilk, “When Cubs made it into the playoff in 1983, the country came to a standstill for days, and shops closed during the games. “
At the time of Sarge’s visit, I was in the Diaspora, running the streets of East New York and later East Los Angeles. There, we were experiencing a reverse paradigm; we used every available medium to get news from and about Belize. In New York, there was a service provided by Compton Fairweather where one could call a number and get a news recording about all things Belizean. If I remember correctly, the news would change every other week. Compton was a big NIP so for sure there was political spin. Be that as it may, it was all that we had and many accepted what we heard as fact. Maybe that is why so many Bel-Ams still roll in each election to vote for their beloved “reds”.
Sometime during the 1980’s, I remember that I began seeing Amandala for sale at a few Belizean restaurants or gathering places, particularly in LA. Seems they would put them on the plane and have them there by at least the next day. Before that, we could pick one up from folks who had recently arrived from home. It was always an immense joy to acquire a Belize newspaper and we would sit and read it cover to cover and enjoy it word for word.
This brings me to what I really began to write about. In the editorial of last Tuesday’s Amandala, there is a discussion about a “wa”. According to the author of the piece, “it is best translated in English as ‘harmony’”. The author then went on to remind us about an overpass which was built by the 1993 to 1998 UDP government. The author opined that Belize’s Prime Minister at the time, Manuel Esquivel was a “mechanical person, considered a cold fish”. Esquivel, according to the editorial, was “not a popular politician”. I believe the author was insinuating here, that that was the reason why people did not use the overpass which in turn, disrupted our “wa”. The editorial went on to state as fact, that “When the PUP came to power in 1998, they encouraged the pedestrians, who in the overpass matter are mostly young students, to ignore the overpass and do whatever they wanted.” Again, disrupting our “wa”!
Just as how people in Belize gravitated to the only “good station” that they had access to, people abroad gravitate to whatever source of information about home. People tend to believe what they read in newspapers and anyone abroad reading this would be inclined to accept it as fact. It is absolutely not true! The publisher of the Amandala has for a long time been rewriting our history to suit his own purpose. His point of view unfortunately, varies, depending on whose agenda he is promoting at any particular point and time.
I had already returned home when this overpass was built. The fact of the matter is that the overpass has a ridiculous design that requires people to have to walk a zigzag pattern for an unnecessary distance before finally crossing to the other side. Once over, there is more unnecessary walking before being able to exit. Just straighten the damn thing out! Talk to Santino and talk to the nuns at Palotti. There is enough room on both sides to make this overpass practical and utilized. The truth of the matter is that there was no such campaign by anyone to discourage use of the overpass. What is true is that neither political party has made a move to rectify this blunder.
In this day and age, there is the internet which allows immediate communication via facebook or live streaming. Many folks abroad still look forward to receiving their Amandala’s, in much the same way as I still enjoy reading a LA Times or NY Daily News. Reading stuff like that about the overpass that cannot be readily fact-checked can be very misleading. Anyone doing research in the future might also run into this and take it as fact. The publisher of the Amandala has a tendency these days to end his articles with the words, “it is written”. Yes, Mr. Hyde, it is written which is exactly why you owe it to your readers to ensure that what is written is the truth. That is written!