I t has been said that perhaps the first Mestizo to arrive to our island, Ambergris Caye, was one Ancona. Perhaps he was among the first four families to arrive to our shores, later to be joined by other relatives and friends. This happened in 1848. (Next year it will be 150 years ago.) In a few years, there were 20 or more families - Alamilla, Guerrero, Nuflez, Graniel, Heredia, Ayuso, Gomez, Castillo, Acosta, Azueta, Varela, Valdez, Gonzalez, Marin, Paz, Aguilar, Arceo, Badillo, Cardenez, Escalante, Salazar, Mufloz, Trejo and a few others.
The Mestizos were escaping from the Yucatan area, basically from the Maya who led a revolt against both the Mestizos and the Spaniards. The Santa Cruz Maya were led by a talking cross made of holy wood, cedar, and this became sort of a holy war. Many Mestizos settled in Northern Belize where they were encouraged to stay by the British who were operating logging camps. The black slaves cut the logwood trees, and the Mestizos did the farming and produced food for the camps. The Mestizo that settled on Ambergris Caye probably came from Bacalar or the city of Tulum in Yucatan which were farming and fishing Mestizo communities. They planted their "milpas" on the island and did plenty of fishing of course.
The Mestizos leased land from "Los Hermanos Bibbins" (The Bevans Brothers) who were agents of Welsh and Gough, two Belize City merchants who owned the island. They paid 2 dollars a year for their lease and if found dead broke, they could pay with chickens and eggs.
Life on the island was peaceful' except in 1851 when the Government of Yucatan sent a group of soldiers to claim Ambergris Caye for Mexico. But nothing happened - only threats. It was not until 1893 when a treaty was signed between Mexico and Great Britain recognizing Ambergris Caye as part of Belize. And the village was named San Pedro in honour of St. Peter, the patron saint of fishermen. Life in San Pedro prospered. Soon there were alcaldes and a police officer. In the 1890's there was a gold rush - only that this one was for logwood. In the 1900's another rush - this time for sapodilla sap from which chewing gum was made. The San Pedranos were employed by chicle contractors and it is said that at times San Pedro was practically empty when men, women and children went on their "chicle expeditions." Also between the 1880's to 1930 the coconut industry floutished on the island. The Mestizos of San Pedro were then mostly employed by the Blakes and Alamillas, who dominated this industry when coconuts were exported to the United States of America.
The Mestizo immigrant, as we have seen, was not afraid of work. Apart from cutting logwood, bleeding sapodilla trees and gathering coconuts, they supplemented their incomes by planting milpas and by fishing around the island. The seine net and the viveros were widely used by them. "Viveros" were large covered canoes with holes cut at the bottom to keep water circulating so the fish would remain alive.
These Mestizo immigrants were the only inhabitants of San Pedro for over 100 years. There were practically no Creoles, no Garifuna, no East Indians, no Chinese or Arabs in San Pedro well into the 1960's. The Mestizos were a closely knit community and the evidence still remains with these original families now in their 6th or 7th generation. It is these families that call themselves "San Pedranos", though by all rights, anyone living in San Pedro is a San Pedrano. This column and the San Pedro Sun salute all Mestizos, the founders and others as well, for their contribution to this community. Remember that 1998 marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of San Pedro. Time for a Founding Celebrations Committee.