Belize is a tiny country in Central America. Previously called the British Honduras, Belize has Mexico to the North, Guatemala to the West and South and Caribbean Sea to the East. Belize lies on the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and has rich terrestrial and marine biodiversity. It acts as a natural bridge for animal migration from South to North America. The beautiful Belize Barrier Reef is a part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, one of the largest coral reef systems in the world. Belize is a Central American and Caribbean nation with strong ties to both Latin American and Caribbean regions. It is in the Commonwealth realm with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and the head of state. It has been one of the core regions of the Mayan civilization. It has a diverse ethnicity with Mayas, creole, Gerinagu, Mestizo(a mixture of Spanish and Native Americans) and Mennonites of German descent. According to moon.com, it has a ‘friendly, accomodative people who live mostly in harmony.’
The main language spoken is a dialect of English mixed with creole. When it comes to literature available in English, the spectrum of options are not broad. everyculture.com says ‘a small body of written literature is published locally.’ thelatinoauthor.com says ‘there is quality literature in English.‘ When I went about looking for books from Belize, one author whose name popped up everywhere was Zee Edgell. The work everybody pointed to was Beka Lamb, a poignant, coming-of-age story set in Belize.
For my reading I am choosing ‘A Child Grows Up and Wonders‘ by Felicia Hernandez. The unique charm of Belize lies in the fact that the multiple, disjointed ethnic groups live in the shared space. One of the most important groups is the Garinagu people, the colored residents of Belize. It would be interesting to read a first hand account of the life of a Garinagu family. Hence I am choosing this memoir and a collection of poems. I hope to emerge richer from this reading!
‘A Child Grows Up and Wonders‘ is a very personal account of the life of Felicia Hernandez and her family, since the time they resided as immigrants in Puerto Barrios till the adult Felicia, with a family of her own, lives and works in the United States and dreams about returning to Belize. The accounts of her early childhood are honest recollections, although tad simplistic. The tradition of sending messages to the departed with a dead child reminds the reader of the African ancestry of the Garinagu people. Even as immigrants they are proud of the Garinagu tradition and culture and want their children to be educated only in English; not the native Mexican in Puerto Barrios. They try to pass on their folklore to the children through oral rendition of tales such as the Annancy stories and other rituals:
‘there was a superstition, a folklore, among the Garifuna people that the spouse or the mother of the deceased had to stay at home to guard against additional tragedy.’
When the author eventually returns to Belize with her mother and siblings, her feelings are mixed:
‘It was a strange feeling climbing up on the wharf; stranger still was being surrounded by the crowd of men and women chatting among themselves and grasping at the passengers. They were not a welcoming party. They did not seem to be there to help, and one of them even tried to grab the yamadi (straw basket). My mother knew this stranger and hollered “Aye, Cato, leave that alone.”‘
Gradually she falls in love with the life in Belize. The accounts of her adult life, career and marriage are more mature in tone. For the most part, the book feels self-indulgent and at times, reads like a documentary. However there is no substitute to the first hand accounts of people from a cultural group documenting their life and experiences. For this fact alone, ‘A Child Grows Up and Wonders‘ becomes a valuable read. That said, if there are alternative options available for reading from Belize, I would suggest the would-be readers to seek them out.
Other Options from Belize:
Belize, a novel – Carlos Ledson Miller
Two brothers, one American and the other Belizean, face unique challenges
Memories dreams and anthologies – A Short Story Anthology by Balizean Women Writers
Untold tales of women’s life in Belize