By Lisa Shoman: Turks – ei, you, Turks. I grew up hearing this from people who thought it was ok to call my Palestinian grandfather this, despite the fact that he was not Turkish, and had no reason to love the hated Ottoman Empire.
To many Belizeans, my Papito with his swarthy skin (and my Dad, Assad and I who shared that melanin) was a “Turk” – a “Turco”. He hated it. I hated it. It was said like this – “Mine deh Turks teef yuh.” It was said like this “Alla deh Turks rich.” It was never said for any reason other than to identify you as different.
Thanks to my Mestiza Mamita from San Estevan, I was sometimes called “Panya” and sometimes “yellow belly Panya”.
In the 1960s when I was a child, people routinely referred to other people in Belize as “Kerub”, “Coolie” and “Panya” – and of course, “Turks”. And that is just MY experience.
George Cadle Price knew that we had a nation to try to forge out of many ethnicities. He was careful, in his choice of leaders to ensure that he had “Spanish” Belizeans, “Creole” Belizeans and did his best to ensure inclusivity for Garifuna and Maya Belizean leaders. He needed us to move past the name calling and the divisiveness and see each other simply as Belizeans.
There are those who referred to Price, the son of both “Panya” and “Creole” Belizeans as “George Price Escalante” to try to influence some to see him as “Spanish” and not a Black Man. To refer to Dean Barrow as the first “Black” PM is to negate Price’s undoubted Afro-Belizean blood. There are those who accused Price of being much too “Pan-Maya” and of glorifying the legacy of the Maya in order to somehow negate “the glory of the Baymen” that should never fade.
Our ethnic politics have always been at the service of the partisan politics going all the way back to those same said Baymen, and later the colonizing British authorities, who set up reserves so that the indigenous Maya were permitted to work land in “reserves” as long as the Land Commissioner could vouch that the Indian in question was a “good Indian”.
It goes back to the mythological use of Garifuna people as slave catchers for the British and the strong feelings that run even today, as witnessed by the latest national display of bigotry. “Kerub”, “Kerubi”,”Tutty-six”, “Obeah man/ooman”. The suspicion and rumor runs deep and you still hear echoes of the bigotry in comments about candle-burning, rituals to ill-wish or “obeah” someone and the derogatory comments as to what “Buyei” do and don’t do.
But yet, we are all today, very intermixed ethnically. My Panya gramma married a Turks. And her sons married “Panya” and “Backra” women respectively. My maternal great grandmother Susa was full Yucatec Maya; and was “bought” by the Cornishman/Englishman, Mr. Hoy for 25 pounds sterling – a fortune in those days.
My Chichi was from San Estevan, an Aguacatera with blue eyes and fair skin, surname Menenses. My two husbands have been respectively, a Black Bahamian and a “Maalish” (as he loved to call himself when he discovered the Maya word), who was Black, East Indian and some Caucasian. Me? I like to say I’m all ‘Jewelizean’, of ‘PanMayaStinian’ descent.
We like to tell outsiders – “Mine how you taak bout Beleez pipple caz’n deh mite be mi faaambly”.
We all have family members who have multiple ethnicities and myriad hues of skin colors and we mostly act like we are proud of it. We like to think we are a melting pot. We are interrelated through the complex bonds of ‘compadrazco’ and even more complex multiple unions, legal and extra-legal, half this, half that, quarter that.
And yet, we are people who still carry the burden, the stigma of bigotry. Like my friend Mar said on a searing FB rant : “Have you never heard how people talk about other people’s race even when we think its in joke or vexation or under the influence….Ignorance is more prevalent now than when we were way less educated…I swear….i don’t get what people don’t understand about we are all equal..We need to respect each other…stop allowing your kids to be disrespectful to other people race…Stop allowing them to go to the chinese grocer and say “chiney bwoy wey mih change” cuz he would not like it if the chinese man said “wait black bwoy or “wait pania” ….Do unto others as you would have done unto you”
That is the key, isn’t it? Mutual respect. The Golden Rule. This is so whether our differences are those of race, ethnicity, gender, ability.
We don’t have to pretend to love each other. We do need to coexist in tolerance. The building of our nation requires this. Laws won’t get us there. Only a deep cultural shift will – and the first step is to be vigilant and intolerant of all forms of racism, homophobia, misogyny, religious bigotry and other forms of ugly discrimination.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
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