Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2020. 11:46 am CST.
14 December 1939 – 8 October 2020
I am Ceasar Armando Diaz son and 6th child of Lucia Cardona. I am honored to share a small glimpse of the incredible life of my mother. In my opinion she was a lady well ahead of her times. She took on every adversity life presented and turned them into successes. It is no easy feat to define living on your own terms but doing so as a woman from rural Belize was truly awesome. This required the foresight, the vision and the perseverance to develop and execute a successful restaurant business as a livelihood strategy. The outcome of this decision meant that she could carve out a way for the next generation of her family to attain the highest levels of education and a better future. Oftentimes the greatness is lost in our humbleness, but my mom has much to be proud of and today is really about celebrating a life of greatness. My mom cared enough not to give up and in so doing she saw honorable children – lawyer, educator, public servants, contractor and grandchildren continuing her example as powerful Belizeans in so many fields.
My mom, Lucia Cardona was born 14 December 1939 in this quaint village of Roaring Creek among the oldest settlements along the Belize River to Concepcion and Bartolo Cardona. She was the first of three girls – Julia and Antonia followed, and their childhood was filled with joy and laughter surrounded by the extended family – granny Eustakia Nah Mendoza, uncle Domingo Mendoza, uncle Juan Martinez and several aunts. The family of Mopan Mayan ancestry as early residents along the river, cultivated the lands, reared cattle, hunted wild game and made pit dories and other enterprising activities to sustain themselves. Luz as she is fondly known, enjoyed spending time listening to her dad (Pup) playing the guitar and singing, he was her hero. She learnt from her mom how to cook, tend the house, make cohune oil and other skills she would pass on to her offspring’s. Growing up in 1940s and 50s in rural British Honduras her upbringing was shaped by love, kindness, integrity, determination and love for family. Her impatience and abrasiveness at times, as the eldest child, her sisters and children would come to experience.
After finishing primary school at the Roaring Creek Catholic School, Luz strived to be independent and in her early years was employed as a domestic worker and housekeeper. Working in a mess hall in the area known as Old Orange Walk, she catered for the logwood cutters and Belizeans who travelled in the river boats which was the principal means of traveling further west to El Cayo.
At the tender age of 18 in 1957 she met Jose Maria Richards had her first son Ruben Sylvester followed by Jose Amir in 1959. Although the relationship did not last, her sons became her world and life’s mission to provide and guide their development. With the support of her parents she continued to work full-time. Anyone who knew my mother knows how much she enjoyed dancing and it was this pastime that allowed for the unexpected encounter with Carlos Daniel Diaz, my father in 1960. That relationship grew and between 1961 and 1964 Maria Elena Diaz Hutchinson, Carlos Daniel Diaz Jr and Irma Josephina Diaz were born. Luz now a mother of 5 young and precocious children sought to instill discipline and the value of self-sufficiency.
In the colony of British Honduras, while Belize City dominated, around the time of self-governance the UK company Tate and Lyle sought to invest in the sugar industry and built the Tower Hill factory, what today is known as the Belize Sugar Industries (ASR Group). In 1965 Luz, Daniel Sr. and the children moved to Orange Walk, as Dad went to work at the factory. Luz and aunt Lydia Diaz forged a special friendship and bond that lasted until my aunt departed in September 1988. During this time, Luz and her sister-in-law both confident, resourceful women with entrepreneurial spirits set out to prepare and sell food at the factory by day and at night to the town goers. As a street food vendor, they made their mark catering to the crowds visiting Queen Victoria Park. Luz learned from aunt Lydia how to make her famous garnaches sauce that many would come to enjoy many years later in Belmopan. In 1966 I was born. During these years Luz, the proactive person she was, took to doing laundry and ironing at home for the Syrian merchants in the town; never having to leave the children. Living in Orange Walk town, Luz longed to be closer to her parents and family and decided to move back to Roaring Creek, where in 1968 Louis Fernando Diaz was born. Dad traveled back and forth in the early years and as the relationship became strained, she found herself as a single parent. With the support of her parents and sisters, as children we were well cared for – always clothed, getting new shoes when Dad would occasionally visit or as mom would do occasional odd housekeeping jobs and Aunt Antonia who helped to support us. Luz always instilled in her children the importance of going to school and the value of an education.
1971 was a dark year and low point in Luz’s life and that of her sisters, as her mom fell ill and in October passed away, soon to be followed by her dad in December of the same year. At that time she was the primary caregiver as her sisters Julia and Antonia had both migrated to the USA a few years earlier. Luz was God fearing and relied on her faith to get through those dark days. One of Maria’s fondest childhood memories is going to the riverside to wash clothes and picking cohune for mom to prepare cohune oil. This was never seen as work; it was always just an all-day adventure.
As the first phase of the city of Belmopan was completed just the year before in 1970, after losing both parents Luz decided to go and work. So it was that in 1974 my mom started working with her aunt, Maurica Mendoza Baptist, as a food vendor, at the first Belmopan market. As the market expanded to cater to the public servants employed in the government ministries; travelers transiting from the South and West of the country, my Mom secured her own food stall along-side other pioneering women like her aunt Suzanna Mendoza Brown and Verna Usher Hutchinson. This is where many would come to meet the quiet and unassuming Ms. Luz and enjoy her delicious rice and beans and stew chicken, beef and pork, scintillating breakfast of golden fry jacks and fried beans topped with her habanero pepper sauce that rivaled any other. For 22 years her mornings started at 3:30 am when she would rise, read her bible verse and make her preparations kneading dough for tortilla or fry jack; seasoning her meats and packing the red kidney beans she would have boiled from the evening before. Her cousin Cayetano Nah, who was a taxi driver, would take her into Belmopan for her to be ready to serve her breakfast at 6:00 am when the market opened and the first Novelo’s bus would come in from Benque Viejo del Carmen. Mom being at the market meant that family members working and studying in Belmopan had access to her. Maria during her high school years at Belmopan Comprehensive would help out at the market, as we all would have our midday meals there, being a short walk from the high school where most of us attended. Irma over the years also worked with mom at the market. Even grandchildren, like Tracey and Michelle had their experience going with their Gramz to the market, having grown-up next door.
As all of Luz’s children grew and started their own families she insisted to continue work at the market, which is where many people came to meet my mom – always making the point proudly stating her independence and being able to sustain herself. With the support of her sons she built her house on the land inherited from her parents. Mom was never one to ask for help, she was a proud and confident woman. Always reminding us and grandchildren that “hard work never killed nobody”. As teenagers growing up one of my fondest memories of mom is when she would recall and share funny moments from her childhood. Daniel being the funny one he is, was always able to crack a joke and get mom to laugh no matter how serious she was. As a mother she was stern, the disciplinarian who instilled in us lifelong lessons. She had a kind heart and always gave of herself to family and even strangers. Mom did not only cook as a means of doing a job, but she truly enjoyed cooking, creating unique taste and flavors, feeding people as a way of demonstrating her kindness and compassion. After Jose, Maria, Daniel and I were successfully able to convince her it was time to retire she stopped working at the market in 1996.
One would have thought retirement meant Luz would finally get to relax and enjoy less strenuous work, like tending her chickens and plants, but this was short lived. She travelled to the US a few times to visit her sisters and Ruben who had migrated to the US from years before in 1976. While at home mom always kept herself busy, cutting the bush behind the yard, setting down fruit trees, growing plantains and cassava. She grew to enjoy her Chuck Noris movies and religiously watched countless episodes of Walker Texas Ranger and Golden Girls. Mom’s love for her family was unfailing and always present. Maria who lived next door was always close to mom. She recalls vividly, when mom had to support a home delivery for her first son Darren. Daniel was always her constant company, living next door with his family. Family meant everything to mom and meant she would go to live in Trinidad with Imani Fairweather – Jose’s adopted daughter, to support her with her two young children while she went to university. Upon returning to Belize in 2000 she moved to San Ignacio to help care for her grandson O’Neil Simpson, Maria’s youngest child. Mom would do this again to support other grandchildren when they needed extra help. This was the kind of mother and grandmother she was. Luz enjoyed traveling in Belize and beyond, taking road trips which she did with several of us and her grandchildren – from Hopkins, Placencia, Mountain Pine Ridge, Punta Gorda to Chetumal, Cancun, Merida, Melchor, the USA and Guatemala City with Maria and her girls.
Luz was vibrant, full of life and always keeping herself busy. Gramz as we all came to call her was always ready to make any special meal her grandchildren would come to love and request from time to time. Her famous tamales which she made every New Years was a tradition and surely everyone got their fill. Luz was proud of her children’s accomplishments and nurtured a unique relationship with each of us and her many grandchildren over the years but loved them all. When you would take too long to visit, she would boldly tell you “so weh happen you forget I still living”. She was one to speak her truth no matter how sharp it landed and revealed parts of herself as she saw fitting. Although well-known and liked by many, Luz had few close friends.
In December 2017 when Ruben came home after not visiting for over 35 years, my mom was ecstatic and overjoyed to have all her children and the family together. This joy would be short lived, as we all had to grapple with the untimely and unexpected loss of our brother Jose Amir Cardona on 22 February 2018. This tragedy of losing a child broke my mother’s heart and undoubtedly, she grieved his loss until she herself took her last breath.
My mother lived a full and wholesome life not being ill, we did not prepare to face this unexpected and devasting loss of our mother. So today I share a quote from her favorite televangelist Joel Osteen, whose words aptly describes my mom’s life – she “Choosing to be positive and having a grateful attitude is going to determine how you’re going to live your life. When you focus on being a blessing, God makes sure that you are always blessed in abundance.” I am grateful today for the abundant blessing my mother’s life was to all she encountered and our family.
Today we celebrate her life as she is reunited with her parents, her son and all our ancestors who have gone before her. Our mother, grandmother, sister and aunt, our forever love.
Prefiero estar dormido que despierto
De tanto que me duele que no estés
Como quisieras que tu vivieras
Que tus ojitos jamás hubieran serrados nunca
Y estar mirándonos amor eterno e inolvidable (Vicente Fernandez Amor Eterno)
Prepared by Tracey Hutchinson (granddaughter)
Delivered on 14 October 2020
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