My Belizean story

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By Thamar Jones

Belizeans are lazy? Belizeans are passive? Who told you these lies? I was told a different story.
I was born in 1991—one hundred and ninety three years after the Battle of St Georges Caye, and ten years after independence.
My experience growing up was unique. It was unique to the times and it was unique to the place, rural Belize.
I was homeschooled until the age of four, when in September of that year, I started my first day of preschool like all children did at that time.
After one year of preschool, there was a huge graduation ceremony. The girls marched up in red and white dresses and the boys in black pants and white shirts. We recited songs and poems on stage. There was one about “Who Killed Cock Robin”.
I refused to say my valedictorian speech despite being coaxed by applauses.
The following September I started “big school” or Infant One. I had a strict teacher, who caned us whenever we chewed gum, got up out of our seats without permission, whenever our letters were crooked, when we spelled words incorrectly and when we didn’t know how to recite our two times table correctly among other minor infractions. We were flogged if we fought, stole, cursed or committed any other abominable transgressions.
School bell rang at 8:30 each morning, signaling that we were to form a line in front of our classroom after which our teacher admitted us in class one by one. We remained standing at our seats until after we recited our daily prayer. After, we were seated and classwork began for the day. Break time was at 10:20 until 10:40. Lunch was at 11:30 until 1:00. The school day ended at 2:30 for infants and at 3:30 for the older students.
On Wednesdays, we had a school wide assembly. Each grade lined up in horizontal rows in front of the flag in the playground. Standard Six students in the back and Infant One students to the very front.
Assembly always began with a prayer and then the raising of the flag while we sang the National Anthem. While we sang our National Anthem, we were told to stand at attention with our hands either clasped in front of or behind us or to our sides and to look straight ahead or at the flag.
“No talking, no gazing around when we sing our anthem. No, no folding your arms, Elsie Mae…We are to stand at attention because we are proud of our anthem and proud to be Belizeans.”
After the anthem, we were read a Bible story followed by a short sermon. We sang songs about Jesus, announcements were read and then we went back to class.
I was raised by my teachers and my parents to be proud of my Belizean heritage particularly my European ancestry. “Our forefathers” they were called.
Belizeans came from people of mythical strength. We won a battle against the Spaniards in 1798 despite unfavorable odds.
“On September 10th, 1798 a battle between the Spaniards and the Baymen was fought at St. George’s Caye. It was part of an outbreak of war between Spain and Britain. Against unfavorable odds, the Baymen defeated the Spanish and they never tried gaining control over Belize again.” Adapted from Belize Today, It’s History, Culture & Ecosystems, produced by the Belize Tourism Training Unit, 2004.
In primary school we were taught about slavery and emancipation but somehow it felt like they were teaching me about someone else’s history and not mine.
While there were flaws in the system that raised me, I was indeed taught to be a proud Belizean and a responsible citizen. I was taught to be proud of rice and beans, brukdown music, our belief in the one true God, our Independence, our victory of the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day, our fight for universal adult suffrage, protecting our territory from invaders for centuries, keeping our barrier reef and forests pristine and living in harmony with people of all the cultures that are a part of our melting pot.
I am from a patriotic and proud sect of Belizeans who were raised to be responsible hardworking citizens.
Belizeans are lazy? Belizeans are passive? Who told you these lies? I was told a different story.