This moment of ignorance is brought to you by:
Lack of exposure and K-12 education
One day, a classmate and I were walking down the hallway when she picked up her phone and began speaking Spanish. This entire time, I thought she was just a regular-degular-schmegular Black girl.
When she hung up the phone, I said, “Oh shoot, I ain’t know you were Dominican.”
She was like, “I’m not Dominican; I’m from Belize.”
I simply said “Oh, my fault.”
But that ‘oh’ was loaded.
I might’ve heard of Belize once but I had never met anyone from there. Other thoughts went through my head like, Where the hell is Belize? How am I supposed to know the difference between someone from D.R. and someone from Belize (sucks teeth in head)? Oh shit, I really just called her a Dominican and was wrong as hell.
We just kept walking until we parted ways to our next class and I never said anything more to her about it.
She could’ve given me the side-eye and called me an ignorant ass chick and would’ve been well within her right to do so. She also could’ve been a regular-degular-schmegular Black girl who happened to speak Spanish. Clearly, I didn’t think before I spoke. Unfortunately, based on the flat tone she gave me as she corrected me and kept it moving, this must’ve been a normal occurrence.
At the time, I was an undergraduate at Hunter College and it was my first time actually being exposed to people on a daily basis that I had only heard about. This was what diversity looked like. But simply being around different racial and ethnic groups does not mean that you know anything about them.
I tell this story for a number of reasons. Belize’s Independence Day is on September 21st and it made me think of my knowledge (or lack thereof) of this entire country and its history. This incident was my first and pretty much only exposure, until college, to someone Hispanic or Latino who wasn’t from the Big 3 (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Mexico) and even growing up, we didn’t distinguish. Anyone who spoke Spanish was Spanish. I know…ignorant.
So as we approach Belize’s Independence Day, I’m gonna ask you to take a journey through my brain for a few minutes.
Here are the details about Belize’s liberation that snatched my wig.
Belize got their independence on September 21, 1981.
Reeewwiiiiinnnddd! 1981? Like A.D.? Like 36 years ago? So basically, Belize is only 3 years older than me? This trips me out because colonialism is such a beast. It is so difficult to think about Belize as such a young, independent country because America’s trifling ass has been “free” for 241 years. If you are talking about Black people in America that number goes down to 152 years although Black people are still missing some receipts. Even that isn’t a long time.
They celebrate from September 10th- September 21st.
So you mean to tell me they getting lit for 11 straight days? I need to hang with them. But there’s something to say about celebrating your independence/ your freedom. It’s like when teenagers leave their parent’s house and go away to college. They don’t just jump on their bed for a few minutes; they go all out and act a straight fool. It’s kinda like this but more significant. They are celebrating the beauty of their culture, the importance of self-ruling and getting those crazy ass White folks out of their country. The amazing thing about the way people of color celebrate, is that we don’t half ass anything. We make more food in one day then some people eat in a year, our costumes are elaborate (i.e. we slay) and twerking/whining is part of all of the festivities because “Hey, we free y’all!”
The significance of September 10th.
September 10th is the official start date of celebrations in Belize and it’s a national holiday. From September 3rd– 10th of 1798, the Spanish tried to kick the British and their slaves out of Belize because you know, there can only be one set of murderers and rapists occupying folks. Basically, after a bunch of failed attempts by Spain to get rid of the British the universe made sure they were sick as hell and then the Spanish finally withdrew. British then took the title of Top Shitty White Folks and continued to rule Belize for 183 years. Although the official language of Belize is English, this is one explanation for why so many people speak Spanish there as well.
This holiday made me a little uncomfortable: As much as I’m all for 11 days of being turnt up, I just think of two hoes fighting (Spain and Britain) and Belize in the middle like a dude who is sorry he slept with both of these sorry ass bitches. Look at the grand prize too: Britain claiming the victory like a chick on Maury?
It’s Hispanic Heritage Month and we need to celebrate ALL of our people and their freedom! We can’t just say shout out to D.R., P.R. and Mexico and forget about Belize, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and so many more, especially when they have endured the same struggles because they are also diasporic people. How do we show the connections between Belize and other colonized/formerly colonized places and people?
If we are not the experts (which we probably aren’t) how can we use our resources to get guest speakers and authors. We can watch documentaries or if we have kids hiding their culture because they are from one of the lesser known countries or islands, encourage them and their families to share their culture with their classmates.
If I were still in the classroom, I would have students research Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua or any other country for Hispanic Heritage Month and look at it from different lenses: the significance of the festivities, before and after independence (which would they argue was better for the people?) or comparing Belize to another country’s gain of independence.
As I think about colonized people and what we have endured to gain our independence, I also wonder, “Can it still be called freedom if it’s given to you?” If someone has the power to give you your freedom, they also have the power to take it away again and again. The wound is still fresh. Remember, 1981. By the way, for all of you Humanities teachers, this is a dope ass essential question. We also need to see what happens to people’s countries after they are no longer occupied. Poverty, infrastructure, corruption and environmental issues are part of the aftermath of emancipation. Freedom always comes with a price.
- How can we celebrate a country’s independence if we don’t even know they exist? Please don’t hand me a map because I can’t locate Belize and that’s not by accident. We don’t even talk about the Caribbean or South America in our classrooms unless a teacher mentions their summer vacation.
- Let’s discuss what it means to celebrate culture. Culture is not just rice and beans and asking parents to make dishes so you don’t have to buy lunch or teach that day. This is about traditions, history, pain, joy and the significance of people’s everyday lives, not just ONE day.
- I just learned last year that there was such a thing as Hispanic Heritage Month. Again, it wasn’t until college that I was allowed to learn about anything besides Europe, America and ancient civilizations. But by the time that happened, I’d been taught to ignore other people for so long, that I wasn’t even interested in learning about them even when I could’ve chosen to do so.
Sidebar: Shout out to K-12, White supremacist public education. Your master plan is working.
- Speaking of White supremacist education, I have to point out that in my K-12 education, I had maybe 1-2 people who were European or White in my classes yet I was taught about European history, White people’s contributions to this country and forced to listen to and study classical music. I sat with Black and Latino kids every day and we learned nothing about ourselves. Maybe if I had learned about Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador and so many other places, I would have thought before I misspoke to my classmate that day.
We need to do our research because ignorance is not bliss, it’s simply ignorance and it’s embarrassing.
Resilience is worth discussion. Freedom is worth discussion. Black and Brown people are worth discussion; and even more, we’re worth celebrating!
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!
Belize, we see you. We honor you. We celebrate you!
Educators, remember your daily regimen: