July 4th vs. September 21st | A Reflection Piece
As many of you know, we moved to the small island of Caye Caulker, Belize on March 17th, 2022. Prior to moving, we'd visited the island 3 times so we already knew a few things:
1. We already knew that the island was significantly smaller than the city from which we emigrated (Washington, D.C.) so there was definitely going to be an adjustment period.
2. We knew that the locals were warm, welcoming & incredibly friendly.
3. We knew that it was a safe place for our children to grow up and bask in the freedoms and luxuries of never having to experience what it’s like to be stigmatized because of the color of their rich, melanated skin.
Despite all the things that we knew, and knew well prior to moving here, we had no idea what would happen on Wednesday, September 21st, Belize’s Independence Day…
A few weeks leading up to Independence Day last week, the island streets were lined with Belizean flags and other decorative ornaments signifying the people’s pride and joy in being from this magical place we now call home. You could feel the excitement leading up to Independence Day as friends of mine had mentioned that this was the first time in 2 years that they got to truly celebrate their nation’s independence, but even then, we still didn’t know what to expect.
You see, growing up in DC, I’d always loved July 4th because of the fireworks, the BBQs and other festivities that I got to participate in but as I grew up and learned about the profound, somewhat tragic distinction between July 4th and Juneteenth, my excitement surrounding the nation’s independence day dwindled pretty significantly. The fact that for over a CENTURY, the US celebrated its independence while the very people who built the country were still enslaved was an extremely difficult pill to swallow and it eventually ignited a sense of profound resentment and distain for the holiday. In more recent years, I'd almost refused to partake in any celebrations surrounding the 4th in an effort to stand in solidarity for my ancestors who were still enslaved while the rest of the nation celebrated a sense of freedom that never applied to them.
With this reality at the forefront of my mind as we approached Belize’s Independence Day, I really didn’t have any expectations as we have not yet gained permanent residency nor have we explored the mainland much so I honestly didn’t feel like we had any “stake” in the celebration. In fact, it was our intention to simply be spectators in all of the events as we still consider ourselves “visitors” to both the island and the country in its entirety.
Boy, were we wrong.
In the days leading up to last Wednesday’s celebration and even on September 21st, some of our local friends offered us flags, t-shirts and other Belizean paraphernalia in order to not just spectate but actually participate with them in the island’s festivities! In fact, I was even asked to participate in the “Carnival” part of the parade where I would have been able to wear a beautifully ornate costume and even learn the choreography to dance among the other Belizean Queens as they celebrate their pride in being Belizean…but I got too scared and said no (I won’t do that again haha).
The afternoon of the Independence Parade, we got the boys dressed in their red, blue and white and CB & I dressed the part as well. I looked around for something with “Belize” on it to wear to the parade and remembered that last year, a (now) friend of mine from Belize who I’d connected with on IG ran into us while we were on the island last year and having heard that we had the intention of moving to Belize, she offered us a Belizean flag and stated “this is for you since you are going to be Belizean soon” (insert ugly cry face). Fast forward to the 21st, I quickly grabbed the flag, tied it around my head and we were out the door.
We waited a few minutes for the parade to pass by and what we saw was truly incredible! Locals, tourists and expats were all dressed in Belizean colors, golf carts lined either side of the narrow, sandy streets, decorated to the nines with flags and other decorations and there was an energy…a most powerful energy…of joy, excitement and happiness that reverberated among the crowd. This was all so new for me!
As the fire engine passed, so did lots of floats with island gals dressed in their Caribbean/Carnival costumes dancing their hearts out to the infections rhythms of soca. Candy was tossed off the trucks so the kids could enjoy a sweet treat and people even moved around the crowd offering shots of rum, tequila and vodka to the adults. IT WAS TRULY A SIGHT TO SEE.
Once the parade concluded, we took the boys to the basketball court, where there was a powder party being held. Having first heard about “powder parties” at Holi (an incredible spiritual festival held in India), I was particularly excited to see the Belizean version of this event! Kids from 17yo down to Zay’s age (1yo) were running around excitedly tossing red & blue powder on each other and all you could hear were screams of laughter and pure, unadulterated joy.
What I particularly loved about this experience was that in such a close-knit community like the one we live in, we got to enjoy the festivities with the very same people who’ve been integral to our positive & smooth transition into island life. We danced with “Grandma” the woman who washes our clothes, got drinks from our neighbor who was bartending, laughed and chatted with our favorite waitresses as we both kept an eye out for each other’s kids, danced even more with our babysitter and communed together with all of the other locals, tourists and expats who’ve made this island either their permanent or temporary home. What I’ve learned is that you have no choice but to see the true humanity in people because unlike in Washington, D.C. where for example you can be served at a restaurant and never see that waiter/waitress again, here…you’re going to run into them again, you will likely see them out with their family and friends and you’ll then have no choice but to see the humanity in who they are and the position they serve as both employees but also and more importantly, as human beings.
The day was warm, vibrant and filled with so much happiness that I’d almost forgotten that we’d originally intended to simply watch everything without imposing our desire to participate in something that didn’t necessarily include us. Although we thought we were only visitors, our Belizean community has proven to us that we are now locals, just like them, that our babies are theirs to “mind’ and that our family is no different from theirs:
& honored to call this country our home.