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Sep 26, 2002

Belizeans in L.A. pursue the American dream

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When media guru Marshal McLuhan articulated his vision of the global village, he probably was not thinking in terms of Los Angeles, California. But for better or for worse, L.A., with its endless summer and equally endless stream of Hollywood movies and television shows, provides the physical and cultural backdrop for a set of values that is increasingly covering the globe. And while Belize’s image on the world’s radar screen barely registers a blip, Belizeans in Los Angeles are forming an increasingly visible part of that city’s cosmopolitan mix. News 5′s Janelle Chanona and Rick Romero last week travelled west to take a closer look at what makes the Belizean community tick.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

From the stars at your feet to the stars at your side, Los Angeles is a typical American city; complete with impressive skyscrapers, congested freeways and of course, a fair share of Belizeans.

After several mass migrations to the U.S., the Belizeans have firmly established themselves as a community here. It is estimated at least fifty thousand Belizeans call Los Angeles home.

But according to Roy Young, Consul General for Belize in the state of California, it has been difficult creating a cohesive community.

Roy Young, Consul General for Belize

“If we would only change the culture of mistrust and division, we can do much more. Basically here, apart from the politics, it’s an attitude of retaining my turf…But if we can speak with one voice, if we form alliances, with countries from the Caribbean, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and if we also establish alliances with Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, then we’re strong, then we have a voice.”

Progress has been painful but persistent, something Edith Martinez of Garinagu Empowerment Movement can identify with…as she faces a challenge common to all cultures.

Edith Martinez, Garinagu Empowerment Movement

“I pray always for this, for more Garifuna people to get involved. There are people who have distanced themselves from the culture, not because…well I can’t say what the reasons are, but come back, we need you, we really do. This is the time that we need to collect all our professionals in various fields so they can come and share this with our culture, our community so that we can better ourselves not just for ourselves, but for society at large.”

And in that society, Belizeans are doing their best to better themselves. They are restaurateurs, shop keepers, music gurus…anything to keep ahead of the game.

Janelle Chanona

“But for those Belizeans pursuing the American dream, reality is actually a far cry from what may be the popular perception at home.”

Eleanor Wade, Joan and Sister Restaurant

“You do have to work hard for what you want. Life is not easy in America. If you want something, you have to go after it and you have to work at it to get what you want. There’s nothing easy.”

When Eleanor Wade first came here as a young woman, she waitressed to make ends meet. Today she manages her own restaurant, specialising in delicacies from home…

Eleanor Wade

“Mostly Belizean foods we sell, rice and beans, fry fish, red snapper, fish balls made out of red snapper, fillet, oxtail, stew beef, the way Belizean like it and chicken. Also we have ducunu and tamales, Belizean style and the Belizeans appreciate that.”

Janelle Chanona

“Is there one dish that the Americans love?”

Eleanor Wade

“They like the oxtail, they really like the way we cook the oxtail.”

All this food is making me hungry soooo…

Janelle Chanona

“Miss Eleanor, you have any meatpie, can I please have one?”

And it tastes just like at home. How do they do that? By using the exact ingredients we do at home.

Janelle Chanona

“What’s your fastest selling item on average?”

Richard Francisco, Caribbean Market

“The fastest selling item is pigtails and plantains. They move like I don’t know what. Sound travels a little bit fast, light and other things, but dem two items they go real quick.”

Janelle Chanona

“You get any special orders for things from Belize, like specific things that people say I wish you would get?”

Richard Francisco

“They mostly like things like the Belizean recado and some of the medicines like gripe water for little babies, worm medicine for little babies. The one for the pregnant women…Dr. Ross pills. If any of those could by, Belizeans buy them a whole lot.”

It doesn’t stop at food…Belizeans can buy everything from cassava bread to imported Mata. But all these comforts of home come at a high price.

Tracy McNab, Bluefield Belize Centre

“Seventy dollars cause we have to pay duty on it to get it up here. This [Mata] is Mr. McNab’s personal sample.”

Janelle Chanona

“People buy stuff like that enough to bring it?”

Tracy McNab

“They have to place their order because it sells out so fast.”

Richard Francisco

“Basically the price is like seventy-nine cents a pound which averages to like two plantains for a dollar. And pigtails is like two ninety-nine per pound, which is about two pieces per pound.”

Pound for pound, Belizean commodities are expensive; all prices are in U.S. dollars. But these specialty stores get the support they need to stay open.

Tracy McNab

“They pay the price but you’ll hear it when they walk out the door. Most of our customers are very loyal customers, but you have a few of them that feel that they still are in Belize and they don’t want to pay the price and they will complain to you. I advise anyone in this field, not to enter. Mainly if you are catering to one set of people, which we are catering more to Belizeans, and if we rely solely on them that’s where we see, like right now for independence, they are all in Belize so business is slow.”

And like businesses at home, changes in the market have brought different obstacles.

Pupa Curly, Seabreeze

“The influx of bootleg CDs and everybody they ma, they pa and de sista have a burna, so it’s kind of like getting a little rougher. But the thing is to diversify in whatever you do and just stick to one thing, and that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing. Do a little bit of promotions here, concert, I like to say little bit, but some people say we do some of the biggest shows for Belizeans out here. I would agree with that and that’s the area I’ve been trying to go.”

Added to that atmosphere, emerges the theory of turf wars.

Pupa Curly

“There are certain aspect of the community that might be trying to do the same thing that you’re doing and they consider it a competition more so than cooperation, and I think that defeat the general purpose of promoting Belize.”

Other Belizean entrepreneurs take on that competitive climate with gusto.

Man

“I’m from Belize but I live in America now. Nuff respect to everybody down there and it’s for real, Little Ashes from Lake Independence, Cemetery Road.”

Janelle Chanona

“Weh you di sell today?”

Man

“I sell clothes. I sell jeans, the latest jeans in America and the latest shirt. The latest shirt in America right now.”

But for many, not everything is for sale.

Martin Pastor, One Love Entertainment

“You could just get out barefoot, walk round, bust batty pants, things like that weh people woulda call you crazy fah (for) out yah. That kind of freedom I’m talking about.”

Robert “Ras Bob” Garcia

“I neva gone home from I come.”

Janelle Chanona

“When you come?”

Robert “Ras Bob” Garcia

“About thirteen years ago. And I hope fu go home soon cause like me brethren seh, I miss that freedom. I mean it rough and tough out yah dah Babylon, but I di heng in deh still.”

So to halt the homesickness, Belizeans party the same way…

Man

“This da weh we wah de drink tonight, ice cold, ice cold Guinness.”

And relax in familiar form… (cricket match)

Janelle Chanona

“Now I notice why this action is going on, there’s a whole other section in the background.”

Julie Casasola, Bel-Cal Cricket Club

“The fun part. These are our supporters, without them, the games would be boring. They come out, they bring out their families, the music, the drinks…they bring out the works. They play a major part in how well our club does also.”

Janelle Chanona

“So what’s the Belizean lesson learnt in L.A.? Amid all the hopes and dreams of what may lie ahead, there’s also a great longing for the people and places they’ve left behind. Reporting from South Central Los Angeles for News 5, I am Janelle Chanona.”


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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