Immigrants in Belize
A Spanish accent
How foreigners are transforming a small English-speaking country
Belize now has more native speakers of Spanish than of English or its lilting cousin, Belizean Creole. English remains the lingua franca and the only official tongue. But Spanish is gaining ground: many posters for an election on March 7th are in Spanish and Dean Barrow, the (creole) prime minister, reads translations of some speeches. Naturalisation ceremonies are bilingual, and speaking English is not required for citizenship. Schools teach in English, but Spanish lessons are mandatory.
Migrants are also redrawing the map of the country. While in the rest of Central America people are moving from the countryside to cities, since 2000 the urban share of Belize's population has fallen from 47% to 44%, as immigrants have set up border towns. In Cayo 7,000 new households have sprung up. Many are in Salvapan, a Salvadorean district complete with tortilla shops on the edge of the capital. It is likely to grow further: land stretching miles into the jungle has already been divided into lots.
The population boom brings relief and strain. Most migrants are of working age, and keep the sugar, banana and citrus industries competitive by toiling for low wages in harsh conditions. But with almost a quarter of Belizeans telling census officials they are unemployed, not all locals welcome the new arrivals. And as Spanish becomes more important, monolingual creoles are losing service jobs.
Along the border, Guatemalans poach game and plants from Belize's national parks. Last month Belizean soldiers killed a Guatemalan while he harvested palm leaves. The state has had to build roads to remote migrant outposts in the jungle.
Land may yet cause rows as it becomes scarcer. The smart concrete homes of Salvapan, with swings in neat gardens, are a class above the clapboard houses in the creole south side of Belize City. Nigel Encalada of the Institute for Social and Cultural Research, a state-run body, says Central Americans have snapped up land and home loans faster than locals have. “Some say Belizeans have too much pride to apply for help, whereas immigrants are willing to stand in line,” he says. And few creoles seem inclined to move out to the sticks.
Despite these frictions, relations between ethnic groups are generally good. It helps that political parties are not divided along ethnic lines, and that politicians have courted the newcomers' votes. Giving out land is a favourite tactic: in some regions you can tell when a district was built by checking when the politicians depicted on its yard signs were in power.
In January Belize made over a thousand immigrants citizens, just in time to register them to vote. Some congressmen reportedly paid the $150 fee themselves. With a welcome mat like that, Belize's immigration boom is unlikely to slow.
**** This article above neglects to mention the 5000 WHITE, MENNONITE, blue eyed immigration of 50 years ago. Their number now is between 35,00 to 50,000. They have been prolifigate breeders and are famous agriculturists and industrialists. Nor, does this article mention the wave of Chinese that came when mainland China and Taiwan were at war over seats in the United nations. Peace and re-approachment caused that migration to stop; but nowadays, there is a movement to bring 30,000 Chinese families, which if it occurs, will make a new wave of change in demographics of this multi-lingual and multi-cultural country. Expatriate retirees continue to move into Belize also. For the better medical service locally than available in the USA, and cheaper living, due to low food prices. Meals may be standardized, but the country is self sufficient in food production.