Last weekend, I celebrated Belize’s 32nd Independence Day in Los Angeles, “the other half of Belize” as a friend calls it. It was my first time being surrounded by so many Belizeans in the US.
And while I would have loved to be back in the Jewel to experience Independence Day as I have in the past, I thought it would be intriguing to spend it with expats — those far from their home who take the time to celebrate and remember their land. I wondered how different it might be, and how much more or less moving. Besides, I was missing Belize and I had a feeling this was as close as I could get for now.
From a red carpet Saturday dinner and dance, to a “funday Sunday” music and food festival — both organized by the Belize Cultural Foundation and sponsored by Delta Airlines — whether I went around taking a few photographs, meeting folks, listening in on crowd interviews or looking around the venue filled with over a thousand Belizeans cheering under flags big and small, one word came to mind that summed up the entire weekend of celebrations: love.
Love for country
Like the many faces of Belize filling the room – diverse as ever – holding hands and waving their flags as they march side by side.
Like the lady in her custom made flag outfit, or national football team members Ian Gaynair and Woodrow West, who traveled from >> Belize to receive yet another award.
Love for music and dance
Like the ladies of Elegant Flair Dance Company, who must have rehearsed hundreds of hours for that special day. And the bands and artists – local or visiting from Belize – performing every Belizean sound from brukdown to punta.
Love for art
Like the multitude of vendors displaying Belize souvenirs and creative gear. My favorite: Blu Hole Apparel‘s unique graphic tees – with all sorts of fun messages in Creole.
Love for family
Like the families decked out in red, white and blue. Or the strollers I navigated around at Sunday’s all-day, in-and outdoor festival — mothers enjoying live music with their kids on a crowded floor.
Love for community
Like the lady from the Belize Cancer Society of California, raising funds for women in Belize to receive gynecological pap smears, for early detection of cervical cancer. Or the lovely “Miss Mar,” who along with her husband, runs Mar’s Caribbean Gardens — the most delicious Belizean and Caribbean food I’ve had in the US so far — and juggled work and play all weekend so she could attend the celebrations (she even brought a change of clothes for the event).
Away from Belize, here I was, surrounded by all of the wonderful details that make Belizeans such a warm and special people. I ate my fry jacks and stew chicken, swayed to brukdown and calypso, and shared stories of my experiences in Belize all weekend long. I even hit the red carpet – a nice change from six months in shorts and flip flops while working on my guidebook edition.
And to top it all off, I had time to enjoy the beaches of San Diego, Santa Monica and Venice.
A big thanks to the Belize Cultural Foundation for my media pass to their events, for a fun and well-organized Belize Independence weekend stateside, and for giving me a slice of my second home.