September 15, 2014
Please allow me to publicly express support to the use of Garifuna and other local languages in public spaces. Above all, right now, kwik, fast and hurry—APOLOGIZE! Yes, you, First Caribbean Bank … you who have, admittedly, sponsored numbers of Kriol, Garifuna, and other local cultural functions in the 17 or so territories you operate in. But that just does not matter anymore. Why did you allow this linguistic hurricane to bubble and boil from what, perhaps up until your reaction you could have handled with far more sensitivity, humility, and, well, just good manners, man! You see, me, Silvaana Maree Udz (nee Woods), avid radio, newspaper, and local TV news viewer, can only critically respond to media reports, as I was not in Ms. Martinez’s shoes when you—First Caribbean Bank—were threading upon her dignity as a human being and when you were mashing up her right—her inalienable, fundamental, constitutional right—to use her language in public spaces. At the very, very least, publicly apologize to Ms. Martinez, to the Garifuna community, and to ALL Belizeans. Whether or not you feel culpable, or whether or not you feel protected by your own self-acclaimed inadequately-defined language policy, the reality is you have, whether advertently or not, hurt us. Not just “us” as your Belizean clients, but “us” as your Caribbean folk.
In January 2011, the Charter of Caribbean Language Rights was ratified at a historic meeting in Jamaica that culminated several months of pre-work by regional subcommittee members. The 2011 Charter on Caribbean Language Rights established this fundamental right to use one’s local and territorial languages in any public space as critical to the furtherance of democratic societies. It was signed unto on January 14, 2011 by three Belizean educators: Sir Colville Young, Belize’s foremost linguist; Dr. Rosalind Bradley, the then Literacy director at the Ministry of Education’s Literacy Unit, and by Dr. Silvaana Udz of the National Kriol Council. The Charter is promoted through the International Center for Caribbean Language Rights headquartered at UWI, MONA campus. The Charter draws on several UNESCO position statements in its call to have governments of the region create the enabling environment for establishing translation and other such mechanisms in organizations, companies, and forums that deal with health and hospitals, economic and financial transactions, political representation and discussion in the national assembly, and in cultural, educational, and other similar life processes. For more, go directly to:<http://sta.uwi.edu/fhe/dmll/documents/CARIBBEANLANGUAGECharter.pdf>
So, this is my visceral reaction to the “rokshan” First Caribbean Bank has been causing in the minds and hearts of all Belizeans. Yes, the incident that sparked the ever simmering bubbling and boiling kettle of language and racial discrimination in Belize (“Who me? Racist? Luk ya, I have Black friends.”) Right. Like window dressing. Belize’s two traditional Black groups, Garifuna and Kriol, have been locked in an intimate dance of self discovery over the decades, and, check this: if out of the total disrespect and arrogance displayed by First Caribbean Bank in its response to what has emerged as clear-cut language discrimination against at least one employee (ok, allow me to be judge and jury here: I trust that Sandra Miranda, Roy Cayetano, Myrtle and all mi other Garifuna brethren and sistren already don check out di human rights violation information).
And di irony of it all … if I never know better, I would think that with a name like First Caribbean, such a bank would embrace all things Caribbean. But, they are based in Barbados ... so what else could one expect? (Ok, forgive that barb, my Bajan brethren and sistren … but , really, “dehn noh kaal unu “Little England” fu notn!”
The Dickie B. TV show of Monday Sept. 15, 2014, amplified some of the details of the incident regarding language discrimination, vis-à-vis Garifuna use by an employee at a First Caribbean Bank in Belize. “Disrespect and arrogance … This is a socio-political issue” said Mr. Swaso, who is also the current mayor of Dangriga. “This is a national issue,” he reiterated. I certainly agree. Garifuna language da fu aal a wi; and eevn if we noh talk it, we dance to it, sing to it, love and laugh to it and sway eena St. Martin de Porres Church to the “Our Father” in Garifuna as we hold hands with our Garifuna brothers and sisters. And, on the same show, Sandra Miranda of the National Garifuna Council, spoke of the rational approach being taken to deal with this critically important issue to our national identify. Each cultural spoke makes up the Belizean wheel of life. As Miranda noted, “action points are developing … no divide and conquer.” She spoke of a coalition of Belizeans (count me in!) as “we won’t win the battle individually.”And Miranda clearly is not governed only by her rational mind on this issue; she also worked with the late, great patriot, Hon. Philip Goldson, so we know her heart is engaged too.
I feel so strongly about this issue because it impacts ALL of us in terms of our local language use. Yes, we need global languages like English and Spanish, but there is no need to stamp out our lovely, functional, beautifully expressive local languages in so doing. Of particular note: the Garifuna language is one of the critically important pieces of the Belizean multilingual fabric that defines us as a nation and is also an acclaimed part of UNESCO World Heritage designations. It is with pleasure that, on behalf of the language arm of the National Kriol Council, the Belize Kriol Project, I also take this opportunity to again publicly thank and acknowledge the National Garifuna Council and the late Mr. Augustine Flores for the very valuable advice and support the Garifuna Council gave to the start up of the National Kriol Council in the early 1990s. Moreover, Belizean icon the late Andy Palacio and so many other Garifuna musicians , teachers, artists, clergy and others, through their continuous promotion of Garifuna culture and valiant efforts to preserve, use, and teach the Garifuna language, provided the National Kriol Council and its early stalwarts like Leela Vernon, Bro. David, the late Dr. Ruby Marith (Perriot), and the late Philip Goldson, with solid guidance on positive, effective ways to encourage all Belizeans to love their home languages even as they equally engage in learning the much-needed global languages today of English and Spanish. Additionally, the sharing of expertise and Kriol literacy materials with the Kriol–speaking communities along Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast was as a direct result of the contact established between Andy Palacio and Roy Cayetano of the Garifuna Council and local Kriol Council members, a regional relationship that has strengthened the continued development with the Kriol dictionary and other publications. Language is an integral part of a culture and when the language ceases to be or its use is threatened, the existence of the culture is in jeopardy.
I close by quoting from the press release sent out by the National Kriol Council last week: “The National Kriol Council of Belize … extends solidarity to its Garifuna brothers and sisters to endure the process of taking any means necessary to ensure the Garifuna language or any other language in Belize is never restricted from use. The use of one’s first language—the language of one’s home and community—is a language right, as indelible a right as the right to life, education, freedom of speech, religion, and all the other fundamental rights embraced in our Constitution.”
Lover of Local Languages