The Mestizo Culture of Belize
From a Spanish word meaning “mixed”, the Mestizos of Belize are descended from unions between Spanish colonists in the New World and indigenous Maya people. Oral histories and written records tell the tale of Gonzalo Guerrero, a Spanish sailor who survived a shipwreck off of the coast of Belize in the 15th century. Guerrero was initially taken as a prisoner by the Maya but later was embraced for his outstanding military prowess.
Guerrero eventually climbed the ranks of Maya society to become the political and military advisor to a Maya ruler named Nachancan in the state of Old Chetumal (today’s Corozal and Santa Rita area). Guerrero married Nachancan’s daughter, and their offspring were the founders of today’s Mestizo people.
Today, the Mestizos can be found throughout Belize but mostly live in the country’s northernmost Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. Often described as Hispanic, today’s Mestizos generally have an olive skin tone and slightly wavy or straight hair. Many Mestizos practice a form of syncretic religion that blends Catholic beliefs with ancient Maya traditions.
For much of Belize’s history, the northernmost districts were sparsely populated. This changed after the Caste War began across the border in neighboring Mexico in the 19th century. Indigenous people in Mexico’s south rose up against their lighter-skinned oppressors and either left or fled to the safety of Belize’s northern districts. At the time, the border between Belize and Mexico was more fluid, but the turbulence engendered by the Caste War led to the official demarcation of the border between Mexico and Belize.
The Mestizos living in Mexico were a farming people, experts in tilling the rich soil. Many of the transplanted Mestizos founded sugar plantations in Belize’s northern districts, sugar cane becoming an important cash crop in a region that had historically depended on hardwood logging. Even today, Orange Walk Town, the capital of the Orange Walk District, is known as “Sugar Town” because of this.
Today, the Mestizos exhibit a blend of cultural characteristics inherited from their Spanish and Maya origins. Mestizo foods have a strong Maya influence, many of the most popular dishes are based on corn (maize), the staple crop of the ancient Maya. Many Mestizo dishes are similar or identical to iconic Mexican foods like tamales and escabeche (a soup made with onions). Most of today’s Mestizos speak Spanish as their first language and are officially members of the Catholic Church.
The Mestizo constitute an important contribution to Belize’s rich melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. Mestizo farmers are renowned throughout the country for keeping the people fed on a delicious diet of fresh fruits and vegetables.