The Middle Sector

Belize Table of Contents

The middle sector of Belizean society was considerably larger, more diverse, and less cohesive than the elite. People in this group lacked the jobs, social status, or economic assets that were typical of the elite, but they were still better off than the rest of society. Some families were "poor relations" of the elite class; others had acquired wealth and prestige over a few generations through higher education or economic success. This large group encompassed the traditional middle class as well as elements of the working classes: not only small businessmen, professionals, teachers, and mid-level civil servants, but also other government workers, smallholders, skilled manual workers, and commercial employees.

The middle sector was stratified according to wealth, level of education, and the status difference between manual and nonmanual occupations. Still, a shared belief system that emphasized cultural respectability, upward social mobility, and the importance of education unified this group. Even more than middle-class families, some working-class families often made great sacrifices to ensure that their children received the best and most extensive education possible.

The middle sector of Belizean society in the 1980s was largely the product of the massive expansion of educational opportunities and the corresponding growth of the "modern" sector of the economy between 1950 and 1980. But as an increasing number of Belizeans earned degrees from education institutions and as the local job market became saturated, families in this group became more concerned in the 1970s and 1980s with maintaining their social position than with upward social mobility. Faced with limited economic prospects in Belize, large numbers migrated to the United States.

The middle sector was culturally diverse and included members of all Belizean ethnic groups, although not in proportion to their numbers in the general population. Relatively few Mayan or KekchÝ families, for example, belonged to either the middle or upper working classes. Historical correlations between occupation and ethnic identity endured in the 1980s despite social changes. Middle-sector Creoles were most likely to work in the professions, especially law and accounting, the civil service, and the skilled trades. Considerable numbers of Mestizos were employed by the government, as well as in small business and farming. Garifuna were particularly well established in the teaching profession.

Ethnic and religious sentiments divided the middle sector to a certain extent. The nationalist movement of the 1950s drew most of its leaders from the Catholic-educated Creole and Mestizo middle class. The Protestant-educated Creole middle class, however, opposed the movement's anti-British, multicultural ethos and the projection of a Central American destiny for Belize. Still, political affiliation defied narrow ethnic or racial lines.

British and North American ideas, particularly those of the United States, largely shaped the beliefs and practices of the middle sector. These influences stemmed not only from the formal education system, but also from the popular culture of North America conveyed through cinema, magazines, radio, television, and migration. These cultural ideas were as much African-American as Anglo-American. Beginning with the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, middle- and working-class Creole youth increasingly adopted an Afrocentric cultural consciousness that distinguished them both from their elders and other ethnic groups in Belizean society.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress