Belize has adopted wholeheartedly, and with much popular support, the rhetoric and practices of the ideologies of development and consumerism, twin hallmarks of a modernizing society. Far-reaching changes have occurred in Belizean society over the last thirty years. The growth of educational opportunities and government employment has facilitated the emergence of a sizable middle-class with expanding horizons of consumption. The meaning of education has also changed. Once revered as a scarce privilege guaranteeing social advancement, education is now perceived as a birthright and an essential tool for entering the job market.
Education, migration, and shifts in economic activity have enhanced the power and influence of previously marginal social groups and regions, particularly the Mestizos who inhabited the northern districts. Intermarriage and political mobilization have helped at times to cut across ethnic boundaries and create a nascent sense of national identity. Satellite television, tourism, and emigration have strengthened an already close connection with North America, while immigration has anchored Belize more firmly within Central America and its culture.
But not all of the changes have been positive. Many Belizeans of more than thirty years of age noted the breakdown of traditional notions of authority, respect, and propriety and the obsessive fascination of Belizean youth with North American material culture. Other blamed mass emigration for the dissolution of the Belizean family and a subsequent rise in juvenile delinquency and crime.
Ethnic tensions still regularly intruded into many areas of social interaction and indeed showed signs of intensifying. Possibilities for social mobility existed, but only for some individuals. The school system produced continuously growing numbers of graduates for whom jobs did not exist while it simultaneously excluded growing numbers of the poor from educational opportunity. Emigration to metropolitan countries often siphoned off people with the highest qualifications and the most ambitions, while immigration from neighboring republics promised to reshape the cultural orientation and, quite literally, the complexion of Belizean society.
As Belize entered the 1990s, it faced a number of serious challenges, some of which were common to all postcolonial societies and some of which were the product of the country's unique history and geography. Like other developing societies, Belize faced the challenge of meeting the expanding needs and desires of a rapidly growing population at a time when the country possessed limited natural, financial, and human resources.
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