In Spanish, the term “Mestizo” means “mixed” as in mixed race, but this is not a very apt description for the Mestizo people of Belize. In reality, the Mestizos were originally immigrants that began arriving in Belize after fleeing from a race-based civil war in neighboring Mexico in the 19th century called the Caste War.
Initially, the Mestizos brought much of their original culture with them, including the Catholic faith and the Spanish language. Over time, however, the Mestizos have integrated into the wider Belizean society, many having adopted other Christian faiths as well as being bilingual in both English and Spanish.
Today, the Mestizos are primarily located in the two northernmost districts of Belize, Corozal and Orange Walk, as these border regions were largely uninhabited in the mid-19th century. The Mestizos were instrumental in Belize’s burgeoning agricultural sector, especially sugarcane production. The Mestizos now form the second-largest cultural group in Belize after the Creoles.
Mestizo culture is rich with a blend of Catholic and indigenous traditions. Perhaps their most well-known story tells a tale of Xtabai (pronounced ish-ta-buy) who was a powerful spirit that lives in the jungle. According to legend, the Xtabai waits at night on the edge of town for an intoxicated or lost man to wander by. The Xtabai then lures the man into the jungle, sometimes just to taunt them, but sometimes to hurt or even kill them. During the day, however, the Xtabai takes the form of a tree or a snake.
Mestizo music is heavily influenced by Spanish traditions. No Mestizo gathering would be complete without some guitar music, especially a song called the Serenata (Serenade) that was traditionally sung by young men outside the bedroom window of their beloved. Mestizo music often recalls the rollicking rhythms of flamenco, rumbia, and salsa with lyrics that tell stories of rural life, love, and death. Other typical Mestizo musical instruments include harps, trumpets, and violins.
Mestizo cooking is similar but distinctly different than Mexican food. Mestizo villages often have a large communal kitchen where tasty treats are made such as tortillas, tacos, and tamales. Mestizos are also renowned for their textile work and handicrafts that feature simple yet elegant floral designs.
The lovely beach resort of Chabil Mar on the Placencia Peninsula in southeastern Belize is a great place to stay for visitors who want to learn more about Belizean culture and people, including the Mestizos.