The young woman walked up to the display of photographs at the new home of the San Pedro House of Culture, across from the town’s football field, and let out an exclamation of recognition.
Excitedly pointing to a framed black-and-white photo of a dapper young man in white shirt, tie, wire-rim glasses and snap-brim Panama, she said, “That’s my grandfather!”
Glancing at another photo she added, “And that’s my uncle!”
Wilema Alamilla, only moments earlier was passing by on Back Street in her golf cart. Now she had unexpectedly stepped back into a very familiar time in San Pedro history. And the history of her family.
The San Pedro House of Culture is presenting this week a photographic exhibition of the local fishing industry from the 1940s-60s era, with an emphasis on the founding of the landmark Caribeña Producers Cooperative Society Limited in the early 1960’s.
Caribeña was only the second fishermen’s cooperative in Belize and it signaled a tipping of the economic scale in favor of the men and women who went to sea and risked their lives to bring home the catch.
Wilema’s grandfather, Octavio Alamilla, was the co-op’s first secretary and her uncle Alfredo Alamilla was on the first board of directors.
The exhibit started out Tuesday evening in front of San Pedro Church and migrated to the new House of Culture — a building that previously housed construction workers for the football field and lagoon waterfront redevelopment. It is a part of the week-long Dia de San Pedro 2014 celebration and runs there through June 29.
Should you stop by, seek out Mito Paz who is coordinating the exhibit and wrote a brief history of the Caribeña cooperative. He can deliver a spellbinding narrative of the fishermen and their struggles with the seas, equipment and unscrupulous buyers who inspired the creation of the cooperative.
Today, Mito and Rauel Cho were busily setting up the easels and photos, hanging banners and organizing the new digs of the House of Culture — the first independent quarters for the government agency charged with celebrating, educating and preserving the profound and colorful arts and history of San Pedro.
Rauel said there are many such exhibitions planned in the future. “Today it is the fishermen,” he said, “then we have the faces of San Pedro, and a photo exhibit of the townships. And many more. It will always be shift, shift, shift.”
To emphasize this point, he ran back to a storage room and pulled out images from two potential exhibits. One was of the pre-Lenten Carnival, “back before men dressed up as women,” he said with a chuckle.
The other was a picture of a very pious procession — taken many many years before the roads were paved. It was of a bygone Dia de San Pedro, this week’s celebration of Saint Peter, namesake of the town and Catholic church and patron saint of fishermen and women.
As Wilema Alamilla looked over the many portraits of family and friends, she noted proudly that the connectionto the sea has not been broken. “My father is one of the biggest lobstermen on the island,” she said, reeling off a list of his clients that includes El Pescador, Elvi’s and Bluewater Grill.
This exhibit promises to resonate similarly all across Ambergris Caye. Every islander has a connection to the sea — be it familial, spiritual, recreational or financial. Visitors, too, are drawn here by their love for the sea and this exhibit promises to deepen that appreciation.
As I was leaving the House of Culture, a weather-beaten man who had been scrutinizing the pictures passed close by.
To no one in particular, Rudy Neal, soon to turn 60 years old, said softly, “History. History. History. It is a beautiful thing.”
It is indeed, Rudy. It is indeed.