Clifford Palacio Interview Transcript Los Angeles. Los Angeles. June 2011. Interview conducted by Ben Petersen and Athena Petersen for A Story About the Garifuna documentary film.
Ben: Mr. Palacio, first of all will you say and spell your name. This is just so that I can kind of have it in the..
Clifford: C-L-I-F-F-O-R-D P-A-L-A-C-I-O.
Ben: Perfect. Um tell me a little bit about your history, like where did you grow up, where are you from, give me the condensed version of Mr. Palacio.
Clifford: Ok. I was born in Belize in a small village in which is called St. Bite, that is the on the peninsula, the Placencia peninsula. I grew up there until I was the age of fourteen and I left there to live in an Indian village with my uncle who was a teacher and um. I spent a year and half in in this village, the Indian village which is called Cardonia was the name of the village. From there I went to Dangriga town where I finished my elementary education. That was way back in nineteen forties. Forty-six. (laughs).
Ben: And how did you end up in the United States.
Clifford: Oh well, I end up in the United States because um well I before I came to the United States I worked with an insurance company called British American Insurance. And I, with that company, I made a trip to Puerto Rico in nineteen sixty seven and it was pass… we passed through Miami and um having notice the lifestyle in Miami, I thought it would be good for me to come here and live in the State so that was in nineteen sixty seven in nineteen seventy, three years later I decided I would make a come to the United States to see, to improve our standard of living and possibly got get and opportunity to give my children a good education. Before I came here my brother…
Ben: let me stop you for just a second. We’ll let the phone ring
Clifford: Oh yes.
Ben: I’ll make you say what you said again. Just a second. And then you can look at me the entire time, you don’t need to look at the camera at all. No worries about the camera.
Clifford: Oh ok. Two, three of my brothers were living in California and one of my sister I belong to a family of eight, six boys and two girls. One of my sisters was here, so it was not difficult for me to adjust to find a place to live until I was able to find a job. And that was way back in nineteen seventy I came here.
Ben: And tell me again why did you come?
Clifford: For better opportunity to improve our standard of living and to give my children the opportunity to get a good education.
Ben: Very good.
Clifford: And fortunately for us, all of my children have have received a high school education and a college education. All of them have had at least two years of college. One of them has a Ph.D. for that matter and one of the girls has a bachelor’s in business administration and she works for the Federal Government.
Ben: How does that make you feel, I”m sure you made some sacrifices to come and to work.
Clifford: Oh yes, it was a big sacrifice.
Ben: How does it make you feel to know that your children have really taken advantage of I guess the American Dream you could call it.
Clifford: Well it it is rewarding, I feel accomplished because that was my wish I insisted that they went to school to take advantage of the opportunities that are here. And and that’s what they did.
Ben: Um, tell me what role has education played in your life. It seems like, you were a teacher, you went to this college.
Clifford: Wow, that’s a good question. Education has allowed me to be able to explore, to be able achieve a lot and to be able to raise a family and and education has also given me an opportunity to share my knowledge with people and which, something which I enjoy doing. And education has opened up a lot of opportunities for me.
Ben: Very good. Tell me, you got a pretty good education when you were in Belize um how did that education at the very beginning set the course for your life?
Clifford: That’s interesting that you ask that question um in in Belize at that time during my day there were no high schools and districts. All the high schools were in Belize City it was not easy for people from the villages or from the district towns to send their children to Belize for high school education because they had to pay for boarding and lodging. They had to pay for schools and tuition. For in my case because we were under the the Catholic mission the Catholic Mission gave us a scholarship, gave me a scholarship to go to Belize in nineteen forty nine to study to to receive a high school education. And that, that was a great blessing, which which has helped me to achieve a lot in life.
Ben: Tell me about starting the language classes here in LA. how did that start?
Clifford: Well, I’ve always been interested in in preserving the Garifuna culture and the Garifuna language so in nineteen ninety nine I started teaching Garifuna at a small place, at a business place called one love for a whole year every sunday, I would gather a group of group of students and we would go through the lessons. And we, they enjoyed it for a whole year, free. And um after that, after the school was closed the, I went to teach with the Ruben had another business place right the down from from one love and we had classes there for about two months and that that was after two months that class was closed and um. Later on, uh Cheryl and her group wanted to have a invited me to teach, teach Garifuna for her group so I volunteered and that is what we have now in session. Every Saturday there is a there is a Garifuna class going on.
Ben: How does it make you feel to know that this language, as a result of teaching this language that new Garifuna, like younger generations of garifuna are learning the language.
Clifford: yes, we we have um we have uh tried to keep the language alive because we know that we are losing the language a lot. There are very few people who who can converse in Garifuna freely because the the parents don’t speak Garifuna to them anymore like in in days gone back so there is need for uh a school to promote, to preserve the language.
Ben: Let me stop this for a second.
Clifford: That’s a Biblical name.
Athena: It is, it was the brother of Moses.
Ben: She knows her stuff, she’s reading the old testament. Ok, we’re going to have you look here again. Ok. I want to ask about your family um. Tell me about your family.
Clifford: Well, where do I start?
Ben: How many kids do you have?
Clifford: We have nine kids, we have six boys and three girls. Um we are married now for 56 years on May the twenty fifth, last May. Um.
Ben: Is that common to be married that long or to get married that sort of thing in your culture?
Clifford: it is common especially those of us who are Catholic to have big families. We we, the Catholic Church does not promote birth control, does not believe in that. We don’t believe in practicing birth control.
Ben: Very good. how does it make you feel. How do you feel around your family? i mean, what value does that add to your life?
Clifford: I feel good, I feel that I’m sharing sharing the goods things that I’ve learned that I’ve acquired with my family. I make certain that they um, that they receive an education, that they are disciplined at home and um that they learn to live with others, respect people, respect authority and um.
Ben: Tell me um what would you say I guess, you’re looking back at a long life now what has been your greatest accomplishment?
Clifford: Hmm… educating my children, giving them an opportunity to be educated. Encouraging them to study to work towards uh a specific goal in life. To become um good citizens.
Ben: Um now, do you kids speak Garifuna? did you teach them?
Clifford: Um they don’t speak Garifuna, but they understand Garifuna. Because they are at home I my wife and I speak Garifuna, not to them, but whenever they want to know something in Garifuna they would ask, and I would be open to let them know, give them a translation. I call this a Garifuna home because I expose my children to the to the music, to the stories, the history and the and um to the practices, the different practices that we have in Los Angeles.
Ben: very good. Um. Tell me a little bit about creating your dictionary. um back in the fifties. How did that start?
clifford: Oh there was a Jesuit scholastic who who wanted to compile a Garifuna dictionary, so he collected group of Garifuna young men among whom I was selected and we put we put together the words and we ended up with the dictionary, a working dictionary.
Ben: And how did you collect the words, how did it happen?
Clifford: Ok the words he had he had a a guide um a plan of how to put the words together, follow a regular english dictionary and he asked us what it translations so we worked on those and that’s what we did.
Ben: How does it make you feel to know that you were kind of a pioneer of the Garifuna language.
Clifford: it feels good. Looking back I say that um we should have we should have done a lot more research in the history. We knew very little about our our background then. I only knew that we were Garifuna that we spoke a different language, we had a different culture from the other group groups in Belize. It was later on we heard… we learned the history how we ended up in Belize for instance. Where we came from that hardly mentioned that we were deported. That our ancestors were banished from St. Vincent. Those things were never mentioned. And we didn’t ask neither.
Ben: Why didn’t you ask at that time?
Clifford: Good question, I wish I knew how to answer that one. I don’t know, I guess we were not that we were intimidated, we just didn’t ask.
Ben: Now that you know where you’re from and I guess the research has been done there. Why does that history, that Garifuna history so important?
Clifford: Well it’s important because every individual on the face of the earth needs to know himself needs to know his origin. The more you know about yourself, the better you can relate to other the better you can understand other other ethnic groups their culture, their tradition. It enriches your life.
Ben: Um. What does it mean to be Garifuna?
Clifford: It means that I belong to us a spec… a specific group of people. A a I know I know. I feel satisfied to know my origin, where I started, who are my relatives as a matter of fact um I enjoy studying my family tree, building my family tree, as as you go along, you learn history, stories about what happened in the past.
Ben: And as you read those stories, what are you thoughts, as you put that tree together, what are you thinking and what are you feeling?
Clifford: There is a certain amount of satisfaction that comes to the individual as you as you relate to your past and it gives you an opportunity to compare the past with the present, how people have struggled, how people have worked and how people have interacted with one another.
Ben: Um let’s see. I want to ask um. What has motivated you to start that tree or to start that dictionary, what has been your personal motivation?
clifford: It’s I call it a passion uh that I should know more about my language, that I should share my language with my fellow Garifuna and I would like to see the Garifuna language prosper. I would like to see more people talking it, more people enjoying the storytelling for instance in Garifuna, enjoying and participating in the things that our ancestors left for us.
Ben: Is there anything else that I should ask you about? That you can think of that might be interesting.
Clifford: Um. I can’t thin of anything.
Ben: Let me ask you another quick question about your relationship with your wife. Tell me how you met, how you fell in love.
Clifford: She fell in love with me. No, (laughs).
Ben: That happened with her too.
Clifford: We met in Dangriga and um we became friends and for a long time we were friends for six years before we got married. And uh ever since we got married we have lived a harmonious life. And um we started having children and it has been for us, for the most part smooth sailing. We’ve learned to adjust to one another. She understands me, I understand her and we share a lot of things in common. Background, she came from a conservative family. I came from a poor family, a larger family, she’s the only child but um we see things in common, most of the time we agree on issues, raising the children, we work together. We, it has been wonderful so far.
Ben: And then how does that, kind of having the same kind of Garifuna culture how has helped or been challenging, how does that play into your marriage?
Clifford: That’s a good question. When we got married, she wasn’t very fluent in Garifuna because she grew up in a small village, an Indian village and she, I can say that her first language was Spanish and not Garifuna or English. And uh I enjoyed helping her to speak in Garifuna, so since we got married we practice a lot of talking Garifuna and up to now there’s uh. Sometimes she would use a masculine instead of feminine word in Garifuna and she she’s a good student. (laughs).
Ben: And you would correct her?
Clifford: Yes yes, I would correct her. yeah I would correct her.
Ben: Good, very good. I think that’s about it. Athena, to you have any questions?
Athena: No that was good.