Maria Vasquez - Cultivating crops and cures for the cayes

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 34            October 7, 2004

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Maria Vasquez

Ambergris Caye prides itself in being the hub of Belize’s tourism industry. Hard work and dedication are needed to keep the busy island in perfect shape for its year-round visitors. Aside from restaurants and hotels, a number of small enterprises help create the wonderful business community in "La Isla Bonita." This week’s personality is a strong woman who through perseverance has added her "little grain of sand" to build our tropical paradise – Maria Vasquez of Maria’s Mini Market.

   Graciela Bernal and Guadalupe Valdez celebrated the birth of their first daughter, Maria, on December 27th, 1954. Born in San Salvador, El Salvador, she grew up the oldest child in a family of 12 girls and four boys. From a very young age, Maria was taught the importance of hard work.

   Maria’s family experienced many financial constraints, which prevented her from attending school. She was responsible for helping her father tend to the crops and assisting her mother with the household chores. As the eldest child, Maria also took care of her younger siblings; changing diapers, feeding and bathing her brothers and sisters were all part of her daily routine. In the afternoons, Maria sold fruits and vegetables at a stall that her family rented at the local market.

   When she was 17, Maria’s mother passed away so her brothers and sisters were sent to live with their grandmother. Maria, on the other hand, was betrothed to an older gentleman, who uprooted her from her life in El Salvador and took her to live with him in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. There, she was taught to grow cotton, corn, rice, coffee, etc. "It was hard labor. I learned to till the soil, and harvest the produce once it was ripe," she said. After their crops had been cultivated, Maria would head to El Mercado Santo Tomate Castilla (a market place) to sell her products. Up at the break of dawn, she would sell produce all day and into the night. She exclaimed, "I recall sleeping only three hours on most nights!"

   During this time, Maria was blessed with four wonderful children: Jose Jeremias, Rosavilma, Yesenia, and Alexander. Years later, she ended her marriage and found herself at a crossroads; a single mother with four children. Maria tried desperately to make ends meet. "It was never easy, and whoever tells you that it is a breeze, is lying. Being a mother is one of the most difficult tasks that there is; to do it alone is even harder. However, with love for our children, anything can be accomplished!" she exclaimed.

   In October of 1979, Maria met the man with whom she shares her life with, Jose Vasquez. Not long after, the couple was married, and together, they have raised her four children along with two children from his previous marriage, Roxanna and Jaime Josue.

   Civil war erupted in Guatemala and life became difficult for the family. Looking for a safer place to live, Maria and Jose decided to move their family to Belize, first settling in Punta Gorda, located in the southern district of Toledo. Without her own land to grow fruits and vegetables, Maria traveled back and forth to Guatemala, purchasing cultural "knick-knacks" to resell to tourists visiting the picturesque village she called home.

   In order to provide for their family, Maria and her husband also ventured north to Belize City, selling their goods to both local residents and tourists. Finding this to be a lucrative business, they decided to open a booth in the Old Market and sold everything from jewelry and hammocks, to crafts and paintings.

   At the market, Maria overheard friends talking about San Pedro Town and decided to check out the tourism mecca of Belize for herself. In 1990, she finally made the trip and fell in love with "La Isla Bonita" at first sight. "I loved the simplicity that life on the island offered. The beaches and climate made me feel right at home," she said. Soon after, Maria uprooted her family once more and settled on Ambergris Caye where she found that there was a good "market" for produce. Instead of selling her knick-knacks, Maria and her husband opened Maria’s Mini Market where they proceeded to sell a variety of fruits and vegetables to local businesses and residents.

   Today, after 14 years, Maria continues to sell produce to the public. She has branched out as well, and now sells a variety of juices to refresh the thirst of the island community on all of its hot, sunny days. Pineapple, watermelon, orange, lime, star fruit, tamarind, and cucumber are just a few of the juices Maria’s Mini Market offers.

   A respected healer, Maria also specializes in herbal medicine and healing, and is a well known mid-wife. "My medicines are all natural. Nature has provided us with the best healing methods known to man," she commented.

   In her free time, Maria enjoys spending time with her 31 grandchildren and tries to instill in them the value of a sound education, respect for their elders, and pride in who they are. "I teach them to be themselves because only then will they be truly happy," she ended.

   Maria has found the peace and serenity she was searching for in her life by moving to San Pedro. With her knowledge of agriculture and healing, Maria Vasquez has found a way to heal the hearts and bodies in "Our Community."



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