When my father was a child in Tela, Honduras, he owned one pair of shoes. They were black dress shoes, the kind designed to accompany your Sunday best; the other days of the week he would tread barefoot down dirt roads to get from place to place. At the age of 5, he began slaughtering animals and bringing the meat to the market. My father’s hands and feet are quite callused because of this. I remember running my fingers over the yellow hardened skin at the juncture of his palm and fingers. It never dawned on me until now that it’s a mark of how he’s been working his whole life.
“That was normal for me,” he once told me. “It was all I knew.”
When my father tells me about Honduras, he doesn’t speak from a place of trauma. Rather, he waxes poetic about how the sands of the beaches are whiter than the snow that covers the ground during the winters here in the northeast, and how the ocean is a clearer blue than the skies that kiss the tops of the skyscrapers in downtown Boston. His favorite story to recount is the one where he climbed to the top of a ripe mango tree, filling himself with the sweet fruit until he got sick (the consequence was a prompt beating from his mother).
“It was like an adventure, but I would hate to go back there now.”
I know the reason all too well. These days, I dread seeing Honduras in the headlines. I am tired of hearing about it being “one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere,” “the murder capital of the world,” and other dehumanizing nicknames for a country that did not bring its circumstances upon itself. I don’t want to see pictures of my people suffering, wading through rivers and burning under an unforgiving sun to escape the long-term consequences of los conquistadores and el pentagonismo.
My father was born in 1958. Four years prior, Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala, was overthrown by the U.S. government because he wanted to stop the United Fruit Company from monopolizing the country’s banana production. Every time I ring up bananas at the grocery store I work at, I notice “Honduras” printed on the stickers. I think of the worn, brown and black hands harvesting bananas, contributing to a global economy that does not want to include them. My parents came to Massachusetts, and stayed because the United States was—and still is—in Honduras.
“You think I would be here if there were nothing in Honduras?” My mother scoffs as she washes the dishes, shaking her head. “I hate this country. It’s crooked. It’s rigged. And I can’t go back to Honduras ‘cause it’s crooked and rigged there ‘cause of Americans.”
When you are a legal resident or citizen in a country that is actively committing crimes against your people, there is a rage you have no choice but to carry with you.
I put this rage into action the summer before my sophomore year of college. One balmy August morning, I stormed my way out of my apartment to the nearest train station. There was a protest against family separation taking place on the Boston Common, and I was more than eager to show up and show out. My sign read, “The U.S. has been abusing Latin Americans for years but it took us being put in concentration camps for all of you to realize it.” I held the sign against my chest while on the train, the text pointed toward me for fear of provoking one of the passengers; a previous experience on the Red Line ended with a white woman in cheetah print telling me to “go pick cotton” because I had condemned her for calling another passenger an anti-gay slur.
On the train, I couldn’t help noticing other people’s signs. One poster had a 45 stylized as a swastika; there was a large red “X” over it. “ABOLISH ICE” and “DEPORT TRUMP” were crowd favorites. I pursed my lips, bringing my sign closer to my chest. The signs around me had nothing to do with the kids because it was never about the kids. They had nothing to do with decrying imperialism because guess what? It was never about that, either. It was self-interest. These people took this moment to make their disdain for Trump vocal and then go back to doing whatever they usually do. The white moderate have been perfectly fine with the quiet deportations, the military coups, and everything in-between. But something like family separation? It destroyed their idea of what America always was to them, and that’s what brought them to action.
I, however, don’t have the luxury of seeing the U.S. as an egalitarian utopia. This is not my home, and it never should’ve been. I was there because I hate that I have to slap “American” on the end of “Honduran” like those two identities aren’t at war with each other every day. I hate that I’ve yet to ever visit. I hate that my parents haven’t gone back since leaving, and they have no desire to. But I can see it in the both of them that they long for home, that they’re praying for the day when the burden of indescribable poverty and corruption will be lifted from the place where they once came. The waves lapping at the sandy shores of Honduras call to them, but my parents cannot answer back.
Unsettled, I followed the rest of the crowd as they spilled out of the train and onto the platform. It was already quite muggy underground, so I knew the heat would be unbearable above. I noticed how a few protestors averted their gaze from the words on my sign as they walked.
Good, I thought. Feel uncomfortable just like I do every day in this country.
When I made it to Fanueil Hall, the starting point of the march, I noticed it was packed. Among the clusters of people, I saw volunteers distributing cold water bottles. A woman was handing out small American flags and she handed one to me.
“No thanks,” I said.
“Come on,” she pleaded, “we have to reclaim our flag from those Nazis.”
I stood my ground. “That’s not my flag.”
Something flashed in her eyes—it wasn’t hatred. But she seemed almost appalled at how I didn’t take a flag.
I moved to a clearing in the crowd and held up my sign proudly, turning occasionally to show it to everyone in the vicinity. A few wandering eyes when to it before flicking away. Some gave brief compliments such as “nice sign” or “right on!” An old woman in a sunhat asked to take a picture of it, but then she did something odd. She placed her hand on my shoulder and whispered:
“I am so sorry.”
It was a very unwelcome gesture; I hate when strangers touch me, and I didn’t take very kindly to it seeing as white women (and men) had violated my personal space in such ways before.
I gave her a thin-lipped smile. Sorry for what? Was she sorry for Honduras’ poverty? Was she sorry for the family separation at the border? Was she sorry for the ripe bananas she purchased at a Star Market that are a product of unjust labor? Because I am not sorry for being Honduran, and I will never be. I feel sorry for the people who don’t see Honduras beyond its reputation as a third world country, for those who have little to no knowledge of its geographic and cultural beauty. I am sorry for the Americans that will never eat baleadas in the morning while watching the sun greet them as it ascends upon the horizon.
I’m well-aware my parents had to leave Honduras to guarantee a future for themselves, and for that, I am immensely blessed. But I can’t help but lie awake at night wondering what my life would’ve been like if I were born and raised there. If the course of history went differently, who would I be? I long to know myself, and I feel like part of it has been robbed from me. I don’t want to look to the contemporary U.S. Latino culture to find it–in Shakira and Gloria Estefan’s faces, I can’t find my own. I stick out among Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and Cubans. There are no concentrated enclaves of Hondurans or Central Americans where I reside, so I am forced to piece it all together myself until I can make sense of who I am between being Honduran and American-by-no-other-choice.