I was born in the second poorest country in the western hemisphere. My mother took great pains to ensure that my two sisters and I were shielded from the specter of impoverishment. Against of all odds, she graduated from university with honors and secured an amazing job in a country racked by oppressive paternalism and endemic sexism. Still, it was only a matter of time before I began to realize the reality of poverty and misery engulfing my childhood environment. In 2001 my life took a dramatic turn when I was presented with a green card, allowing me to legally immigrate to the United States. In one fell swoop, I was whisked away from my childhood home to the storied land of opportunity. I have now lived in the United States for almost half of my life. I have availed myself and my children of all the advantages of living in the United States: the veritable antithesis of Honduras. Yet I still have dreams of my homeland. It has proven impossible for me to completely forget the land of my birth, and to ignore the stark contrast of my present home to my former. And now, as I assess the changes that have occurred during my absence, I cannot help but to inwardly mourn Honduras’s steady decline into violence.
Honduras’s crime rate has grown steadily over the past decade. Top journalists, the gay community, human rights activists, and the poor have been targeted by the nation’s powerful criminal element. Even its most prominent citizens struggle to insulate themselves from the heightening violence. Maria Jose Alvarado, crowned Miss Honduras in April 2014, was found shot to death in November of the same year. She was due to fly to London for the Miss World contest.
Today, Honduras claims the world’s highest murder rate: 103.9 murders per 100,000 people. 84% killed by firearms. Organized crime gangs continue to gain more influence over a country already permeated by systemic corruption. The criminal gangs routinely collude with the police. 149 civilians were killed by officers from January 2011 to November 2012, according to Humans Rights Watch.
This recent upswing in crime & corruption started in the wake of the 2009 military coup that ousted then-president Manuel Zelaya, sending him into exile abroad. The coup was significant because it opened a vacuum in civil society that was readily filled by criminal gangs seeking to tighten their grip on power. Meanwhile, the military government was busy seizing control over private media outlets and telecom companies, disrupting international reporting and communication with the outside world. Living in the U.S. at the time, I was unable to establish reliable contact with my family members still residing in Honduras, including my sister, Ninette, and her family.
The situation worsened when we learned of the kidnapping of a family member. He was eventually released unharmed after my family agreed to pay the kidnappers’ lavish ransom. Yet, in spite of his safe return, the fear and psychological stress created by the social & political turmoil kept us locked in a state of tense uncertainty about my family’s continued safety and the future of our country. My family is no strange to such atrocities; it goes back as far to the violent times during the Nicaraguan revolution, led by the Sandinista National Liberal Front, where many members of my family of my mother’s side were brutally murdered during the revolution.
Honduras is known for its beautiful beaches, its Mayan and Spanish heritage, our poets, musicians, journalists, and our solar power projects (44% of the electricity comes from solar power). Where I come from, one learns to have humility, and overwhelming gratitude for the little things in life. Grateful to witness the golden sunsets while drinking our famous coffee. Life is tough in Honduras; there is no question about it. But a nation is more than just a strip of land drawn on a map of the globe. It’s comprised of the country’s people, its history, culture, and collective values. Honduras is a strong nation that is rallying to the call for justice and administrative reform. With the support of the free world and a greater emphasis on transparency, Honduras can continue the struggle for justice and democracy started by the founders of my nation.
The poor are many
impossible to forget.
as day breaks,
they see the buildings
where they wish
they could live with their children.
can steady the coffin
of a constellation on their shoulders.
They can wreck
the air like furious birds,
blocking out the sun.
But not knowing these gifts,
they enter and exit through mirrors of blood,
walking and dying slowly.
one cannot forget them.
-Roberto Sosa, Honduran poet.
Stephanie Ortez is a quirky mother of two wonderful boys, addicted to books and coffee. She works with homeschooled students for the George Washington University school online and the International Academy. Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder in her mid-twenties, she is an advocate for those with bipolar disorder and member of Stigma Fighters. She also uses writing as therapy on her blog https://stephanieortez.wordpress.com/. She collects glass bottles and enjoys photography as a hobby.