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by Susana Hernandez, December 2016
Luis Rodriguez was born in the small pueblo of San Lorenzo in Honduras. He belongs to the poor class, which would be the working class if there were actual jobs for them in the scarce gang-run world of Honduras. With no job, he had to take care of his family, which was only getting bigger; he decided it was time to come to the promised land of America to save enough money for his family. As he was taking his trip, though, he was reassured that the journey was way too dangerous to risk bringing his family with him but was worth coming into the U.S. by himself. Because Luis, like many others, could not afford to keep waiting on the Honduran government to react to their amount of poverty in his country and the increase in gang control there, he was convinced that coming to the U.S. to work and save money for his family was the best solution possible.
The reason why Luis wanted to migrate to the U.S. was based greatly on the violations he and his people faced from their government. In Honduras, the government acts as if it does not care for its people, as most of their population is unemployed, poor, or oppressed by ruling gangs. As Luis says, “Well, uh, my motive and reason on why I made my decision to leave my country was because in my country life is very hard economically. There’s no work and well you can’t live well like that.” If there were a good economy that produced jobs in Honduras, Luis would have no need to come into the U.S to look for work. As states Professor Leah C. Schmalzbauer, author of the article “Family divided: the class formation of Honduran transnational families,” which sets out to explain what it is like for transnational families from Honduras with a parent in the United States, “Unemployment in Honduras is high, especially for youths, and most jobs that are available do not pay a living wage. ‘Good’ jobs in Honduras tend to be reserved for the nation’s elite. Thus Marcos’s family, like most poor families in Honduras, lacks the social and cultural capital to maneuver within the rigid hierarchical system.” Professor Schmalzbauer gives us an understanding of why a lot of poor families are looking to the north for a better chance at giving their families a healthy way of living. Luis had no other choice but to risk his life coming into the U.S. “Well, um, I entered illegally right because, because it’s very difficult to come to this country, right, risking life a lot in this journey but sometimes the necessities come in our country and with all the violence there is, a lot of gangs bringing fear to our homes. Soon [one] makes the decision to come over here knowing that the journey is very difficult.” This is an example of what some people have to go through to make sure they have a chance of survival in their own home. People should not have to be living in such fear that their only option is facing a different type of danger.
The constant stress and fear that comes with poverty and violence can greatly impact the lives of the residents of Honduras in a negative way. It is not a healthy lifestyle to be constantly living in fear, knowing that one day something bad can occur to you or your family. When I asked Luis about the chances of gangs threatening his own kids, he responded, “Well, uh, for real, that would never even cross my mind, think of such thing, right? I only pray to God that he takes [and] protects my family, and cares for them I always think of my children. Well, right now they’re studying in school and for that motive I came to this place. Right?” I concluded that this is his coping mechanism: to simply not think of the bad that can happen but to give thanks for what he has. Professor Leah C. Schmalzbauer further acknowledges this:
“…while stress is indeed shared by all members of poor transnational families, research shows a tendency for migrants working in the USA to relativize their communication with family, hiding the harsh reality of their lives in order to protect their loved ones at home from worry, and also to project an image of success.” (332)
When you are going through a tough situation, you can either give up or try your best, and working hard is what these migrants are looking for so they use the best methods of survival, which include positivity and resilience. Since migrants go through a lot of anxiety, many, just like Luis, have learned to stay positive and hope for the best while also working to achieve that.
Most migrants face stress not only in their home countries they are leaving but also while in the unfamiliar land of America, where they are considered to be “illegal aliens.” Once they are relieved from the horrible experience of crossing the border, they have to live in constant fear of getting caught by the authority, as they are considered to be some of the most wanted criminals. I asked Luis if he had any fear of being caught by the authority; he looked at me and then stiffly said, “Well, yes, I do have fear of getting caught and deported because I know I am an illegal, and what I did is illegal, and I know anything can happen at any moment.” Constantly living under such stress is another obstacle many migrants go through and for some the level of traumatization can reach high peaks. Living with fear is not easy as it can cause the person to be put in danger more easily. In the book Coyotes: A journey through the secret world of America’s illegal Aliens, Ted Conover writes about his experience of crossing the border and living like a migrant from Mexico to the United States. On one part of his journey, he helps some of his Mexican friends reach LA but while on their way Ted gets assaulted by a man in a shop:
“I looked around at my friends. None of them were moving all just staring at me. Why weren’t they helping me?… telling the counter man to get on the phone with the police. I saw him pick up the phone, and then I realized what the problem was. The Police. Commotion. Attention. This was exactly what this journey was supposed to avoid.” (82)
This is only one of many other dangerous events that can happen from the fear of being deported, but migrants like Luis take this risk and try to overcome it to reach their goal of getting enough money to go back home and live well.
The people of Honduras have been greatly affected by the unequal distribution of income, which has made many desperate enough to leave their own homes in search of work. Luis mentions to me, “When they see the people barely start to work and they are already trying to do impuesto guerra, to charge a fee for working and that’s what makes a lot of people decide to leave because gangs don’t even let you work right.” The gangs only make it more difficult for most of the population, and according to the CIA is, 60 percent are poverty stricken people who try their best to hang on to their homeland, but are only further stripped of the little money they can make. The only programs being developed by the government are from foreign investors who are creating supposed “Zones for Economic Development and Employment” or ZEDES. Maya Kroth from Foreign Policy is author of “The coast of Honduras could be the site of a radical experiment,” which takes a deep look into “charter zones’” (work cities) being created by foreign investors and what the outcomes can be. Kroth argues that the jobs created in these cities are made only for highly “skilled” professionals: “These poor people, what can they offer to the ZEDE. Here there are no architects; there are no engineers. The people here are illiterate.” She also worries that there are “weak legal protections for workers.” Since the investors don’t care about helping Honduras’ economy, they make cities full of work that is not obtainable for the people who live there, only creating more frustration for the people.
His country is neither safe economically nor physically or mentally due to the constant threats of violence from the growing gangs. Luis says that a lot of the gangs that are taking over other countries like El Salvador are also taking over his:
“Yes, for me it is. This is also happening here. There are a lot of minors, and the majority of the gangs are all minors underage, right? For the same reason, to get power, they threaten the families and like that they start bringing in the minors to the gangs. They, uh, uh— that’s the business for them: that’s what they do, recruit minors so they can become bigger, pues. Right, to have more power.”
Families like Luis’ can’t even feel calm in their homes without fearing that the gangs will one day take their boys from them. The gangs are a part of their everyday life with the government watching the takeover quietly. I asked Luis if anyone in power does anything to help the people from being oppressed. “They do nothing and this always happens, and the people that suffer are the humble people, right, who are poor, who can’t defend themselves.” The gangs know that they can control poor countries like Honduras because its people are poor and easy to manipulate. This produces a much harder life for the natives who have no choice but to leave their homes in order to look for a better life.
Luis says his government plays a big role in the abuses he and his family receive, causing him to temporarily move to the U.S alone. The government is the only one with the power to be able to sustain its people by creating jobs, and protecting them from danger. “Well, uh, for me it’s the government that don’t…that don’t create these projects for work right well that makes a lot of people jobless with nothing to look for.” The government knows its people are suffering greatly from poverty and are being abused by gangs but has done nothing for the last “twenty years.” Even workers in their own government admit to the lack of help received. The news report website USA says, “Drug cartels bribe security forces and judges to look the other way, according to the World Bank. Honduran security chief Oscar Álvarez resigned in September because he said he lacked the resources to stem police corruption.” There are a lot of people taking advantage of Honduras’s weak stability making it only worse and affecting only the people at the bottom of the economic system. After facing poverty for so long, many people like Luis decide to head north for money, only to face more danger.
Luis knew the journey to the U.S would be difficult considering the stories he had heard from past migrants, so he decided not to risk bringing his family along. He didn’t quite know how risky it would be until he made his own journey, and after the second trip he says, “ Well, uhh, how do say? Well, for me it was very hard, very hard having to make it back here in this country for the reason of how you get treated during the journey” The journey was made worse by the people who control the paths into America, the whole system that is made to get the most money out of the immigrant without a care for if they make it alive or not. By now Luis figured that this journey was going to be too dangerous to bring all his family with him. Even the people (Coyotes) who were supposed to be guiding him would take advantage of his desperation. “Well, we arrived in Macale. There we stayed for a moment shut in again. Sometimes we only ate for a while everyday, but we were locked in without nothing again.” Luis explains that for the second time the coyotes kidnapped him and others, leaving them naked, cold, and scared until a family member could pay the fine to let him go on the rest of the journey.
No matter how hard the situation is in Honduras, Luis and his family would never want to live anywhere else. They love their country so much and for this reason the Honduran people are hopeful and patient waiting for better days to come. Luis knew that he wouldn’t want to be permanently away from his home so he decided to come alone to be able to earn the money they needed as fast as possible to make his stay in the U.S. shorter. Hein de Haas and Tineke Fokkema from Demographic Research, authors of “The effects of integration and transnational ties on international return migration intentions,” which sets out to explain several theoretical interpretations of factors that make migrants intentions to leave and return, support the statement of Constant and Massey that says:
Interpretations associated with conventional neoclassical theory assume that although migrants may leave spouses or children at home, their goal is generally to achieve higher lifetime earnings through permanent settlement abroad. Migrants are therefore willing to endure long separations until arrangements can be made for family reunification, which remains the ultimate goal. (757)
They explain that when a parent leaves their child behind it gives them greater motivation to work hard to make their child’s life better, but to also be able to go back home and be reunited with their family. The theory addressed describes the situation that Luis goes through with his family, which he left behind as way of keeping them safe. Since giving them a better life is his goal, he is not planning to stay in the U.S. for too long.
When people like Luis come to the United States they only have one objective: to stay working for as little time as possible with the greatest amount of savings to bring back home to their families. My research partner’s growing poverty due to the lack of basic government support and protection from conquering gangs, robbing the people of the little they have; made him decide to migrate to the U.S. to work. While some might think that Louis should have stayed in his country and try to solve his problem with his own government, he and his people have been patient about receiving their government help and can’t afford to wait for any further response. There are a lot of people in Honduras facing poverty and threats from the government and rising gangs.
Winders,Jamie. “Representing the Immigrant: social movement, political discourse, &
immigration in the U.S South” Southeastern Geographer 51.4 (2011): 596-
Agren,David. “Honduras suffocating in grip of drug violence and poverty” U.S.A TodayNews. U.S.A Today, 3 June 2012. Web. 17 Nov. 2016. http://USAToday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-03-06/honduras-dr
De Haas, Hein, and Tineke Fokkema. “The Effects of Integration and Transnational Ties on International Return Migration Intentions.” Demographic Research 25 (2011): 755.Academic OneFile. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.
Graham, Elspeth, and Lucy P. Jordan. “Migrant Parents and the Psychological Well-Being of Left-Behind Children in Southeast Asia.” Journal of Marriage and Family 73.4 (2011): 763-87. Google Scholar. Web. 2 Dec. 2016.
Schmalzbauer, Leah. “Family Divided: The Class Formation of Honduran Transnational Families.” Global Networks 8.3 (2008): 329-46. Ebsco. Web. 8 Dec. 2016.
Kroth, Maya. “The Coast of Honduras Could Be the Site of a Radical Experiment:.” ForeignPolicy (2014): 60. GALE. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
Conover, Ted. Coyotes: A Journey through the Secret World of America’s Illegal Aliens. 1rst ed. New York: Random House, 1987. Print.
CIA. “Honduras.” Central Intelligence Agency. U.S.A Gov., 2016. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.<https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html>.
First 30 min. of interview:
What’s your name and where are you from?
Hello my name is Luis Rodriguez and I was born in Honduras,
How do you feel today on this day?
J:well uh I feel good, thanks to god for being here, thank god who has given me health and strength to keep moving forward
Why did you decide to move into the U.S for the first time.
J: well uh my motive and reason on why i made my decision to leave my country was because in my country life is very hard economically, there’s no work and well you can’t live well like that
Why did you decide to leave your family behind and leave to the U.S alone?
J: well to be honest i took this decision like I said to come to this country for the motive to .. to give an opportunity to offer a better future for my family right, for my kids and because in our country it’s hard to live life
How did it feel to leave your family behind for a while?
Well umm, i felt very sad right , mainly nobody would like to leave their family and kids right, alone but for the same reason right to give them a better future. Coming to fight in this country to give a better future to the next generation
How did your family feel when you first told them the news about migrating to the US.?
J: well uh when they realized right when i arrived at this country to were really happy well they gave god thanks because thanks to him I accomplished to make it to this country and well uh economically our family will be better of
How did you enter the U.S the first time you entered?
J: well um I entered illegally right because it’s very difficult to come to this country right risking life a lot in this journey but sometimes the necessities come in our country and with all the violence there is , a lot of gangs bringing fear to our homes, soon makes the decision to come over here knowing that the journey is very difficult t,
Yes, if you can tell us specifically how you entered?
Well uh i entered like every other illegal crossing the border with coyotes right that sometimes kidnap us and .. and like i say well uh you run a lot of risk
When you first entered what was the first thing you wanted to do or accomplish?
J: well first I came to this country and the first thing I did is give thanks to God thanks to him I made it to this country, because without him we aren’t nothing and thanks to him I came to this country with the objective of pushing my family forward and help out my family economically
So I know this is your not your first time coming here, you already accumulated some money and went to visit your family before right?
J: ahh Yes well I worked hard and fought hard and made a little savings and I decided to go back to my family
How was it like to be able to see your family again?
J: well uhh obviously right for me was a feeling full of happiness right my idea wasn’t to come back so fast but I had my children eh over there in my country and I wanted to see them so bad
How did you decide to use your savings back home with your family?
J: well uhm yea like I tell you well I made my little earnings right, and with this, I tried to build them a roof over their heads so that they could at least have a home right because over there it’s difficult there’s some people who don’t even have a house there and well with the little I earned I accomplished making them a house
Can you further describe the situation in Honduras?(how hard it is to live their?
J: yea like i tell you it’s really difficult to live in Honduras first because of the amount of violence there is a lot of crime going on. Secondly there isn’t a lot of job programs or any jobs at all it’s hard to find job at all right so sometimes one takes the decision, uh not only me millions of people take the decision to leave the family to give them a better future right
Do you think that there isn’t many jobs because the government does not do anything or what do you think is the biggest cause to this ?
J: well uh for me it’s the government that don’t .. that don’t create these projects for work right well that makes a lot of people jobless with nothing to look for ,
What type of violence is there?
J: well ehh there’s a lot of violence that exist the kidnapping, the gangs there are a lot of gangs and like I tell you sometimes one risks to come and leave our children there our children that are growing up, and it scares me right for my children, you already know that there is always people that that always try to make others go in the wrong path just like them so that is what happens all these gangs try to recruit a lot of minors right and this is what exists a lot in our country a lot of gangs robbers and well all of that
I have heard of the gangs in El Salvador that instead of the government running it’s them taking over, and they kidnap a lot children to put them in their gangs and do you think this is what’s happening in Honduras right now?
J: Yes for me it is, this is also happening here, there are a lot of minors, and the majority of the gangs are all minors under age right for the same reason to get power, they threaten the families and like that they start bringing in the minors to the gangs, they uh uh that’s the business for them that’s what they, recruit minors so they can become bigger pues. Right to have more power
Yes, and if one of the gangs tried to get your family or your children what would you try to do ?
J: well uh for real real that would never even cross my mind think of such thing right I only pray to God that he takes protects my family and cares for them I always think of my children, well right now there studying in school and for that motive I came to this place right, in our country uhh I would not be able to give my children the education they need so well my children go straight to the house from school and I always advice them that they always come straight home from school because of the dangers, and like I tell you I think about that I can only ask God that he takes care of my family and that never happens
How much do you communicate with your family?
J: eh well eh I communicate with them often not daily right but yes often mostly to advise them right because my first child is already a young man and I have to advice him a lot
When you were already in back in Honduras from your first trip here why did you decide to come back to the U.S?
J: well for the same reason right I decided to return to my country because I wanted to see my family after a long time of not seeing them right and you know that over the money does not last well I build my family a home and we’ll my earning started disappearing until they finished so then i made the decision to come back to the U.S
How hard was it to return to the U.S for the second time?
J: well uh for me it was very difficult very difficult because like i said i come with a coyote and he only robbed me of all the little money i had and i was sent back right the immigration got me and i had to back home and there i made the decision to come try again because i had already lost all my money so i had to come back well uh thank god on this trip I made it to the U.S
How did end making to the U.S this time?
J: well eh yes the same way, i had to pay for another coyote right and like I said money doesn’t last and the same thing in Honduras if you have a little money and want to build a business or something to survive and like i said again the gangs don’t let us work safely well when they see the people barely start to work and they are already trying to do impuesto guerra” charge a fee for working and that’s makes a lot of people decide to leave because over there the gangs don’t even let you work right
Does the government do anything to help its people from these gangs?
J; well this has been happening for years and the government doesn’t do nothing, honestly they do nothing and and this always happens and the people that suffer is the humble people right who can’t defend themselves
If you could describe the worst trip you had while trying to make it to the U.S?
J: well uhh how do say well for me it was very hard very hard having to make it back here in this country for the reason of how you get treated during the journey uhh well we first put in a container by the coyote put many of us in a container and in our way it broke. It was hard to breath and there was like 80 people .. a lot of people were fainting there was no oxygen , we were in there 3 full days without food only water until we got to the border. There we were in a house practically kidnapped because they had us in a random house without clothes only underwear so we wouldn’t escape supposedly, they wanted more money from us, then with guidance we had to cross the river, well we arrived in “Macale” there we stayed for a moment shut in again, sometimes we only ate for a while everyday, but we were locked in without nothing again, then they let us go and made us walk to Houston and yea we suffered a lot because we had to keep running from immigration and eventually lost our coyote who left us, I reunited only with 3 other men so then me and the rest were left in the desert without nothing but we had to keep walking and with a phone we were being guided by the coyotes we walked a lot through the desert without eating drinking and the thirst was so real that we drank our own sweat the thirst we couldn’t handle and we found a lot of dead people on our way which made us more desperate but like i say with the help of God we survived because we ran the risk of becoming one of those skeletons but God is big and thanks to him well uhh we made it were we planned to make it and the coyote called us a car to Houston, and from the same happened we were brought into a house and had us there kidnapped naked left in a room locked, our family had to pay a lot of money in order for them to let us go, right we had to pay or else i don’t know what woulda happened.
So they only told you guys about the first part of the money not the rest right?
J: yes they only told us about the first amount that’s only one thing but then when one on their way it’s another thing
What were you thinking throughout your whole journey?
J: well uh in reality when one is in this type of journey a lot of things are running through your mind right mostly about our family because one comes suffering but you’re also thinking about what can be happening to your family so all of that is in our mind and one doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the journey bc a lot of people have misfortunes like a rattle snake was almost going to bite me once there venomous snakes that a lot of people have died from their bite so all this comes across one’s mind right what could happen to us during the journey but like i say GOD is big and thanks to him we made it and survived, we always had to think positive have faith in God and that we would make it out and like i said we were walking for a very long time in the dessert day and night you could imagine what was going on through our heads right and plus seeing all these dead bodies lying around in the path, one starts thinking but like i said with a positive mind god will comfort and guide us
So did your partners also stay positive or was their thoughts different?
J: well uuu well in a sudden moment they do right but uhh we support each other, in my case there was 4 of us, all four of us men united well gave each other strength, thank to god all 4 of s survived, but there was a moment when two of them couldn’t take it any longer, they didn’t want to keep walking right so then like i say God was always with us and uh uh we came across a highway and i don’t know i went walking along the road and its like God made us find water in that highway because I saw a flag of the red cross and I saw a blue bin that said water right so I desperately started running for it and i found two gallons of water my partners didn’t even notice so i went towards them right and when they see me with the two water bottles right ehh well they were so happy so happy when they saw me with water because it is our life basically we all need it and there was no water anywhere else nothing, and thanks to God he put us that water and thanks to that water, thanks to the red cross that put it there thanks to that we survived
And from there did that give them hope to keep going?
Jose: yes yes because we drank water right we took a break to relax and tried to use the water wisely so it can last, we tried to take care of it because we did not know how much longer we were going to walk apart from what we had already walked right and well we cared for the water so much that we were drinking it little by little to last and still like that our water finished and we kept walking and thanks to God when we arrived at the objective they picked us up we were done because we had been walking for almost two more days without water, right
Did you guys not think about the idea of asking for help from a car in the highway?
Jose: uhh well uhh it would have been the only solution if we hadn’t had found water that would have been the solution to go and ask for help but thanks to God well we found water and decided keep on going right because our objective was to come to this country the United States, that you know that here well thanks to God this is the place of opportunities. To help our family
Where did your journey end to get here, when was the moment you knew you had made it?
Jose: well uhh i felt happy i felt happy and gave God thanks when I came here where my family is where my brothers live in San Francisco once there i knew thanks to God I am now safe right
Being here now what is your path that you are trying to take now?
Jose: no well uh well my dream like all illegals right well my dream is work right to work to push my family forward right more than anything my children right to support my children and give them education because I know that her the little that I get over there in Honduras is plenty and only like that only can i give education to my children and my goal to keep moving my children forward, to prepare them well more than anything is why I took the decision to come for my children, to be something in life right
Do you have any sort of fear of getting deported while working here?
Jose: well yes I do have fear of getting caught and deported because I know I am an illegal and what I did is illegal and I know anything can happen at any moment.
Do you think that its true that this country gives opportunities to everyone, ex immigrants?
Jose: well in reality yes, well in my case yes i know its the country of opportunities right ehh well here i know that no matter here there is jobs lots.