by William Maxwell
Honduras is a Central American country bordered on the northwest by Guatemala, on the southwest by El Salvador, and on the southeast by Nicaragua. It has a population of 5.8 million and an area of 43,277 square miles, about the size of Virginia. The population is composed of 89 percent mestizo (people of mixed ancestry, often Indian and Spanish), seven percent pure Indian, two percent black, and one percent Caucasian.
It is not known when the geographical area that is now Honduras was originally settled by humans. However, archaeologists have recently found evidence of complex society that is at least 3,000 years old. Over the millennia, city-states gradually developed in the vast geographical area that includes large parts of present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, and western El Salvador and Honduras. These city states had many common cultural characteristics, including a common spoken and written language. People of this region called themselves Maya.
One of the centers of Mayan civilization during its Classic period, between 250 and 900 A.D., was Copán, a metropolis on the Copán river in what is now western Honduras. Copán boasts the largest collection of mural hieroglyphics in the Americas. In recent decades, anthropologists and archaeologists have been able to decipher large parts of the hieroglyphic code. What they formerly assumed to be a collection of astronomical and religious treatises has turned out to be a comprehensive history of Copán.
The Great Hieroglyphic Stairway, on one side of a pyramid in central Copán, is a collection of about 6,000 glyphs, where one glyph is equivalent to a word, idea, or sentence. They tell the story of the 16 god-kings of Copán's Classic period, of their births, ascensions, conquests, defeats, and deaths; and of the significant political, social, and astronomical events during their reign.
The Maya, through these writings, portrayed themselves as a warlike people, with a rigid class system and a very high level of civilization, involving complex religion, science, art, and architecture. For reasons not well understood, the major centers of Maya civilization, Copán, Teotihuacan in Mexico, Utatlan in Guatemala, and many others, lost their populations and became ghost towns in the twelfth century. Christopher Columbus, in 1502, found Honduras to be a land of peoples who lived mostly in small villages and hunted and farmed for their food.
THE COLONIAL ERA
In 1524, Conquistador (conqueror) of the Mexican Aztecs Hernan Cortés sent Cristóbal de Olid to conquer and rule Honduras in the name of the Spanish Crown. When Olid arrived in the region, he decided to rule it for himself and declared independence from Spain. Cortés sent an army to take it back, but Olid was assassinated by rivals before the army arrived. In the meantime, Cortés decided to go to Honduras himself, with another army. When he arrived, he consolidated Spanish power over Honduras and returned to Mexico. Shortly thereafter, Spain appointed Diego López de Salcedo as the first royal governor of Honduras.
The sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries saw relatively little change in this land. In the eighteenth century, gold and other mineral deposits were found in the central mountains and near the Caribbean coast, and the Spanish colonists employed nearby Indians in the mines. As mining expanded, larger numbers of Indians had to be found to work in them, and forced labor, severe working conditions, and forced migration led to the deaths of large numbers of Indians. Indian revolts then led to massacres of many other Indians at the hands of the armies of the Spanish colonists. Mistreatment of and violence against the Indians remains to this day a problem in Honduras.
In the eighteenth century, most colonists settled in the highlands near the Pacific coast, in cities including Tegucigalpa and Comayagua. The Caribbean coast was and is inhabited by the Mosquito and black Carib Indians (and more recently by banana plantation workers, managers, and owners). An island chain off Honduras's Caribbean coast, the Bay Islands, was also settled by the black Caribs, who are part Indian and part descendants of African runaway or emancipated slaves.
THE INDEPENDENT REPUBLIC OF HONDURAS
In 1823, the Central American provinces of Mexico broke away to form the United Provinces of Central America. Then, after years of interstate tension, squabbling, rewriting of the constitution, and moving of the capital, the Central American states decided to form independent, sovereign nations. Honduras declared independence on October 26, 1838, and adopted a constitution as the Republic of Honduras in January of 1839. The constitution of 1839 provided a single legislative body, a president elected by a majority of the registered male population, and a supreme court whose justices are appointed by the president; thus, it was a constitution in part inspired by the U.S. model.
Wars, military skirmishes, coups, and political intrigues across regional borders have been common in Central America since initial settlement. The Conservative and Liberal parties had been active for some time even before the founding of the Republic. When the candidate of one party was winning a campaign in one country, the presidents of the Central American countries who were members of the other party frequently took political and sometimes military action to prevent his election.
Throughout its history as an independent republic, Honduras has had to cope with an understandably hostile Indian population, a colonist population that was frequently at odds with other cultures within Honduras, meddling neighbors, and a massive U.S. economic, political, and military influence over the country. These are some of the reasons Honduras has one of the world's smallest annual per capita gross domestic products ($1,090 U.S. dollars in 1995), which is the value of what the average Honduran worker produces in a year.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
In 1899, the Vaccaro brothers of New Orleans, Louisiana, founded the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company to ship bananas and other fruit on the Caribbean coast of Honduras to the United States. After a few years, when the company wanted to begin to cultivate its own fruit in Honduras, the Honduran government leased land to the company at a very favorable rate, and the company employed Mosquito Indians to work on the plantations they created. Other fruit companies followed, and Honduras's Caribbean coast has become a vast network of giant plantations owned by U.S. companies. La Ceiba and Trujillo became huge ports where the fruit was and is still today loaded onto ships bound for the United States and countries around the world. To this day, Honduras charges American companies very low taxes for the export of fruit and charges no taxes at all on profits from sales.
Over the last 95 years, the fruit companies have built schools, hospitals, and housing for their workers and connected cities in the region to a railroad network. It has been the region with the country's best infrastructure and standard of living, even for the peasants.
In 1956, the problems with political instability that Honduras had had since its foundation came to a head. The 1954 presidential election was inconclusive; no candidate won a majority of votes. As had happened in 1923 in a similar situation, the Honduran Congress, the arbiter of such dilemmas, was not able to reach a decision on any of the candidates. Lozano Díaz, the vice president in power after the president had had a heart attack and had been flown to Miami, unconstitutionally proclaimed himself president and arrested the leaders of principal parties, labor unions, and farmers' unions. As the political situation became more and more repressive in Honduras under Díaz, the military seized power in a bloodless coup and replaced him with a junta, a governing council of military officers. The next 40 years would see a revolving door leadership between the military- and civilian-elected governments.
The situation in Honduras continues to be a product of its past. Political instability is still one of the country's major problems. Throughout the 1980s, for example, the war on Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista government by the United States, using Nicaraguan Contra rebels stationed and trained in Honduras near the Nicaraguan border, threatened to embroil Honduras itself in a war with Nicaragua.
Today, the democratically elected civilian President Carlos Roberto Reina is attempting reforms in business, education, and in labor policy. However, he is, as others in his place have been, under tight reins from the military.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, in addition to other Central American countries. La Alizanza Pro Ninez Hondurena, Inc., a non-profit organization established in September 1993 by a group of Honduran American educators and Honduran Americans in New York city, provided aid to elementary schools in Honduras. Hurricane Mitch killed some 6,000 persons and left about 6,000 more missing. More than one million persons had their homes destroyed by the hurricane, which also destroyed the majority of the country's agricultural crops.
The first Hondurans came to this country in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries during the turmoil of independence from Spain and the founding of the republic of Honduras. Since then, every major period of conflict has seen a minor immigration wave, never exceeding a few thousand people. The turbulence surrounding the 1956 succession dilemma saw another spurt in immigration. The 1980s have seen a steady rise in immigration rates, as the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act raised the hopes of potential illegal immigrants that they would eventually gain legal status. Another factor impacting immigration rates has been the hardships created by Central American unrest, including civil wars raging in all of Honduras's neighboring countries throughout the decade, often partially fought or launched from Honduran soil. It is too early to tell what will be the impact of California's Proposition 187, passed in 1994 to bar all government services except emergency medical aid from undocumented immigrants.
Many Honduran Americans are migrant farm laborers, and their number is difficult to measure since many of them are undocumented residents. The 1990 Census records 1,272 working-age people in farming, forestry, and fishing operations, but by all accounts, the actual number is much higher. Of those who have settled into a particular area, the largest numbers are found in New York City (33,000), Los Angeles (24,000), and Miami (18,000). Hondurans have followed the immigration patterns of previous groups; they first settled in the largest cities, in which they found support networks in the large Honduran American communities already present. Cities provide the most accessible market for jobs requiring the kind of basic labor skills most Hondurans possess upon arrival.
The families of the vast majority of Honduran Americans have entered the United States in the last 40 years to seek better economic opportunities and to escape political turmoil or oppression in Honduras. Many have had to leave their families in Honduras and regularly send a large part of their income home to support them. As a new immigrant group, Hondurans are experiencing the same prejudices and suspicions that arrivals have always felt from the longer-established population. Some Americans are under the impression that Hondurans have come here to live off the welfare state and simply take advantage of social services. Proposition 187 can be seen as a legal result of this attitude. It declares that every immigrant without visa and working papers shall be barred from all government services except emergency medical care. Apparently, those who voted for it believe that illegal immigrants take more social services than they pay for through taxes and consumer spending. However, there is substantial evidence that illegal immigrants pay for more social services than they use. This is due to the fact that many immigrants first come alone and attempt to secure working papers before bringing their families over. They need very few government services. Those who do bring their children often do not send them to school because they need the revenue from their work.
If Proposition 187 represents the locking of the door to Honduran undocumented immigrants, the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 represents the legal welcome mat. It stipulates that those illegal immigrants who can prove they were in the country before January 1, 1982, may apply for legalization and may legally work until their cases are decided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Furthermore, if they have been granted working papers and legal status, they may apply for citizenship after five years.
Honduran Americans are a very diverse group. They include those of Spanish, mixed, Mayan, black Carib, African, Palestinian and Chinese ancestry, among many others. They have made important improvements in their own standards of living, major educational and professional achievements, and important cultural contributions to American society. In the future, they must face the challenges of prejudice from some Americans and overcome a history of poverty.
Acculturation and Assimilation
There is no particular stereotype of the Honduran American in this country. However, this lack of specific prejudice is part of the prejudice. More established non-Hispanic Americans, when they exhibit prejudice, like to lump all Hispanic Americans together, contributing to the racist notion that all Hispanics are alike. Some will refer to Latin American immigrants derogatorily as "wetbacks," as economic refugees who "all just swam the Rio Grande to fall into the arms of Sweet Mother United States." So, the fact that Honduran Americans are rarely if ever singled out as an undesirable group does not mean Hondurans are free from prejudice; instead, that fact may only suggest ignorance of Latin American people and differences between their countries.
One notable observation about established American prejudice toward Latin American immigrants is that it is not limited to white Americans. Ladera Heights, California, is a wealthy suburban community primarily comprised of African Americans. Its citizens have attempted to pass an ordinance making it illegal for day laborers to solicit work in public places. They describe the day laborers, who are almost exclusively Hispanic American immigrants, as dirty, loud, disruptive, dangerous, and potentially criminal. While the sheriff's office had no criminal complaints against the day laborers when this case was reported in the Los Angeles Times by Robert J. Lopez on March 6, 1994, residents assumed that the Latin American immigrant workers were up to no good. "I do not want welfare. I want work," commented one Latin American day laborer criticizing the proposed ordinance. The issues raised in Ladera Heights reflect broader concerns about illegal immigration, concerns that have led to the passage of California's Proposition 187. Responding to this bill in an August 29, 1994, in a Los Angeles Times article by Lorenza Muñoz, one undocumented immigrant named Amanda expressed the often-ignored immigrant perspective: "We do pay taxes—we consume goods and services. This issue of illegal immigration needs to be looked at in a more creative way such as understanding the factors of immigration, and how much immigrants contribute to this country, economically and culturally. It cannot be looked at only in a negative light."
The staple of the mestizo Honduran diet is rice and beans. Other mainstays include atól, corn soup; mondongo, tripe soup in a tomato base with corn; and tamale, a corn pie stuffed with chicken, olives, and capers, among other ingredients. The diet of the Garifuna is based largely on cassava, a starchy root that is similar in texture, consistency, and taste to the potato. The Garifuna create combinations of cassava, coconuts, plantains, avocado, pineapples, and pigs' feet and tails, sometimes all in the same stew. A favorite is Machuca, a stew of fried fish and mashed plantains in a coconut base.
As a group, Hondurans have made their mark in American music. One important contribution is Garifuna music. Geoffrey Himes described this music in the Washington Post (April 2, 1993): "Legend has it that the Garifuna culture sprang from the survivors of a shipwrecked slave vessel who swam ashore on St. Vincent Island in the sixteenth century. There they intermarried with the local Carib and Arawak Indians and created a music that blended West African drumming and Caribbean Indian group singing. The culture then spread to Belize and Honduras." Garifuna is described as an astonishingly melodic and intricate music. The beat is usually carried by two to four large tuba (or hollow log) drums. The tercera drum provides the booming bass notes that establish the foundation rhythm. The primera drum supplies the melodic lead pattern, and the segunda drum shadows the primera with a counter rhythm. These three main patterns are amplified by turtle shells, claves, timbales, bongos, congas, maracas and tambourines. Himes noted: "Because each drum has its own pitch and timbre and because the vocals are woven inextricably into the drumming, the music has a richness you'd never expect from just percussion and voice."
Musical styles popular among Honduran American mestizos include salsa and meringue, both big-band styles of music, with many brass instruments, a driving, steady beat, and a high melody sung over the instruments.
There are problems related to medical care that affect Honduran Americans more than other groups. The mass of Honduran American migrant farm workers suffer from a lack of organized medical care. This class of Honduran American workers is severely damaged by a lack of financial resources to obtain crucial medical care. Officially, New Jersey grants medical care to immigrants, legal or illegal, who demonstrate need and the lack of money for medical care and medicine. However, many illegal aliens from Honduras are wary of going through a government process like applying for Medicaid. They see the danger of being turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service as too great. Compounding this problem is the lack of adequate education for migrant farm workers. The average farm worker, especially the male, has only a few years of formal schooling, if any. There is a general lack of health, nutrition, and medical knowledge, especially as it pertains to the safe-keeping of foodstuffs.
The attitude of Honduran Americans in general to the American medical establishment is suspicious. Most Honduran Americans came to the United States as undocumented immigrants or legally working laborers, and in both categories, the level of medical care has been low, marked by neglect and indifference, especially on the part of government officials.
Psychiatry presents another area in which Honduran Americans, particularly new arrivals, have felt alienated. This is due less to neglect than to different cultural attitudes to psychiatry in Latin American and in the United States: "I thought that if you went to a psychologist, you were crazy," said Maximina Machado of the Bronx, originally from Honduras, as reported by Elaine River in New York Newsday, August 24, 1994. Older, traditional therapy in Honduras for psychological problems has included Santeria, a Caribbean-based faith that combines elements of African ritual with Catholicism, and espiritualismo (spiritualism). Both therapies see the psychological problem as a spiritual problem, an imbalance of supernatural forces. Therapy can then take the form of an attempt to reach a transcendent consciousness by using meditation, concentrating on specific personal objects, or consulting a medium. It can also take the form of an exorcism, where the treatment is meant to drive out an evil spirit or devil from the victim.
Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists in some urban medical centers around the country are seeking to break down cultural barriers to clinical therapy and begin addressing the psychological traumas that particularly affect Latin American immigrants. Dr. Arnold Ruiz's Latin American Immigrant Services program, founded in June 1993 in the Fordham-Tremont Mental Health Center in the Bronx, New York, is one such clinic. Here, Dr. Ruiz and his colleagues treat immigrants for adjustment disorders that arise from culture shock—a sense of confusion due to coming into a culture in which the immigrant does not know the language or the cultural mores. They also treat anxiety disorders and depression due to immigrants' feelings of isolation. Especially acute is post-traumatic stress, caused by witnessing horrors in the immigrants' home countries. Hondurans have had to endure the Horcones Massacre, in which the army slaughtered ten unarmed peasants, two students, and two foreign priests; terrorist groups such as the Mancha Brava, a covert group that struck terror into the hearts of all opposition activists from 1963 to 1978; and the 1969 war with El Salvador and part of the Nicaraguan war with the Contra rebels. Fordham-Tremont employees have been successful in breaking down some of the suspicions Honduran American immigrants typically have had toward clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. Most clinic employees are bilingual, and they have a respectful attitude toward the patients, taking their religious beliefs into account during therapy.
The American Psychiatric Association's manual of mental disorders lists some disorders specifically afflicting Latin Americans. They include Ataque de nervios (attack of nerves), which is characterized by uncontrollable shouting, trembling, fainting, seizures, and verbal and physical aggression; and mal de ojo (evil eye), which afflicts children and some adults and causes fitful sleep, diarrhea, vomiting, and crying spells.
A further example illustrates the confusion that arises from cultural differences in psychological and sexual mores between Hondurans and Americans. Attorney General Janet Reno, a Nevada prosecutor in the early 1990s, prosecuted a Honduran immigrant, Ileana Fuster, for child sexual abuse. Ms. Fuster ran a small day-care center from her home, where she kissed the babies all over their bodies in a non-sexual way when caressing them. Anthropologists commented that this practice is common in rural Latin American communities like the one in which Ms. Fuster grew up. Ms. Reno, with the help of two psychologists, extracted a confession after Ms. Fuster had initially asserted no wrongdoing and after several days of hours-long interrogations. Ms. Fuster's Honduran child-rearing practices had come head-to-head with a different set of cultural practices in suburban Nevada.
Another difference between Hondurans and Americans involves a congenital condition among certain Hondurans that affords them a specific medical immunity. The Garifuna, whose ancestors include black Africans and Caribbean Indians, have an African-component sickle-cell genetic adaptation to malaria. This means that, due to their genes, they are immune to malaria.
The almost universally spoken language of Honduran Americans, besides English, is Spanish. Most Honduran Indians speak it also. In addition, most Maya speak their own language, and the black Caribs speak Garifuna. Far from being a dead or obscure language, Garifuna is a living, vibrant, and growing language in the United States. Some estimates put the number of Garifuna around 10,000 for New York City, the Garifuna nexus in this country. The following are some Garifuna expressions: Jin ! ("hing")—Hey, you!; Buiti binafi illawuritei ("booitey binaffy illawoorittay")—"Good morning, Uncle." Abau isilledu eiguini, fulesei ("ab-bow eeseelaydoo aiguiny, foolasay")—A plate of food, please.
Spanish expressions include Buenos días ("buaynos deeass")—Good day; Feliz navidad ("feleece navidad")—Merry Christmas; and ¿Donde están mis zapatos? ("DONday isTAHN meese saBATTose")—Where are my shoes?
Family and Community Dynamics
Since many Hondurans initially come to the United States alone, without their spouse or families, life in the United States can represent a strain on the family. Nonetheless, a sizeable percentage of adult Honduran Americans are married. The 1990 Census shows 20,529 of 44,132, or 46.5 percent, of Honduran American men 15 years and older as being married or having been married and 25,722 of 55,933 Honduran American women, or 46 percent, as being married at least once. These figures paint a picture of the typical Honduran American family as similar to that of the typical American family. The percentage of Honduran Americans married is similar to the percentage of other Americans who are married. The average number of children in Honduran American families is also similar to the average number of children in American families in general. The average married Honduran American woman aged 25 to 34 years old has 1.8 children, while the married Honduran American women 35 to 44 years old will have an average of 2.6 children.
The family experience of black Caribs, or Garifuna, presents a different, unique picture. They first came to Honduras's Bay Islands and Caribbean Coast from St. Vincent in 1797, crossing in ocean-going giant canoes, rowing thousands of sea miles from all over the Western Hemisphere. In ensuing years, young men had to migrate to find work and support their families. This became an accepted and permanent part of the Garifuna family structure. Soon after a young Garifuna couple married, the husband began his travels to find work to support his wife and young children. She would rely on brothers or other male family members to help her with what she herself could not do around the house. And often, she would take another lover to fill the void left by her absent husband. So, the Garifuna immigrant wave to the United States, which peaked in 1975, did not represent a big change for Garifuna society. Nancie González has advanced the thesis that Garifuna immigration to the United States allows the black Caribs in Honduras to retain ancient customs and their traditional family and cultural structure. American dollars earned by Garifuna in the United States are, according to her, helping to preserve the Garifuna way of life in Honduras (Nancie González, "Garifuna Settlement in New York: A New Frontier," International Migration Review, 1976). Of the 33,426 Honduran American households, 3,794, or 11.3 percent, are on public assistance.
It has been easier for Honduran American girls to stay in school than for Honduran American boys. Especially in working-class families, there is tremendous pressure for boys, once they turn 12 or 14, to start working full time. This pressure is not as strong on the girls. As a result, statistics show Honduran American women to have more years of school than Honduran American men, with 10.9 percent of Honduran American women 25 years and older having a bachelor's degree, while the number drops to 6.4 percent for both women and men are in the same age category. In terms of high school education, 22.4 percent of the women 25 and older have a diploma, while the figure is 20.9 percent for the general Honduran American population according to the 1990 Census. The numbers even out, however, when it comes to advanced degrees. Of the 43,482 women 25 years and older, 602 have a master's degree, 411 have a professional degree, and 60 have a doctoral degree. For the total Honduran American population in the age category, the figures are 1,091 for a master's degree, 862 for a professional degree, and 151 for a doctoral degree.
Due to economic circumstances, it is easier for girls to stay in school through college. The fact that young men are more encouraged than women to seek advanced degrees, however, means that men who go to college are more likely to stay in school. Women, however, when they reach 22 or 23, experience strong pressure to marry, settle down, have a family, and focus their ambitions on their children.
Honduran American women are more likely to pursue professional careers than to complete advanced degrees. As a matter of fact, 11.3 percent of employed females 16 years and over, according to the 1990 Census, work in managerial and professional specialty occupations, versus 10.4 percent for the population as a whole.
Honduran American women have also become active in the community, fighting for their rights and the rights of their families. Mugama: Garifuna Women on the March, for example, is an organization dedicated to working with young Garifuna in New York City, giving them counseling and support and guiding them on their educational and professional paths. The organization also fights for the rights of Garifuna women, organizing rallies and creating banners for Hispanic parades.
An overwhelming majority of Hondurans are Catholic. The church exerts less influence than in the past. Honduran Americans are active in their church communities, and women take major responsibility for church affairs, such as attending Sunday church suppers and helping to organize parish charity drives. Yet, the move to the United States has brought with it a new phenomenon for the Honduran community. More and more Honduran Americans are exploring Protestant religions, with a sizeable number converting. Particularly popular are the storefront churches opening across the country. These storefront churches allow virtually anybody to take an active role in religion, even to become a minister. In particular the evangelical and Pentecostal churches stress energetic recruitment and a very close, equal relationship between minister and flock.
Storefront churches are a common sight in Latin neighborhoods across the Northeast. In New York, they can be found in Jackson Heights, Queens, and in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The service, especially in Pentecostal churches, is typically very high-energy, with the reverend building to a shouting rant and the congregation responding in turn with a unified "amen." Sometimes, a parishioner will collapse in a type of "seeing" trance and experience a religious epiphany or rebirth. Such worship links Pentacostals closely to southern evangelical Baptists.
Employment and Economic Traditions
While new arrivals have traditionally entered fields involving basic labor, established Honduran American immigrants have shown impressive success in moving into more lucrative professions. Of the 34,220 Honduran Americans who came to this country between 1980 and 1990, according to the U.S. Census, 33.7 percent described themselves as being in service occupations, which include waitering, other restaurant work, janitorial work, and work in laundries and retail stores. Only 24.2 percent of the immigrants who arrived before 1980 are in that industry. Of those who came during the 1980s, 27.3 percent were operators, fabricators, and laborers; for those who came before, only 18.7 percent fit in that category. Those who came before 1980 are more heavily represented in managerial and professional specialty occupations, 14.6 percent as opposed to 5.6 percent for the newer arrivals. The contrast in public administration is similar, with a ratio of three percent for established Honduran Americans to one percent for newer arrivals; the same is true of educational services, the ratio being 4.9 percent to 2.4 percent. These figures demonstrate the trend towards self-improvement as Honduran Americans establish themselves in the United States.
The largest trading partner of Honduras is the United States. In 1995, the two nations traded 1.27 billion dollars in goods and services. The amount of business exported from the United States to Honduras in 1995 totaled 680 million dollars. Approximately 100 American companies operate in Honduras, many of them based in agriculture, petroleum products, bond assembly plants (maquilas ), electric power generation, banking, and insurance.
American aid to Honuras, military and otherwise, declined in the 1990s. To compensate for this lost income, Honduras redoubled its efforts to export its agricultural products, such as coffee, fruits and vegetables, seafood, and beef. The United States, for its part, is encouraging investment in Honduras. The Most successful markets are in fruit, petroleum refining and marketing, and mining.
Politics and Government
Being a relatively new immigrant group from a country that has seen its share of political turmoil, Honduran Americans have not been very conspicuous in American politics or unions, nor has there been much overt action on the part of Honduran Americans to influence politics in the mother country. For the most part, the overriding political issue for Honduran Americans has been the right to participate in the political process. As reported by Jorge Zarazua and Marty Gra of The Houston Post on July 10, 1994, a recently naturalized citizen represents a case in point: "Mario Casildo no longer wants to be one of the thousands of voiceless immigrants in America ... as soon as he takes the oath of citizenship, the 60-year-old Honduran immigrant intends to register to vote."
To address problems of the undocumented alien community, a group of Honduran American and other Central American undocumented aliens formed the Aliens for Better Immigration Laws in February 1994. At that time the group filed a class-action law suit in federal court to allow undocumented aliens to work while they are on a decade-long waiting list for green cards. This grassroots lobbying organization has fought to bring the issues of undocumented immigrants to the forefront, not only in the courts, but also in the consciousness of the American public.
Honduran Americans have taken an active role in defending the United States. Of all the native (U.S.) Honduran American males 16 years old and over, 13.7 percent are military veterans. Even 769 Honduran American male non-citizens are veterans. The percentage of naturalized Honduran American male civilians 16 years old and over who have served in the armed forces is 13.2 percent. For those who came to the United States before 1980, this number jumps to 18.4 percent, almost one-fifth.
Individual and Group Contributions
Julian Albert Touceda is a New Orleans artist and supporter of Latin art who was born and lived the first years of his life in Honduras. Born in the early 1940s, Touceda has been instrumental in preserving Latin American culture and exposing the local community to Latin artists. Touceda's main influences are the Spanish painters Francisco Goya and Diego Balasca, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, and painter Rufino Tamayo. Since 1976, Touceda has had 23 exhibits in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and New York. Among more than 50 prominent artists, he was the only Hispanic artist selected to exhibit his works at the Louisiana World Exposition in 1984.
Chatuye is a ten-man Garifuna band of Belizean and Honduran immigrants in Los Angeles.
One Honduran American who has contributed significantly to the United States is Julio Melara, a second-generation Honduran American who grew up in Kenner, Louisiana, before establishing himself in New Orleans. As a freshman in college, Melara worked as a courier at a local business newspaper. A graduate of the University of New Orleans, Melara was only 28 years old when he became the top sales executive at WWL radio in New Orleans and the only million-dollar producer in the radio industry in Louisiana. Determined and committed to excellence, Melara became the publisher of New Orleans Magazine. He joined the New Orleans Publishing Group in 1993 as vice president for sales and training. He also owns Action Inc., a sports marketing firm, and is writing a book called Do You Have Time for Success? In addition, he publishes Arriba, a magazine in Spanish for tourists coming to New Orleans from Latin America and Spain.
Honduras This Week.
International weekly newspaper in English. Covers news in Honduras as well as items of interest to Hondurans abroad.
Address: P.O. Box 1312, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, C.A.
E-mail: [email protected]
" Abriendo brechas " (Opening Gaps).
This three-hour weekly program on Cable Channel 69 is also known as BronxNet, a New York City public access cable channel.
Contact: Murphy Valentine, Producer.
Address: 1465 Fulton Avenue, Apartment 5B, Bronx, New York 10456.
Telephone: (718) 538-2244.
" Conversando con Antonieta Máximo " (Conversing with Antonieta Máximo).
Airs on Manhattan Neighborhood Network Channel 16 for three hours each week. The program features prominent Honduran and other Latin American community and cultural leaders discussing current issues.
Contact: Antonieta Máximo.
Address: 484 West 43rd Street, Apartment 9-M, New York, New York 10036.
Telephone: (212) 947-5712.
Organizations and Associations
Federation of Honduran Organizations in New York (FEDHONY).
Founded by Myriam DeMéndez and others as a response to the 1990 Happy Land Social Club fire in the Bronx that killed 87 people, most of whom were Honduran American. The Federation is a valuable resource for contacts of every kind for Honduran American communities.
Contact: Antonia Máximo, President.
Address: 100 East 175th Street, First Floor (NYNEX Building), Bronx, New York 10453.
Telephone: (718) 716-4882.
Fax: (718) 716-4964.
Honduran American Cultural Association.
A nexus for news of the local Honduran American communities and sponsor of concerts and other cultural events.
Contact: Jorge Cotto, President. Address: 41-42 42nd Street, Sunnyside, New York 11104.
Telephone: (718) 784-7517.
Sources for Additional Study
Fash, William L. Warriors and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya, London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.
González, Nancie. "Garifuna Settlement in New York: A New Frontier," International Migration Review 13, No. 2, 1975.
Himes, Geoffrey. "Chatuye: Upholding the Garifuna Beat," Washington Post, April 2, 1993.
Honduras: A Country Study, edited by Tim L. Merrill. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995.
River, Elaine. "Erasing a Stigma—Mental Health Center Deals with Latinos' Special Needs," Newsday, August 24, 1994.
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