Honduran Unauthorized Immigrants of New York

[Last names have been omitted to protect the identity of those interviewed.]

Approximately half a million Hondurans live in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center 66% of them are unauthorized. They have risked everything in one of the world’s most dangerous journeys through Central America, Mexico, and the Sonora Desert to get to the United States in order to live a better life. The meaning of words like hunger, war, and sadness are carved in stone in their memories, but they love, and laugh, and dream like anyone else. Despite the ominous shadows that hang over them, like deportation, they are brave people unafraid of telling their stories. Here is but a fraction of five of them.

Honduran Consulate in Manhattan

(From left to right): Luis, Erika, and Alex

Talking to people outside the Honduran Consulate in Manhattan I met Alex, Luis, and Erika. Luis, 20, was there accompanying his brother to get his passport; Alex, 22, was doing the same for some friends, and Erika, 39, was doing the paperwork for her youngest son. Both the young men work in the construction business, Luis does it in Connecticut, where he and his brother live, while Alex works and lives in Queens, where he assures he has 30 cousins. Erika is a house-cleaning worker, and lives in Staten Island with her three children.

Luis traveled through Mexico on board the train. He was only 16 years old and all by himself, “it was terrifying” he remembers. Alex made the trip with a cousin when he was 19, and expresses similar feelings. Both the young men seem content with their current situation, they are happy there is a lot of work to do, because that means money. But Erika, after 9 years in the U.S. still dreams of returning home and enjoying the fruit of the hard-work she has put here.

This country is not oneself’s, she explains, the day they want it so, they kick you out. So if one is not careful enough, he ends up with nothing, she says.

Perhaps a possible deportation weighs heavier on a mother of three, especially when two of them are American citizens and could get separated from her permanently if taken by Child Protection Services.

Alex expresses another kind of fear, that of social and economic failure.

This country is about improving oneself, about progressing or getting lost… I have cousins that live on the street, Alex regrets.

He sees alcohol and drugs, “el vicio”, as the main reason his family members have been ruined, it is very likely one of the reasons he looks so serious when he says he does not drink.

Ms. Jakelin journey through the desert and into America

She was on her way to Progreso, a sewing factory was hiring woman and she desperately needed the job, but her sister’s phone call reached and stopped her before. Her sister lived in the United States, owned a restaurant in Brooklyn, and wanted her to come to America. She had already put together a plan, so it was Espinal’s decision to stay or go.

It was the most difficult choice I ever made, she ackowledges.

At that time, Espinal was 28 years old, she had three children, no one to provide for them, and no food to put on the table. Three days after her sister’s phone call she gave her sons and daughter to one of her five siblings, promised she would provide for them, and started a long journey to get to the U.S. It took her 25 days to get from San Pedro Sula, the city where she had grown and lost her both parents at the age of 20, to the US-Mexican border.

My father was killed two months before my mother died. He was shot from behind by the person he had mucked after winning a bet in a pool game.

At the border, a coyote helped her cross the Río Bravo on a canoe-like raft. After crossing them 15 strangers into Texas, the smuggler went back from where he had come, leaving them all by themselves in the deserted wilderness.

They were supposed to pick us up, but no one came, Jaky remembers.

At a certain point people gave up hope, and swam their way back into Mexico. If no one was coming it wasn’t worth risking their lives in the desert, but Jaky and three others decided to wait. Not being able to swim, she didn’t have much of an option but to sit amid the bushes and hope someone would eventually show up. They waited for three nights and four days, drinking water from tiny puddles, starving, freezing.

I had my period and I didn’t had a towel, she tells very slowly.

At the fourth day, they decided to swim back before it was too late, but not Jaky. However, before leaving her alone, they accompanied her to a nearby dirt road, then they parted ways. Jaki’s instinct was to pray a Padre Nuestro, and walk. After some miraculously brief 15 minutes she spotted a small cluster of houses. She was saved.

The fences in Texas are low enough so I could climb over them, she recalls.

At one of those houses she called her sister. They even drove her to Houston where her sister arranged someone to finally pick her up and take her to New York, where she now lives.

They were very good people, she says, they did everything they could to help me.

It’s been 8 years since that rough journey. She has work now, at her sister’s restaurant, La Perla del Ulua, and sends money to her three children, but she misses them much. One of the boys is now 17, the other will be 12 soon, and her daughter is only 11. She wishes to see them again, but it is difficult due to her legal status. If she had $12,000 she would bring them through a smuggler, despite everything that happened to her; her longing for family reunion is bigger than anything.

The children should be with their mother. My brother takes good care of them, but it is never the same as a mother, she laments.

Garifuna Immigrant, Transgendered, and a Leader

Lisa Barrios, community leader.

The Garifuna are an Afro-Caribbean people that settled in the western coasts of Central America after the British expelled them from Saint Vincent and Trinidad and Tobago in the early nineteenth century. Then, in the mid twentieth century, during the post-war economic boom some migrated to New York City. Nobody knows exactly how many of them there are today, because census data registers them as Hondurans, not as ethnic Garifuna. Some community leaders estimate 100,000 living in New York, but it is hard to say.

Lisa talks about the discrimination she has faced for being from African descend, non heterosexual, and once an undocumented immigrant that crossed Mexico. While she came fleeing poverty and violence in her country, she has now gain legal refugee status, another proof of her resourceful nature and capacity of leadership. She talks about how she has surmounted obstacles to become the community leader she is today.