Honduras is a fairly small country when you look at the population. The city where I grew up, Houston, has 4 million people. In comparison, the population of Honduras is just over 8 million now. Some basic facts about Honduras:
- 50 % of the population is under 19 years of age
- 1/3 of the population is under-employed
- it is estimated that 1 million Hondurans are currently immigrants in the North (documented and undocumented)
Honduras has a young population, young and without too many job prospects, even for the educated. The formal jobs that exist often pay enough to rent a room and have the basics, but to pay for more expensive needs like quality health care, higher education, the initial payment on a house, or a car, it is simply not enough money. People in the upper-lower class, those who have enough to survive but always seem to be on the edge of a crisis, are frustrated by the lack of opportunities and look with longing at the idea of paying for their own house instead of paying monthly rent, or at having a little extra cushion for if someone in the family is having a health crisis, etc. (This is not unique to Honduras and is very similar to the extreme wealth disparities found in North America.)
The majority of taxi drivers or small-business owners that I have met have been able to break through the lower class-middle class divide because they themselves have been immigrants for a time and returned, or they receive remittances, money that immigrants send back home. Many people who have been able to buy a plot of land to build their own houses have done so with this same source of money.
I know that this is a huge topic and also a highly-debated one in the US. There is much that is written on this topic, and many more things that need to be said and re-said. I am going to leave for another post the economic importance of immigration, the human rights issues of migration that North America (Mexico, US, Canada) often leaves unaddressed, the social repercussions of divided families and 1/8 of the population of a country absent, the extreme risks of migration that have been exacerbated by increasingly deadly border control tactics and the dangers of narco-and human-trafficking, etc. etc.
The decision to run these risks, the thought process and social context that leads to this decision, is called: the American Dream.
What is this Dream? Is it to go to the US and start a new life, get a job and a house and never again want to return to Honduras? This is sometimes the case. Especially with the increasing rate of violence, it is a sad fact that many people just cannot or do not want to keep trying here.
However, for every story of an immigrant who never wants to return, there are many more of those who leave to just be able to make enough money to buy their house and small plot of land, to buy their car, to start a small business, to put their child through bilingual school, to pay for different family health needs, etc., and return. This idea of the “American Dream” challenges what it means to be American (more than North American – Central American), and what it means to dream.
Here is the story of a young woman I know who decided to go to the US undocumented. She is a young, very hard-working single mother who lives with her family, has a steady job as a teacher at a private school, and has a university degree. Yet she wanted to go on this dangerous journey. What is wrong with this picture?
“I look at the situation here, I look around me and realize that I will never get beyond this. The education system is so messed up – I left my job last week and they tricked a 19 year old into taking that job with the same low salary, and in all my 8 years I didn’t make more than $250 monthly, not once did they raise my salary. That 19-year-old has no higher education, and I who have my university degree received the same as him. I look at my salary and know I will never have enough to buy my house, to live there with my daughter. I have nothing of my own, just that bed there. Not even a car. And my dream is to have my own home, for my daughter to have a good life. I also dream of putting a roof on my mother’s house, because now when it storms heavily the rain comes in. I am the only sibling that really looks after her; my other siblings look to me for support, since I am the only professional. But what do I have to give them?”
Can she succeed without migrating? It is hard to resist the siren call of the American Dream in her situation. The pressure of the despair she feels at not being able to break through the low-class ceiling is unbearable.
What can I say to this despair? As much as I want to say, no! It is possible to live well here, don’t give up hope! I cannot say that I understand the depths of her disappointment with her country and her situation. I can only pray that she stays safe on her journey.
“I have prayed about this endlessly, and feel that God is saying it is okay to go, that he is with me. Many other people have been praying for me, and I feel that God is with me. I have faith that I will make it.”