By Anisha Watwe, Duke University Class of ’21

Since I’ve been away, a conversation I’ve had way too frequently with some of my friends and family starts a little like this:

Them: Hey, how’s Costa Rica!

Me: Actually, I’m in Honduras.

#InThisEssayIWill

There is a very prevalent perception that all countries south of the U.S. are essentially the same. It’s an annoyingly recurring sentiment that we’ve noticed both in our own interactions with friends and family as well as in the news. People tend to group all of these countries into one giant category as if no matter which country you’re in, the experience is the same. Too often we hear statements like, “Mexico is bringing drugs, crime, and rapists.” While there is too much in the president’s language to be unpacked regarding Central and South American immigrants, his statements speak to two unfortunately common sentiments in the U.S.

The first is that all immigrants entering the country through the southern border are Mexicans, effectively lumping all Central and South American countries into one large, overly-generalized category. In reality, of course, each country (and each region within a given country) could not be more different. Just within cuisine, the enchiladas and tortillas are completely different in Honduras than the ones most people from the U.S. are familiar with. Not to mention language differences and colloquial phrases unique to each country, like saying “vaya pues” or “cheque” instead of “adios” or exclaiming “qué buena onda!” when you think something is cool. Of course, there is a multitude of differences between these countries beyond what I’ll be able to observe in just 7 weeks. But, clearly, that knowledge is severely lacking in the political arena as is evident in recent years.

The second sentiment constantly echoed by the president is that all immigrants are inherently criminals and made the extremely simple decision to leave their home countries to terrorize people in the U.S. and take advantage of the welfare system. This not only perpetuates a false association between Latinx communities and violence and crime, but also minimizes the struggles of those who have left behind families, communities, and their cultural roots to seek opportunity in a country who will ultimately reject and imprison them.

My research project this summer involves conducting oral surveys to investigate the barriers to contraceptive use for women in Camasca, Honduras. The issue of immigration has come up far more often during the surveys than I expected. If women tell me they don’t use contraceptives, I follow up and ask why. Often, women who have a partner will respond by saying that their partner is away or gone. I didn’t realize that this could be a result of immigration until I had a conversation with a doctor at Camasca’s maternal health clinic.

She told me that single motherhood in Camasca is very common because often, men will have children and then leave the country (often for the U.S.) to find work. This, she said, is a result of both the prevalent “machismo” sentiment within the town and the poor job prospects. On top of that, initiatives by President Juan Orlando Hernández (an autocrat backed by the U.S.) to privatize education and health care have lowered public access to both of these services. This has contributed to the lower standard of living in the country and subsequently, the increase in immigration. The most frustrating part of this is that Trump froze aid to Honduras in April of this year over its failure to curb migration to the U.S., though this a situation he is actively contributing to by propping up the autocratic president who vowed to help the U.S. with counternarcotics.

It makes me ashamed that some of my friends couldn’t even tell me where Honduras is. It makes me ashamed that some 16-year old students in Camasca know more about U.S. immigration policies than most people in the U.S. do. It makes me ashamed that our own president doesn’t understand the effect that his decisions have on people apart from his own country. And I REALLY hope that changes soon.