By Amelia Frank-Vitale
Since September 2017, I’ve been living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, conducting research among recent deportees for my doctoral thesis in anthropology. After years studying Central American transit migration through Mexico, I came to Honduras to get a firsthand look at what is driving people to flee this country in steadily increasing numbers. In the process, I’ve been able to see how those who were sent back negotiate life after deportation.
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She didn’t know there was a thing called asylum. She just knew she had to go.
Maribel left Honduras three weeks after accidentally witnessing the disposal of a body. A recruiter for Avon, she was making her rounds in the neighborhoods outside of Choloma, a city in the far north of the country, when she saw a group of young men carrying big, heavy bags. At first she didn’t realize what she was seeing, but it dawned on her quickly. She averted her eyes and walked away as rapidly and inconspicuously as she could. Maribel is striking. She is tall by Honduran standards and has a distinctive look, with bleached hair and dramatic eye makeup. She’s someone you would likely remember. She couldn’t be sure they’d noticed her notice them, but she was worried.
Then, about a week later, she saw the same young men hanging around the entrance to the community where she and her family live. They had no reason to be there. Maribel lives in a residencial, a gated community located next to one of the big factories outside of Choloma. It’s not an upper-class gated community; the almost miniature houses are packed in tightly next to each other. Still, it’s a relatively safe neighborhood and is not controlled by any of the gangs or organized crime groups that operate in many of the areas nearby. The sight of the boys there terrified her.
After speaking to her husband, who works in the factory next door, Maribel took out a $3,000 loan, sent their 4-year-old son to stay with her mother, and left for the United States as soon as a coyote could take her.
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Amelia Frank-Vitale is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan. She studies Central American migration, deportation, and violence.[Photo courtesy of Amelia Frank-Vitale]
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