By Chris Palencia, 15, Torrance HS
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Chris Palencia is proud of being Honduran.

Whenever people ask me about my heritage and what it’s about, I wish I could invite them to a Honduran-style party and share with them the culture I love so much:

As the drums beat, the feet move and the hips shake. The conch shell blows and the sound of the singer’s voice extends from the stereo in my living room into the lively crowd. Couples of all ages pair up and dance. "Goooaaaalllllllll!" yells the sportscaster as the Honduran national team scores its first goal and the guys watching the soccer game clap with excitement. The punta gets louder and the dancing grows wilder.

They shake and wiggle their hips to the punta music. I find it exhausting trying not to look stupid because I can’t dance it very well. I sit down at a table lined with tajadas (slices) of fried plantains, yuca frita and other finger foods. I look at all the people dancing and think about what I’m seeing. I’m looking at culture, my culture.

I love the music. Punta is a Honduran and Belizean dance that originates from the black Garifuna tribes of the Central American Caribbean. It’s one of the things that’s most associated with Honduras.
Honduras is one of the larger Central American countries with a population of around 7 million. It’s the sixth poorest country in the western hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to be proud of. I’m proud of everything about my culture—not just the music, food and sports, but the warm, hard-working people and the potential I see in them.

That’s why it bothers me when people think I’m Mexican. It feels as if my culture and other Latin American cultures are denied acknowledgement. Here in California there are a lot of Mexican and Mexican-American people, so I can see why people make that mistake. Lots of times I resent the Mexicans for it, even though I know it’s not their fault. It’s misplaced resentment; Mexicans are Hispanic too and being Hispanic, we should all be united.

I have a friend from Belize and when people ask her what she is she says, "I’m half black, half Mexican." It bothers me that she doesn’t say she’s Belizean and acknowledge her real heritage. I understand that she’s tired of having to explain about herself but if she doesn’t explain it, people aren’t going to know any better.

I wish people knew more about Honduras. But, like the people in this country have pride in the red, white and blue, hondureños admire the five blue stars of their flag. Hondurans work hard to improve themselves though some struggle to even put dinner on the table. Often the dream of a better life brings them here to the States. Some arrive with visas, many more do not.

When they arrive, they struggle here as well; this is something I’ve seen for myself. I’ve seen cousins arrive and struggle. One of them, a nurse back in Honduras, is enterprising. She runs a little side business from home, making connections and borrowing capital for investment. She works a regular job too, and taking care of her newborn, she remembers the two daughters left behind in San Pedro.

It’s a beautiful country

San Pedro Sula is the second biggest Honduran city and is the industrial center of the country. I have lots of great memories of San Pedro and Honduras in general: The view from the airplane of crystal green water and white sand beach, next to banana fields which stretch for miles and miles. The comfort of my uncle’s middle-class home, where my cousins watch cable TV and play video games.

I remember my last visit. As always, we made the four-hour trip from the airport to the small town where my family is from, San Pedro de Copán. The asphalt highway became a cobblestone street as we entered the colonial town of 5,000. We hadn’t driven more than five blocks before we pulled into the driveway of a white house, where a host of friends and family came to greet us.

Family plays an important part in Latino homes, and Honduran casas are no exception. At the home of Chafín, my mom’s cousin, everyone gathered around us and commented on how different we looked from our last visit. We unpacked a bit and handed out gifts, spending the rest of the night talking about our trip, catching up and enjoying the company of family.

Life to me seems rather simple in this idealistic small town. The childhood days I remember here involve lighthearted kid stuff—playing games, riding around in wheelbarrows, swinging in hammocks and eating freshly baked bread and cookies. I also remember the connections I’ve made with my roots. My parents have come from this place, fought the immigrant’s fight and succeeded. Coming here, I feel that it is my duty to build on that success, educate myself, and most importantly, to look back and work to improve the lives of my disadvantaged people. I’m sure it won’t be easy and I don’t have the answer yet. I am, however, ready to work hard for it.

During my recent visit, I washed up in the morning and walked into an all but empty kitchen. Chafín’s wife was there. She asked, "Buenos días, cómo ameneció?" (Good morning, how are you this morning?) with the warm, soft-spoken tone of voice that makes you feel as if each Central-American woman was your mom. "Fine, thanks," I said and inquired where everyone was. My mom, dad, and sister had gone to Santa Rosa on some business. Chafín left for work at sun up and their daughters left for school at 7:30 a.m.

I’m sure most of Honduras is like this. The towns and the cities are full of warm, hard-working people. They strive to better themselves and in turn, their country. Back in L.A., I think about the country and its development. Honduras can be something great, its people already are. That makes me proud of who I am and where I come from, so that whenever someone labels me incorrectly, I’ll be there to correct them.