1) Expect to be called ‘Negra/Negro or Negrita/Negrito’
Negro in Spanish means black. It will become quite normal for you to hear someone call you ‘Negra’ within your community, in the market during the weekends and pretty much everywhere. It won’t always be possible for you to tell whether ‘Negra’ is being said in a harmless and sweet way, i.e. when someone is excited to meet and talk to what could potentially be the eighth black person they’ve ever met. Or they might shout ‘Negra’ in quite a questionable tone which is normally accompanied with a sneer. You will know whether it is friendly or not. My advice to you would be to ignore the latter.
2) Your hair is going to be quite popular
This may not be a bad thing for some. I generally didn’t mind when people touched my hair. As long as they had either asked beforehand or I could kind of tell that they wanted to touch it, in which case I offered. Remember that you have every right to say no to someone touching your hair.
Sadly, it won’t always be possible to tell someone not to touch your hair. On numerous occasions during my placement, strangers grabbed my hair, not too gently I might add. This mostly happened when we went to town on busy Saturdays. Needless to say, it was difficult to know which strange person was grabbing my hair in a huge crowd of people. All I could do was walk away.
3) You will be stared at. A lot
Personally, this was the least of my concerns during my placement in Honduras. This is mainly because as a team, we were all stared at as we do not look Honduran. I think living in any environment where multiculturalism is nonexistent will always result in people of any colour or race sticking out like sore thumbs. I think that after the first month, it became quite normal to us.
4) Speak Up
If someone says something to you that you find inappropriate, tell them. I know that with the language barrier, you may question whether or not you have misunderstood. Ask them to clarify their statements and do not be afraid to talk to them because otherwise, they will continue to think that what they have said is admissible.
After a month into my placement, I finally found the courage to talk to a few of our Honduran team. Quite simply, I asked them about the general treatment of people of colour in Honduras. They were quite honest in admitting that racial discrimination is still prominent in not only Honduras but Latin America in general. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated the fact that they did not deny the existence of racism in Honduras. Being able to have open conversations about racism was quite eye opening. It reconfirmed the connection between racism and ignorance. Also, talk to your team. My team was amazing!!
5) Finally, the biggie. Unfortunately, you won’t always receive the same treatment as everyone else
- You might be left speechless when it suddenly hits you in week 4 that very rarely do you hear the children in your community running up to you to say ‘hola’. In fact, not many people in the community knew my name until the last couple of weeks.
- You may or may not always receive the same customer service in a shop as your Caucasian teammates. I have been in a shop where the sales assistant has totally ignored me but fussed over my friend; asking her what she was looking for and so on. Or when everyone was given frozen yoghurt samples to taste and I was ignored.
- Finally, there might be a general lack of interest or reluctance by people to talk to you or to get to know you, despite the fact that you can hold a conversation in Spanish.
There are moments during your placement when you will feel lonely. My advice to you is to confide in your team, friends or anyone around you whom you feel you can talk to. They will be able to empathise with you and support you. I was so fortunate to have a brilliant team who always listened to me and helped me through this experience.
It is not my intention to discourage you from visiting Honduras as your experiences will definitely be different from mine. All I wish is to give you a heads up.
I enjoyed my placement and refuse to let the ignorance of a few leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I will continue exploring different cultures and parts of the world. A little racial discrimination will not stop me. In fact, having previously volunteered in Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua, I knew that there might be a possibility of racism in Honduras as well. That did not stop me. Relish your placement, because there is so much to be gained from this experience.
“Wear it (your colour) like a banner for the proud. Not like a shroud”. Langston Hughes
Written by ICS Alumni Doris Atuhaire (January - March 2016, El Carrizal, Honduras)