By Itzel Porras
In a small orange house, beyond a sign that reads “God Bless Our Home,” stands Marta Elena. She is an elderly woman with hair streaked by the passage of time and skin turned dark by the sun. She has a heart problem, and a diagnosis of diabetes.
She walks around with a deeply sad look in her eyes.
Marta Elena wonders if any other mother, in her shoes, would have wanted to stay alive. She has passed through terrible times. Life gave her the chance to raise five sons, but only one remains. Four are dead, and the last one disappeared.
“Fifteen days ago, they killed Beto, and fifteen days ago, I buried him. He was working as a taxi drive. They’re murdered four of my sons,” says Marta Elena, with a pain in her voice. Tears roll down her face.
Raúl, the last son, grew up in in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in a neighborhood known as Rivera Hernández. The city is infamous for its high rate of violence, which has left many young men dead. In a 2016 report, the consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft reported that Honduras is the sixth most violent country in Latin America.
Raúl left his country when he was fifteen and headed to the United States in search of the kinds of opportunities that, in Honduras, were unthinkable. He was deported, and when he returned to his house in Honduras, the gang members who ran the neighborhood took a look at his tattoos. In Honduras’s gang-controlled neighborhoods, tattoos are a form of identifying your territory, and they are an important signal.
Raúl knew that he if remained in his country, he would be murdered, so he left again. As he crossed Mexico, he lost all contact with his family. All that was left for Marta Elena was the faint hope that she would find out what happened to him.
“It’s been five years since I last heard from him. I’ve asked God to tell me what’s become of him,” she says.
Thanks to the project Puentes de Esperanza (“Bridges of Hope”), which seeks to reunite families that were separated by migration and have since lost all communication, her prayers turned into reality.
Raúl’s first words on the phone after five years without speaking to his family are, “Mother, send me a birth certificate.”
She is stunned by the sound of his voice, and her expression changes. She begins to cry, elated. “Son, how have you been?” she says. Then, she adds, “They’ve killed Beto.”
A silence passes through the room. Raúl does not answer, as though he knew this last murder would happen. “Mamá,” he says finally, “how are you?”
“I’ve been very sick,” she replies.
“Send me a birth certificate. I’m in Mexico, and I’m doing well. I have two children. Send me a birth certificate,” he says.
Raul presses her for a birth certificate because he is afraid of being deported once more. He knows that if he returns to his country, he will probably be killed. However much she has missed him, Marta Elena believes he’s alive only because he’s not in Honduras.