The Size of Tortillas

This past weekend, the three amigos aka Aaron, Nicole and I made the 8-hour journey to the tiny village of Monte Redondo, Honduras- the site of Aaron’s first tour in the Peace Corps. He has since built a house there and remains close friends with many he met during those 2 years. Aaron’s home is situated on the edge of a mountain with breathtaking views overlooking valleys and hills and mountains in every direction. Needless to say, it was incredible weekend, full of laughs and new and old friends, and certainly a nice break from the heat of León!

Even though the journey itself was pretty long, delayed by the time-consuming border crossing process, the two countries are quite alike. Of course, there are the obvious differences between language and landscapes (for example, the words for “hitchhike” are different: important for the many hitchhikers -including us!- that travel between the capital Tegucigalpa and little pueblos like Monte Redondo each day), but the people, and the customs, and the culture seemed similar. Probably the greatest difference I noticed was in the size of tortillas: the classic 1 giant Nicaraguan tortilla towers over the thick stack of tiny Honduran tortillas. In Honduras, I found the people to be equally friendly. We were fed, taken care of and entertained by Aaron’s Peace Corps buddy, Terenzio, and his family of six. Much like my host family here in León, they were incredibly hospitable and always down to talk about anything. In light of these similarities, it was striking for me to witness the attitudes the two countries feel for each other. Any Nicaraguan I told I was visiting/visited Honduras warned me about the danger, quickly citing that Nicaragua is the safest country in Central America while Honduras is home to the murder capital of the world, San Pedro Sula. While in Honduras, people there were fast to poke fun of the Nicaraguan accent or the scorching weather. Though these observations are harmless, and relatively normal for most bordering countries of the world, it made me wonder- why the stereotyping? Why the judgments? Especially in light of the similarities between the two countries, I couldn’t help wonder if it was these uneducated attitudes that lead to racism.

While I was in Chile last year, I was amazed to find how negatively Chileans viewed Bolivians (of course this is a generalization, not all Chileans viewed all Bolivians negatively, but the majority I came in contact with did). Yet, I was told in Bolivia, it is the Peruvians who are unwelcome, in Argentina it’s the Chileans, in Costa Rica it’s the Nicaraguans, in Nicaragua the El Salvadorans, and the trends continue… And then of course, there is the United States, where many people incorrectly profile anyone with brown skin as Mexican, and the many negative stereotypes that come along with that label (dirty, lazy, stupid ect…). Not only are these stereotypes incorrect and harmful, they are DUMB- as I found traveling between Nicaragua and Honduras, people of the world are so similar. This might seem like a no brainer, because it is, but I think this point was never so clear for me until this weekend. Why do negative thoughts exist if the only differences between us are the size of our tortillas (or our language, our dress, our religions ect)? There are borders and visas and fines and millions of dollars invested into keeping people out, but why? Of course, countries do not want criminals entering their territory and stirring up trouble. But the truth is, the majority of people are not criminals. I am no immigration expert, but I do have a problem when my Nicaraguan host mother is not granted a visa to visit her daughter who in the hospital in Spain (yes, that happened). I do have a problem when all of the Central Americans are asked to open their bags at the border for a security check and none of the white people are. I do have a problem when people chalk off entire ethnic groups and nations as lazy, unintelligent, dangerous, [insert negative adjective here]- simply because of what they see on the news. Just a thought, instead of investing millions of dollars to secure our border, why not take a chunk (or even a sliver) or that change and invest it into educating youth about the similarities between our nations. Because at the end of the day, does the size of our tortillas really matter?

Mary Maloney
León, Nicaragua