Olanchito – a small, lush town nestled in between the mountains–was my ultimate destination for this reporting trip. I traveled here to follow the path of a twenty-eight-year-old woman, who I’ll call Sandra. In 2016, Sandra migrated from her small home on an unpaved road in Olanchito to a cramped apartment in North Carolina, where she now lives. Sandra was fleeing domestic violence and a generally treacherous environment for women. At night, robbers and gang members roamed the streets of Sandra’s colonia, and she was the victim of numerous assaults and aggressions. Sandra and her sisters were kept on lockdown in the house by their mother. Venturing outside–even to the nearby pulperia–was always a dance with fate.
Two years ago, Sandra slipped out of the house without telling anyone–not even her mother–that she was headed to the U.S. She hired a coyote who brought her to the Mexico-Texas border, and eventually wound up in the sleepy South. According to Google Maps, my journey to Sandra’s hometown was more than 3,000 miles; from the lush, expansive landscapes of North Carolina, to the far more lush, expansive landscapes of Honduras.
Sandra’s journey did not end when she finally settled into her North Carolina apartment, which she shares with her children and a partner. Now, she is applying for asylum in North Carolina. She appears to be joining a growing group of women seeking refuge in the U.S. from domestic violence in Honduras. Statistics are hard to come by, but according to a judge I spoke with, Olanchito has the second-highest rate of domestic violence in the region–and domestic violence reports and cases are on the rise. Some of those women will choose, like Sandra did, to come to the U.S., where they will apply for asylum. I am following Sandra’s journey–unremarkable in its commonality–to try to understand why women flee Honduras, and what life is like on the other side.
– Erica Hellerstein