by Elise White Diaz
Teaching Honduran history is a fascinating venture; especially with Wikipedia around. I can spend all day researching different names and tangents discovered in the text: Honduras’ annexation to Mexico, the Vanderbilt connection with a Central American revolt, an American businessman who declared himself president of Nicaragua….And it was on one of these internet searches that I learned about Benito Juarez.
Benito Juarez is a famous forefather in Mexico history. But his story is strikingly applicable to my life today. Benito Juarez was the first Mexican president of pure indigenous descent. He grew up in a small village working the corn fields from a young age, and was raised by his grandparents and uncle. He grew up illiterate and only spoke Zapotec until he walked to the city of Oaxaca to attend school at the age of 12 and live with his sister, who worked as a maid. This decision turned out to be a divine appointment in Benito Juarez’s life.
The man his sister worked for was a lay Franciscan named Antonia Salanueva. Salanueva was impressed with young Benito’s intelligence and thirst for learning so he found him a spot at a Franciscan seminary so that he could study to become a priest. But God had different plans for Benito Juarez.
Juarez decided instead to study law, became a lawyer, then a judge, then the governor of the state of Oaxaca, then Chief Justice of Mexico, and finally president in 1858, the first indigenous president of Mexico. He presided over a period of Mexican history known as “La Reforma” (the Reform) and facilitated important changes in the country, such as bringing the army under civilian country, lessening the power of the Roman Catholic Church in public affairs, and leading Mexico into a more capitalistic society. Today he is remembered by the national holiday to celebrate his impact on Mexico and with his picture on their 20 pesos bill.
Great story. What does this have to do with me, an American woman serving in Honduras? I am Antonio Salanueva! The children of AFE are beautiful and brilliant and now something precious is at their disposal: opportunity. Who will take the baton and run with it?
Perhaps it will be Maria Selena Diaz. The initiative, drive, and profundity this young woman demonstrates is at odds with her background. She has never known her father and her mother (a garbage dump worker) abandoned her at birth. Her grandmother (who also works in recycling) raised her until she could not afford to do so any longer. With no one else to claim her, Selena moved in with her aunt and experienced a very dark time in her life. But AFE was there for her, Jesi Ordonez had meaningful talks with her, and the church convinced Selena that we are her family. Now Selena is known as the most articulate girl in the upper grades and gave a moving testimony at a donor celebration. She tries hard in school, is perfectionistic about her work, and asks deep questions in class. The other day I told Selena: “Selena, you could be the first female president of Honduras and make Honduras known world-wide for positive political reform instead of coup d’états and poverty.” And I truly believe that she could.