By Franklin Moreno
I recently returned from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where I was studying young people’s moral judgments and reasoning regarding violence, with support from the Tinker Foundation and CLAS. I spent most of my time talking with people in Chamelecón, a sector where levels of violence are especially acute.
Society’s ills are often explained with assumptions about young people, and violence is no exception. In the summer of 2015, I had assisted Dr. Erin Murphy-Graham from the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley with a study examining intimate partnership violence in Honduras. On numerous occasions, several adults — including a representative from the National Police — expressed opinions that young people become delinquents in part because they reject Honduran values and adopt cultural values from abroad, particularly attitudes inspired by Reggeaton music. Echoing the country’s politicians in the past, these claims resurfaced in my recent research in San Pedro: the younger generation is rejecting the values of Honduran society.
Over the course of a month, I befriended youth, community leaders, and outreach center coordinators and staff from Project Genesis, a joint initiative of the National Foundation for the Development of Honduras (Funadeh, the United States Agency for International Development, and the local community. And as my hosts drove me to the public hospital to shadow rounds with a medical student, we tuned in to the big band sounds of Ray Conniff. At the Mario Catarino Rivas hospital, I spoke with adolescent victims of gun violence and their mothers and sisters who attended them day and night, sleeping on the hospital floors.
The Funadeh staff was pivotal in supporting my work. The foundation coordinates outreach centers (centros de alcance) throughout Honduras, and they do incredible work on violence prevention through educational initiatives and employment and microbusiness capacity building. I was able to visit many neighborhoods because of the rapport Funadeh has with the communities, especially with the gangs. In the neighborhood of Miguel Ángel Pavón, we had to lower the car windows for the “guards” to see who was entering, while in other areas, the foundation’s logo displayed on the vehicles was enough to gain admittance.
I went with an open mind, and I came back with a yearning to return and learn more. So many questions linger about the multiple levels of violence affecting the lives of people, young and old.
Exactly what are my friends adapting to when they take alternative routes to come home from the grocery store in the evening or when they consistently watch to see who is parked outside their house? How do neighborhoods become mini-states, where everyone (except older women) faces potentially lethal consequences for crossing gang “borders?” What does “gang violence” actually refer to if police use it as an instrument of policing, threatening to abandon young people across the “border?” What form of human development emerges when most cars have every window tinted as a form of protection, including the front windshield? Is the depravation of basic sanitary conditions such as hand soap, drinking water (!), certain medications, and bed sheets for patients at the public hospital a form of violence?
Perhaps these conditions have led young people to abandon the values of their own society. From what I observed and heard in the focus groups and interviews I conducted, this assertion is partially true.
The youth I spoke with reject illegal searches and threats by the police as unjust. They condemn as discrimination company practices that disqualify them for employment because of the marginalized neighborhoods they live in. They express moral outrage at the loss of family and friendship ties due to the forcibly imposed gang borders. They perceive the 2009 coup as political corruption. And they judge government spending on police uniforms, weapons, and vehicles as unjust, especially given the scant resources directed to education.
Absolutely, Honduran youth renounce values of injustice and discrimination. Shouldn’t the adults?
Franklin Moreno is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. He carried out research on youth moral reasoning in Honduras with support from a 2016 Tinker Research Grant.