Janel Martinez, Honduras
photo: Janel Martinez

I’ve returned home to my family’s motherland, Honduras, a handful of times. The first visit, I was six years old. Outside of running around el campo with my cousins, yelling “¡Vaya!” to all the dogs and farm animals, and daily trips to the beach, it was a blur. It was sadly the last time I’d see my paternal abuelo alive. Since then, I’ve visited three more times.

12 long years later I was able to reconnect with those same primos, many of whom left home for university or job opportunities in the city, so it was only through quick visits. I was self-conscious about my pronunciation, but my broken Spanish somehow kept us connected in conversation. My Garifuna (a language spoken in certain places in Central America, namely Honduras, but also in Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua) was no better, yet I picked it up more as I went.

I got to know my abuela better on my second trip, but by the third was she was no longer here. However, there was so much beauty in celebrating her life through a tradition known as a beluria. Family and friends traveled from all over Honduras and the states to honor her through song and dance, among other things. It was the first of many reminders of how important family is and how rich and vital my culture, which is equal parts Honduran and Garifuna, is to me.

My most recent return home struck a chord. Unable to live-tweet my experience traveling from the luxurious Roatán to the rural Ciriboya, I was forced to live in the moment, and this time I was really present.

Janel Martinez, Honduras
photo: Janel Martinez

From exploring West Bay and drinking freshly made guanábana to evenings spent in the front yard laughing with family, I was able to connect with my roots on an entirely new level. Hearing my tío recount childhood memories with my father allowed me to understand their early years. I got an abbreviated family history lesson courtesy of my 90-something year old great aunt. She also dished up some timeless dating advice. More lessons were provided straight from another tía’s outdoor kitchen as I swung in a hammock.

Toward the end of my trip, it hit me. I needed my previous visits, the self-conscious thoughts about my pronunciation, and several years of cultural disconnect to reconnect with my roots.  Letting go of expectations and remaining present created the space for me to be my truest self.