Women – strong and independent figures in nonfiction are absolutely fantastic! When we are talking about a woman from a macho country like Honduras working in a manly field, and not only that – she is working for the peasants and their rights, then we are talking about one of the strongest women ever! Don’t Be Afraid Gringo by Elvia Alvarado is a powerful book, and we can all learn a lot from it.
Elvia Alvarado was born into the poorest country in Central America, and she worked her way up in the society, not for her own financial benefit, but as a campesino (peasant) organizer. She recovers land from the rich, and according to the law, for the benefit of the campesinos. It is a dangerous business, and I have to say that I do not know if there are many stronger women than her on our planet.
I had never heard of Elvia Alvarado before I found this book. I wish I would have known about her, and read about her before, but I am happy I finally found out who she is, what she is fighting for, and all the fantastic things she has done. After reading about her childhood I can’t help but wonder how some people have something so special inside of them, and they use that special thing for the good of others, while many times fearing for their own lives.
Alvarado comes from what I think is a typical poor Honduran family. There are a lot of children in every family, Catholicism is a strong force, but in a different way from the West. Marriage is not a big thing, partners come and go, children are born, parents are trying to put tortillas on the table. It’s a struggle to make ends meet every day. There is a joke in Honduras stating that the country is so poor that they can’t even afford an oligarchy. It is partly true. All the money goes to U.S. bank account. The wealth is the hands of foreign companies like United Fruit and Rosario Mining Company.
There are however Hondurans who are richer than the campesinos, and these land owner have taken over the land, and to simplify the legislation unused land is to be given to the campesinos so they can cultivate the land. Sounds good on paper, but it’s a dangerous game, law is not followed, army and prisons are involved, and this is what Alvarado’s fight is all about – taking back what should never had been taken away, cultivating land, earning a living, putting food on the table. Human rights, some might call it.
Definitely worth a read, and once again reminds me of how lucky I am. If we are all born equal we are definitely not given equal opportunities as a birthright. “I never really had much of a childhood at all. By the time I was 13, I was already on my own.” It’s a long way from the kind of childhood she had to reclaiming the land of the campesinos on a national level, being a real pain in the ass for many politicians, rich landowners and others she refuses to obey. They have not been able to pay her off. Corruption and bribery are two words Alvarado is definitely familiar with, but not when it comes to her own beliefs and actions.