Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Club part 2 :)

Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado Don't Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks From The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado by Medea Benjamin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I absolutely tore through this book due to its conversational style as an oral biography. While the themes and topics addressed are definitely worthy of additional thought and reflection, the language was like an IV instead of digesting a pill. That said, although this book was ¨easy¨ to read, it certainly doesn´t let the reader off the hook. Everyone kept asking me why it was called ¨Don´t be afraid, Gringo¨ when the story was clearly about some Honduran lady... and why should we be afraid of her? The last few pages of the book are a powerful call to action to readers in the US--to influence changes in US foreign policy and military intervention to help Hondurans more than any type of charity ever could... and don´t be afraid of your government, Gringo! Fear only inhibits action.

That aside, I was constantly comparing this book to the last book I read about Honduras... ¨Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras¨ Being that Don´t be Afraid (DBA) was published in the mid-late 80s, and the other book (WHDH) about 20 years later, certainly a lot has changed. For one thing, DBA mentioned that there really aren´t many oligarchic-style families in power running Honduras as there are in many other central american countries... Well, WHDH points out many of them and which maquiladoras and media outlets they own. Both book have similar arguments in that they say that delinquency, alcoholism, poverty, and violence aren´t the fault of the people... WHDH argues that more egalitarian economic deveopment is needed to provide jobs to all (the book definitely is more urban-industrially focused) and DBA argues that the same problems could be solved by giving campesinos enough land to farm that would actually feed their families. Elvia Alvarado argues that campesinos aren´t afraid of hard work--those who do have enough land to farm are too busy to waste time drinking!

There are lots of great messages in this book for organizers and activitists (don´t be afraid, pep talks, education and training is KEY, and don´t organize around projects--organize for the sake of organizing and let the projects develop organically), for people who want to know about women and machismo and Honduran culture in general (through the first few chapters about Elvia´s pre-organizing life), for those who want to know about really rural Honduras (while I´ve done lots of travelling here, I haven´t gone places with no roads, so largely I haven´t seen the ¨real¨ campesinos she Elvia is working to organize). It also is good for those who would like to see some analysis of how policy (both US and Hondurans) affects everyday people without the ¨filter¨ of academic language--coming straight from the people who are affected by it. While I was excited to read a book ¨by¨ Medea Benjamin, as I respect her activism and work with the peace group Code Pink, I was also thankful that she stepped back and let Elvia tell her own story.

I hope more people who are ¨on the ground¨ doing aid work and development work in other countries read this book and get some major insight into the people that they´re working with... and HOW they should work with them. An excellent read.

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