Portrait of Reverend Adan Mairena

“My great-grandmother was a small Indian woman and she had this one child who looked like the owner of the estate, so they had to pick up and move to the city.”

Reverend Adan Mairena is the pastor at West Kensington Ministry, in Norris Square, Philadelphia.

Mairena testifying at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., January, 2015.

Mairena testifying at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., January, 2015.

I consider myself more like a second-generation immigrant as I was born in Honduras, but after my parents had come to the US. I only lived there my first year. I was born in Honduras because my mother went back to take care of immigration business. My mother stayed there with me for about a year. My two older sisters were born here.

My parents came to the US in the 1960s. My father came first. He came here as a political refugee, but was not labeled as such. He was born in a town of silver mines, San Juancito, outside the capital. The whole town worked in the mines. My grandmother sold food to the miners, and was then able to move to the city and they became middle class people. The poorer people lived in the mountains; that is where my mother came from. My father and his friends became educated and he became a teacher.

At that time Honduras was quiet compared to neighboring Central American countries, the military was in charge, and of all countries Honduras had the most US military presence. There was political unrest, however, and my father and his friends were criticizing the government and his friends were turning up dead. My grandmother had started some bars and restaurants and someone came in one day and said your son is next. So she bought him a plane ticket and he went to New Orleans where he had some cousins already there. He worked as a waiter, in construction, hard labor jobs. Mom was still in Honduras and he brought her to New Orleans. If you came to certain areas, you didn’t have to learn English, and she said, “If we don’t leave we will be like this forever and never learn English.“ So they left New Orleans to be on their own and to become more acculturated.

My grandmother had white skin and blue eyes. She was born while they lived on an estate owned by Germans. My great-grandmother was a small Indian woman and she had this one child who looked like the owner of the estate, so they had to pick up and move to the city. The landowner couldn’t have his illegitimate daughter—my grandmother—running around the estate. Once in the city, and after my grandmother was in her teens, she married an older man, a carpenter, and he took care of the family. I must look more like my great grandmother more than my grandmother. I am very in tune with how I look and where I came from.

My mother’s side—that describes the history of millions of Mestizos. Mestizos are a byproduct of rape and exploitation, and that is an important part of my identity, my point of historical reference. That is what gives me a sense of intentionally confronting injustice.

At West Kensington Ministry, on behalf of Sanctuary for Angela.

At West Kensington Ministry, on behalf of Sanctuary for Angela.

The town where my father was born had the first Pepsi plant in Central America. The natural resources were exploited till they were gone; now, it is almost a ghost town. My father was a public school teacher in Honduras, and he was a Roman Catholic. But when he came here, the Pentecostals embraced him as an immigrant. They all hang out together and ate together, and did everything together. He became a Pentecostal, but he wanted to go to seminary and they did not support that. So he went to a Presbyterian seminary, did an internship in Chicago, and then we moved to South Texas in order for him to work at a church there. South Texas was an agriculturally based economy and my father worked with farm workers and sometimes brought people home to stay for weeks at a time. My aunt came from Honduras with her daughter and my dad drove to the border and picked her up—he smuggled them in, and other people too. So I always had a sense of knowing that I am an immigrant.

My mom says she doesn’t need to return to Honduras. We’ve visited on average about every twelve years. There is no internet so phone is the best way to keep in touch. My grandmother would come here to visit when I was a lot younger. My parents had become Protestants, from a family that was all Roman Catholic, so that was a big cultural difference. My mother also went to seminary. She worked at a bank for many years and then went to seminary and also became a Presbyterian minister. Now she is a hospital Chaplain in Texas.

I became a citizen at age fourteen, before that I had a green card. My parents left that decision up to me. My sisters were born here so they were citizens from birth, and my parents became citizens too. It was definitely easier then (before 9/11) than it is now.

I am bi-cultural. I don’t feel pulled by different cultures, this is its own culture. In Honduras they say “you don’t speak Spanish like us,” and here they say “you are from there when are you going back,” even though I have spent my whole life here.

Jesus was an immigrant, from the divine world to this earth. The history of the world is the history of a people on the move . . .

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.


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