When, in 1877, the young José Martí – the poet and future leader of the Cuban revolution against Spanish colonial rule – arrived in Central America, he fell in love with the light. He wrote about the light as if it was alive. He found in it a poetic metaphor for American identity, of the many in the one, of nearly mystical union – an Emersonian idea adapted to the tropics.

I thought of this when looking at Pablo Delano’s wonderful photographs of Honduras. I love the light in these photographs. The little girl climbing a flag pole against the luminous robin’s egg blue of a late afternoon sky, the mellow hues of an imminent sunset illuminating the intense purple, maroon, orange, pale green of the ill-fitting dresses of the other little girls (dresses just like the ones worn by poor little girls throughout Latin America) the turquoise and golden colors of the schoolhouse wall and mural behind them, the shadows on the scorched grass and dirt, the jade green strap of a sandal, a scarlet hair-tie, sunlight like fever or love on a young face, full of sweetness and curiosity. So much life and color, innocence and youth, bursting from one quiet photograph of an ordinary schoolyard scene.

The light should seem like a blessing, and it is, but it isn’t only that, you know it’s a curse too, not only because of what you know probably lies ahead for these girls – the hard life of the poor – but because of what you know is happening in that country now. The coup d’etat of June, 2009, a cruel turning back of the clock in a country that hadn’t really gotten very far anyway: only a few years of only somewhat reformist democratically-elected government was enough to bring the anti-democratic dinosaurs back to life, the same old ransacking government exclusively for-and-of a corrupt and often criminal elite that over the past half-century and longer have managed to turn Honduras, along with its Central American neighbors, especially Guatemala and El Salvador, into the blighted countries in the hemisphere, the most violent and corrupt, with the highest levels of illiteracy and malnutrition.

Why am I so moved by the skies, the colors, the streets, the multi-ethnic faces in Pablo Delano’s photographs, all bathed in that light that Martí described as actually alive? Because they are beautiful and true; because they have escaped from darkness and death like light from a prison door suddenly thrown open; because the same light that warms that little girl’s face in the photograph by the flagpole also warms our faces as we, all the way up here, look.

Francisco Goldman
Brooklyn, 2009