The couple met through mutual friends while attending college. When Martinez was only 18, and Castro 19, the couple decided to marry in 1992. Shortly after their first son, Erlan Eduardo, was born.
“This was one of the biggest decisions in our life, to move away from our family,” said Castro.
Most of their family live in Tegucigalpa, so deciding to move hours away was difficult for the couple.
“We didn’t have cousins, we didn’t have aunts or uncles,” said Castro. “It was just us.”
In 1998 the couple’s second son, Andre Luis, was born in San Pedro Sula.
2000 was a big year for Martinez and Castro. Martinez graduated with a master’s degree and Castro finished her bachelor’s degree in business administration.
As their sons grew over the years a recurring question that came to Martinez’s and Castro’s minds was “How can we give our sons a better future?”
“That was the moment that we realized maybe we can make our dream come true.”
– Erlan Martinez
Honduras has been facing many challenges with its economy since the 2008-2009 global economic crisis. Statistics show in 2016 more than 66 percent of the population was living in poverty.
Another concern was the high crime rate. In recent years the number of homicides has declined, but Honduras still has one of the highest rates in the world, 59 murders per 100,000 people in 2016, according to the World Bank.
A chain of events would slowly unfold for the Martinez-Castro family in the following years that would bring them to East Tennessee.
Martinez received a link through email with a message line that said, “Do you want a green card?” Martinez applied and paid $200 to have the documents processed, but his wife was skeptical.
“I was excited about it, and when I told her she was upset with me saying ‘it’s a scam! You’re giving away money we don’t have,’” said Martinez.
Castro, who was eager to move to the U.S. to give her sons better opportunities, still had her doubts about this email.
When Martinez didn’t receive a response he began to believe that his wife was right, but there was nothing he could do to get his money back. The couple let the situation leave their minds.
Two years later Castro received a call from the Kentucky Consular Center informing her that the family qualified for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.
This program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of State, grants up to 55,000 permanent residency visas a year for people coming from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. Participants are chosen at random, which has given this program the popular nickname of “The Green Card Lottery.”
After receiving this news, Castro was told that if her family wanted to continue with this process they would have to pay $600. Still skeptical, Castro and Martinez requested all of the forms they needed but waited to pay the $600 fee. In October 2010, all the paperwork was sent in.
In February 2011, the family received word that they would have an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras two months later.
“That was the moment that we realized maybe we can make our dream come true,” said Martinez.
After going through this tedious and time-consuming process, the Martinez-Castro family was granted permanent residency visas. The U.S. government gave the family six months to make a final decision.
Not wanting to enter the U.S. without a secure job, Martinez asked to be transferred from his job at a textiles plant in Honduras to the company’s plant in Maiden, North Carolina.
Martinez had been sent to train employees at this specific plant before when he worked for the company in Honduras. He was approved to transfer to the North Carolina plant.
After five months of waiting and considering their options, the family decided to accept this invitation to live in the U.S., more than 2,000 miles away from their home in San Pedro Sula.
Once the family arrived there were still many challenges.
“We came blind,” said Castro. “Once we received our permanent residency our tourist visas were canceled. We didn’t have the opportunity to come here and see where or how we were going to live…When we came we didn’t even have a place or an address to have all of our things sent to. So we used Erlan’s company’s address to have the 10 boxes we brought sent to.”
Martinez’s company paid for the family to live in a hotel for a week while they looked for a place to live. Quickly Martinez and Castro found an apartment near where their son Erlan would be attending college, but difficulties still ensued.
After purchasing beds for their new apartment, the family realized that they would not be delivered on the same day. Trying to decide if they should extend their stay at the hotel or move into their new place and sleep on the floor, the family chose to save money and move in.
“The beginning was the hardest because you are leaving everything behind, your friends, your family, basically your whole life. Just being here gives you a new beginning. You find out more about yourself…the move here shaped me into who I am today. It all worked out.”
Not only did they spend their first night at their apartment on the floor, they also went without electricity for that night. Castro said they bought an ice cooler to store food.
Next, the family had to buy a car. After selling the family’s two cars in Honduras, Martinez and Castro had enough money to purchase one vehicle in the U.S.
At this time Martinez and Castro had no credit history, so they had to pay for their car in cash. Once the family went to drive the car off the lot they were told they needed car insurance, which is not mandatory in Honduras.
The couple made a call to an insurance company, but because they had no experience driving in the U.S. they had to pay $2,000 to receive car insurance for six months.
The family was not only facing financial issues, but living far from their home country also took a toll.
“I was excited [to move],” said Erlan, the couple’s oldest son. “However, after thinking about everything it was going to take into account, it became like a nightmare,” he said. “I lived 19 years in a country where I had my girlfriend – now my fiancé – childhood friends and relatives a few minutes or hours away from me. Once it hit me that I wouldn't be with them on a daily basis, I was frightened about going into the unknown.”
Another way the move proved problematic was how often the Martinez-Castro family was able to visit their relatives.
“I am seeing my mother every three years at the most,” said Castro. “[She] is 84, so it’s very hard for me to see her. It’s like every time I say ‘goodbye’ to her I’m praying because I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see her again.”
After getting settled, the Martinez-Castro family had exhausted their finances and tested their relationships, but over time they would come to make North Carolina their home.
“The beginning was the hardest because you are leaving everything behind, your friends, your family, basically your whole life,” said Andre. “Just being here gives you a new beginning. You find out more about yourself…the move here shaped me into who I am today. It all worked out.”
Erlan began attending Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Castro, who worked in the bank industry in Honduras, started working as a part-time bilingual teller in North Carolina. As Castro’s English improved with time she would work her way up in the banking business.
After a few years of living in North Carolina, Martinez heard rumors that his plant might close down and transfer operations to Honduras. Not wanting to become unemployed, he searched for a new job and found a textiles company that was hiring in Bristol, Tennessee.
Now the couple resides in Bristol with Andre, who just started attending Northeast State Community College.
Erlan lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and is engaged to his long-time girlfriend, Dilia, who still lives in Honduras. They plan on getting married in January in Honduras.
Castro now works as a bilingual home mortgage consultant for a nationwide bank, and recently accepted a position as a personal banker II.
After moving to Bristol, she left behind many clients at her old job.
“Mima treated her customers like her family,” said Angela Exline, one of Castro’s co-workers in North Carolina and Tennessee. “We were so sad when she left our area and moved. She still has customers that come in and ask for her every day.”
In her new job location, Castro has been adding more and more clients to her list, especially those who speak Spanish.
“In our business, it’s crucial to have a bilingual team member to serve the Hispanic community,” said Lindsey Whitworth, Castro’s current manager. “She is even more valuable because she is Hispanic herself and speaks the language. She can be their trusted consultant with the home-buying process.”
The Martinez-Castro family doesn’t plan on leaving the U.S. anytime soon. On August 11, 2017, just a few months shy of reaching their sixth year of living in the U.S., they all became American citizens.
Currently, the family plans on seeing where their journey will take them next, keeping the same determination and eagerness used in their move to the U.S. One thing they do know is that they will be returning to Honduras in January for Erlan’s wedding.
Above left: Erlan Martinez, originally from Honduras, became an American citizen this past August. Below right: Mima Castro and her son Andre Martinez look back on their move to America. (Photos by Hailey Massie)