Roots of Resistance

Professor Suyapa Portillo Villeda’s new book explores gender, race, and labor in Honduras

Book Cover - Roots of Resistance

Claremont, Calif. (April 22, 2021)—Roots of Resistance: A Story of Gender, Race, and Labor on the North Coast of Honduras, by Pitzer College Professor Suyapa Portillo Villeda ’96, has just been released by University of Texas Press and is available online now. 

Roots of Resistance explores contemporary Honduran history through the lens of a 1954 strike when workers on the banana plantations of northern Honduras protested low wages and poor conditions. Portillo Villeda brings the pivotal role of women—in both the strike and the broader labor movement—to the forefront of the story. Roots of Resistance constructs a nuanced history of Honduras and the region. From Honduran worker oral histories to analysis of recent political upheaval, Portillo Villeda’s book uses lessons from the past to illuminate urgent issues in the present.

“I hope my narrative on organizing and collective power, including a history of resistance to US intervention and persecution in Honduras, will enrich the discourse on Honduras and Central America then and now,” Portillo Villeda says.

An expert on gender and labor history in the Americas, Portillo Villeda draws on extensive oral histories she conducted with workers who lived through the era as well as archival research in Honduras and the U.S. to examine how working-class actors, and their organizing, challenged the nation and confronted powerful transnational companies and US intervention in Honduras at the onset of the Cold War.

Roots of Resistance paints vivid portraits of the patronas (women cooks) who ran eating establishments on the plantations and became powerful actors in the fight for labor rights—an antecedent to today’s vigorous women’s and labor movement. The book explores community building among banana workers, men and women, as a potent response to the emerging multinational corporations and US dominance in the region.

By telling their stories, Portillo Villeda sheds light on life and resistance in the banana enclaves of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita Brands International) and Standard Fruit Company (now Dole Food Company) at a time when those US-based companies exercised profound control over Honduras and Central America.

Dario A. Euraque, author of Reinterpreting the Banana Republic: Region and State in Honduras, 1870-1972, says Portillo Villeda “advances a bold argument about the relationship between the Honduran resistance to the destructive coup of 2009 and its roots in the deep Caribbean capitalist history of this so-called classic banana republic.”

“(The book’s) pioneering evidentiary base originates in her use of rich oral histories, especially from women, that enliven her analysis. In this regard, Roots of Resistance engages not only the older historiography of the United Fruit Company in Central America and the Caribbean but also with debates about social movements, their legacies, and memories across generations,” Euraque writes.

Roots of Resistance makes an important contribution to the existing literature on this topic, says John Soluri, author of Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States.

“Grounded in oral histories that revolve around the great strike of 1954 led by banana workers, Roots of Resistance offers a much-needed intersectional approach to histories of labor activism in Honduras by integrating race, class, and gender,” writes Soluri, associate professor of history at Carnegie Mellon University.  

The Intercollegiate Department of Chicana/o Latina/o Studies (IDCLS) at the Claremont Colleges will be holding a virtual reading and discussion of Roots of Resistance and Scripps College and IDCLS Associate Professor of Chicanx-Latinx Studies Martha Gonzalez’s Chican@ Artivistas: Music, Community, and Transborder Tactics in East Los Angeles on April 29, at 4:15 p.m. (PT). Visit the intercollegiate department’s webpage for more information about the IDCLS Book Celebration.

Professor Suyapa Portillo Villeda
Professor Suyapa Portillo Villeda

Suyapa Portillo Villeda ’96 is associate professor of Chicano/a-Latino/a Transnational Studies at Pitzer. A 2017-18 Fulbright US Scholar Research Fellowship recipient, Portillo Villeda specializes in social movements in Honduras and throughout Central America. Her courses at Pitzer include Gender, Radicalism & Revolution, Immigration: From the “Tropics” to the Borderlands, Black and Indigenous Central America and Central Americans in the US. She was awarded a 2018 Claremont Colleges Diversity Teaching Award, and NPR named her a Source of the Week in 2017 for her reporting on the Honduran elections that year. Portillo Villeda earned her BA from Pitzer College and her master’s and PhD from Cornell University.

For more information about Professor Portillo Villeda, visit her website at: https://www.suyapaportillo.com.

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