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Coronavirus pandemic impacts Honduran family's hopes of returning to Farmington

Mauricio Espinal seeking contributions for studio project

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Former Farmington resident Mauricio Espinal, now living in his native Honduras, is hoping to raise money to build a small music production facility to help support his family.
  • The Espinal family was forced to leave Farmington last summer when their R1 religious visa expired.
  • The Espinals have been living in their native Honduras since then but still hope to return to Farmington.
  • Mauricio Espinal is the former music director at Templo Sinai Assembly of God Church in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — A former Farmington resident and his family who were forced to leave the country last year when their visa expired has had their plans to return to the United States sidetracked because of COVID-19.

Mauricio Espinal, the former music director at Templo Sinai Assembly of God Church in Farmington, and his wife and children left Farmington in June 2019 to return to their native Honduras. The Espinals had been in Farmington for five years on an R1 religious visa.

Espinal had hoped to extend his family's stay by applying for a residential visa, which would have permitted them to remain in the country for another 10 years. But his application was stalled with immigration officials when his R1 visa expired on June 3, 2019, so the family flew back to Honduras. They hoped their residential visa application would be approved by this summer, allowing them to return to Farmington.

That didn't happen, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Espinal realizes it is likely to be some time before he can arrange to bring his family back to America, so he is settling in for an extended stay in his native country and is seeking the help of his supporters here to make a living.

Mauricio Espinal and his wife Elisa are pictured in their Farmington apartment in May 2019, shortly before they returned to Honduras.

Espinal — an accomplished keyboardist, composer, music producer and sound engineer — is hoping to build a small recording and production studio in the backyard of his rented house in Honduras so he can work on projects for his clients in the United States. Fellow musician and Farmington-area resident Sheldon Pickering has helped mount a fundraising campaign on his friend's behalf, sending out an email blast on Aug. 6 asking Espinal's friends and associates here to contribute to the $4,000 cost of the project.

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"He's able to export his expertise to me and others here, which is pretty cool," Pickering said of Espinal's ability to work on musical projects remotely if he can raise enough money to build the studio.

The project Espinal has in mind is modest, with a 13-foot-by-9-foot floor plan. But he said it will accommodate up to three musicians at a time and will have everything necessary for optimal operation.

He said his need for the studio is urgent, and he believes he can have it constructed within 30 days if he can raise the funds. Pickering said he has referred a number of American musical clients to his friend, but if Espinal has no studio from which to work, he will be unable to perform that work.

Mauricio Espinal estimates the cost of the music production studio he wants to build in Honduras at $4,000.

"He really needs that space," Pickering said. "There's just something about an artist and their space."

Espinal has retained his trademark optimism despite having suffered a series of personal setbacks for more than a year. Economic conditions in his native country already were poor, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made them even worse.

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He had found a job at a Honduran church of the same denomination as his Farmington church and had worked there for eight months, allowing him to provide for his family. But he recently was laid off from that position for 120 days and still has a couple of months to go before he can resume work.

To make matters worse, Templo Sinai Assembly of God in Farmington, which was sponsoring his family, was forced to suspend Espinal's petition to return to the U.S. The size of its congregation was dramatically impacted by the economic downturn in San Juan County, and the job it was holding for Espinal upon his planned return was eliminated.

"At the moment, our situation to return to the USA is complicated," Espinal stated in an email. "I understand that the option would be for another church of the same denomination to ask us as a family. Another option is that some company or natural person needs my musical skills and can prove to the government that I am necessary and they can sponsor us. Even when everything is normalized, I don't think that the church that used to sponsor us in the past is in the economic position to finance our return."

Espinal said the impact of COVID-19 on Honduras has been much the same as in America, with large numbers of people dying and many others losing their jobs.

Mauricio Espinal says he fears the economic impact of COVID-19 on his native country of Honduras is likely to get worse.

"From my perspective, our government has done very little and has improvisedly handled the emergency," he stated in the email. "Furthermore, the Honduran population is highly dissatisfied due to this and the corruption that spills over to the highest government officials."

He noted that even under normal circumstances, the Honduran economy tends to struggle, and he fears that the economic fallout from the virus has yet to fully make itself felt in his home country.

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But he said his countrymen are resilient people, and he believes they will survive this challenge.

"The most valuable resource in Honduras are the Hondurans," he said. "Hondurans are hard-working, creative and persistent people. We are looking to the future with eyes full of faith and hope, believing that each Honduran will put the best of each one to carry this beautiful nation forward."

Pickering echoed that assessment, explaining that when he traveled to Honduras last fall to visit Espinal and perform at a benefit concert there, he found the people very kind, very friendly and highly educated.

He encouraged Espinal's friends in the Farmington area to contribute to the fundraising campaign for a studio, adding that their faith in him would be well placed.

"I would say, 'Just think of a time when someone gave you a chance,'" he said. " … He's good guy, and he's trying to do the right thing. He's not asking for a McMansion, he's asking for a space in his house to support his family. That's a good aspiration and a worthy cause."

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Espinal remains hopeful he and his family will be able to return to the U.S., but he is prepared to make the best of things in Honduras if that does not happen.

"We are people open to changes and new opportunities," he said. "Our wish is to be able to return in the correct and legal ways if the opportunity presents itself. Farmington was our home for five years. Much of our life and experiences were planted there. The Farmington community welcomed us as a family. However, Honduras is our land. If a new opportunity does not appear, I am sure that we will go forward guided by our God."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.