An interview with Sonia Nazario, first published in Publishers Weekly,
reproduced with permission of the author.
What inspired you to take on the
story of Enrique's Journey?
A woman, Carmen, who would come and clean my house twice a month. She
told me that she had four children that she had left behind in Guatemala
and had not seen for 12 years. About a year later, her son made the
journey to the United States and described to me El Tren de La Muerte,
the Train of Death. I found it unbelievably moving: the story of
children wanting, at all costs, to be with their mothers and going
through these dangerous and terrifying worlds to reach them.
It sounds like your own research was pretty dangerous, too.
I wanted to put readers on top of the train with Enrique and to make
them feel that they were alongside him. To do that, I had to retrace his
journey myself. I did it the way he did it. Where he rode buses through
Central America, I rode buses. And where he boarded the train in
southern Mexico, I did, too. But there were times when I was afraid.
There were too many close calls. There were times when I was filthy or I
couldn't go to the bathroom for hours or was excruciatingly hot or cold
or pelted by hail.
What was the most dangerous thing that happened to you?
A branch hit me square in the face while I was on top of the train
and I almost fell off. That was pretty harrowing.
It seems like many of the mothers are not prepared for how
their departure will affect their children.
A lot of these mothers believe in their hearts that they are doing
the best thing by leaving their child. [Because the mothers send money
back home] their child will not grow up in such grinding poverty. But
the reality is that in most cases the separation lasts much longer than
the women believe [it will], and the children ultimately resent their
mothers for leaving them. So in the end, for many families, it's a sad
It seems like a difficult pattern to break, though, because
the poverty is so devastating.
Some of the families live with a tarp over their heads and a dirt
floor underneath them. Women describe not having anything to give their
children for dinner and giving them a glass of water with a teaspoon of
sugar to quiet their bellies. The level of poverty is staggering.
How has writing this book changed your opinions about illegal
The main change for me has been to recognize that such a powerful
stream will only change if it is addressed at its source, if the
economies of these countries that are sending large numbers of people to
the United States improves. I talked to one kid in southern Mexico who
had made 27 attempts to reach his mother in the United States, and he
was getting ready to make attempt number 28. You come to believe that no
number of border control guards is going to stop someone like that.
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