Christmas arrives, and he waits by the door. She does not come. Every year, she promises. Each year, he is disappointed. Confusion finally grows into anger. "I need her. I miss her," he tells his sister. "I want to be with my mother. I see so many children with mothers. I want that."
One day, he asks his grandmother, "How did my mom get to the United States?" Years later, Enrique will remember his grandmother's reply - and how another seed was planted: "Maybe," Mar'a says, "she went on the trains."
"What are the trains like?"
"They are very, very dangerous," his grandmother says. "Many people die on the trains."
When Enrique is twelve, Lourdes tells him yet again that she will come home.
"Si," he replies. "Va, pues. Sure. Sure."
Enrique senses a truth: Very few mothers ever return. He tells her that he doesn't think she is coming back. To himself, he says, "It's all one big lie."
The calls grow tense. "Come home," he demands. "Why do you want to be there?"
"It's all gone to help raise you."
Lourdes has nightmares about going back, even to visit, without residency documents. In the dreams, she hugs her children, then realizes she has to return to the United States so they can eat well and study. The plates on the table are empty. But she has no money for a smuggler. She tries to go back on her own. The path becomes a labyrinth. She runs through zigzagging corridors. She always ends up back at the starting point. Each time, she awakens in a sweat.
Another nightmare replays an incident when Belky was two years old. Lourdes has potty-trained her daughter. But Belky keeps pooping in her pants. "Puerca! You pig!" Lourdes scolds her daughter. Once, Lourdes snaps. She kicks Belky in the bottom. The toddler falls and hits her face on the corner of a door. Her lip splits open. Lourdes can't reach out and console her daughter. Each time, she awakens with Belky's screams ringing in her ears.
All along, Enrique's mother has written very little; she is barely literate and embarrassed by it. Now her letters stop.
Every time Enrique sees Belky, he asks, "When is our mom coming? When will she send for us?"
Lourdes does consider hiring a smuggler to bring the children but fears the danger. The coyotes, as they are called, are often alcoholics or drug addicts. Usually, a chain of smugglers is used to make the trip. Children are passed from one stranger to another. Sometimes the smugglers abandon their charges.
Lourdes is continually reminded of the risks. One of her best friends in Long Beach pays for a smuggler to bring her sister from El Salvador. During her journey, the sister calls Long Beach to give regular updates on her progress through Mexico. The calls abruptly stop.
Two months later, the family hears from a man who was among the group headed north. The smugglers put twenty-four migrants into an overloaded boat in Mexico, he says. It tipped over. All but four drowned. Some bodies were swept out to sea. Others were buried along the beach, including the missing sister. He leads the family to a Mexican beach. There they unearth the sister's decomposed body. She is still wearing her high school graduation ring.
Another friend is panic-stricken when her three-year-old son is caught by Border Patrol agents as a smuggler tries to cross him into the United States. For a week, Lourdes's friend doesn't know what's become of her toddler.
Lourdes learns that many smugglers ditch children at the first sign of trouble. Government-run foster homes in Mexico get migrant children whom authorities find abandoned in airports and bus stations and on the streets. Children as young as three, bewildered, desperate, populate these foster homes.
V'ctor Flores, four years old, maybe five, was abandoned on a bus by a female smuggler. He carries no identification, no telephone number. He ends up at Casa Pamar, a foster home in Tapachula, Mexico, just north of the Guatemalan border. It broadcasts their pictures on Central American television so family members might rescue them.
Excerpted from Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario Copyright © 2006 by Sonia Nazario. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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