BookBrowse Reviews Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario

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Enrique's Journey

by Sonia Nazario

Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2007, 336 pages

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This portrait of poverty and family ties has the potential to reshape American conversations about immigration. Current Affairs

From the book jacket: In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States.

When Enrique is five years old, his mother, Lourdes, too poor to feed her children, leaves Honduras to work in the United States. The move allows her to send money back home to Enrique so he can eat better and go to school past the third grade. Lourdes promises Enrique she will return quickly. But she struggles in America. Years pass. He begs for his mother to come back. Without her, he becomes lonely and troubled. When she calls, Lourdes tells him to be patient. Enrique despairs of ever seeing her again. After eleven years apart, he decides he will go find her.

Comment: Enrique's story began when he was 5-years-old, living in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, with his mother, Lourdes, who is barely able to support him and his sister by selling tortillas and gum on the street. One day she sees pictures of Las Vegas on a customer's TV screen; it's a revelation - if only she could find this promised land she could earn enough money to save her children from poverty. However, she can't take them with her so, like thousands before and after her, she makes the hard choice to leave, not even taking a photograph of her beloved children (who she leaves in the care of relatives) because it would make her too sad. She plans to make some money and return in a couple of years.

Lourdes succeeds in crossing into the USA but finds life much more difficult than she hoped. She manages to send money home religiously but is never able to save enough to return herself. Eleven years later, Enrique, sad and increasingly bitter at being abandoned, follows her north with just a telephone number and $57 in his pocket, determined to find the woman he idolizes. His journey takes him across four borders (from Honduras to Guatamala to Mexico and finally into the USA).

He has barely boarded the train out of Tegucigalpa before he is assaulted by men who try to lynch him, then beat him up and throw him from the train. He staggers barefoot down the tracks trying to find help but no one will come to his aid. This is just a taste of what will come. He travels on the top of the speeding freight trains that migrants call el Tren de la Muerte (the train of death) which regularly claim the lives and limbs of those who attempt the journey (pictures on Nazario's website). Before he finally reaches his mother he will have been beaten by gangs, endured extreme exposure to both heat and cold, been repeatedly arrested by police and immigration officers in multiple countries and spent weeks begging for food and water. He attempts the journey north seven times, traveling for a total of 122 days and more than 12,000 miles. On his eighth attempt he finally makes it across the US border, but after such a long separation the meeting between Lourdes and Enrique in North Carolina can only be a disappointment; both mother and son have idolized each other for so long that nothing can live up to either of their dreams and the reunion sparks resentments that have quietly festered for years.

Few would disagree that illegal immigration is a problem for the USA and for other Western countries, but it's all too easy to think of it as a statistical problem, not the human problem that it is. At the end of the day Enrique's Journey is not about illegal immigration or people stealing jobs from USA workers, it's about families, and the desperately hard choices that too many have to make.


How Nazario researched Enrique's Journey:
A condensed version of Enrique's Journey was published in the Los Angeles Times in 2003, but the idea for the book was planted 6 years before that when journalist Nazario sat down for a cup of coffee with Carmen, her Guatemalan housekeeper, and learned that Carman had left four children behind when she migrated north a decade before. What shocked Nazario more than Carman's personal saga was the realization that her experience was unexceptional. With divorce spreading across Latin America and families disintegrating, the face of migration had changed dramatically (see side bar).

In 2000, Nazario met Enrique in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico where he was being cared for by a humanitarian group who look after imprisoned illegal immigrants. According to Nazario, the majority of Mexicans live by a double standard whereby its perfectly acceptable for them to enter the USA illegally to find work, but they are unwilling to give sanctuary, even temporarily, to those entering their country from the south; however there are exceptions to this norm, such as the group who helped Enrique. Later, after Lourdes and Enrique have been reunited, she spent a number of weeks with them in North Carolina. From there she flew to Honduras to follow the migrant trail herself through Guatemala and Mexico. She boarded the same train that Enrique had traveled on and spent months living on her wits in order to live Enrique's journey for herself.

Honduras vs USA

  • The GDP per capita in Honduras is $3,000 vs. $43,500 in the USA (2006 est.)
  • More than a quarter of Hondurans (28%) are unemployed, versus less than 5% in the USA.
  • Over half (53% of Hondurans live below the poverty line, vs 12% in the USA.

This review was originally published in March 2006, and has been updated for the January 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



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