Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
A Note for Teachers
Originally written as a newspaper series for the Los Angeles Times,
tells the true story of a Honduran boys journey to find
his mother in America. As a literary text, the work lends itself easily to the
study of primary elements: plot, setting, character, theme, etc. Beginning in
Honduras with Enriques mother (Lourdes), the text follows multiple story lines
(those of Lourdes, Enrique, Enriques girlfriend, immigrant care workers, and
other immigrants). The text also includes multiple characters and encourages an
analysis of their motivations and the results of their actions. Enriques
Journey will also provide the catalyst for meaningful discussions of universal
themes such as parent-child conflict, family responsibility, separation, and
assimilation into new cultures.
As a social commentary, this work will fit easily into any social studies
classroom or into any classs discussions of the issues the text presents.
Immigration policies in both the United States and in Mexico are brought sharply
into focus through this narrative. In addition, the incredibly divergent
attitudes of the people with whom Enrique has contact will provoke discussion of
and offer opportunities for analysis of the opinions toward immigration held by
different cultures. The narrative also deals with other social issues that can
prompt study and discussion, such as: poverty, economic policy (in the United
States, Mexico, and Central America), race relations, and gang activity.
Ultimately, Enriques Journey
can provide challenging and appropriate
study for middle school through college. Its story line and themes will lend
themselves easily to multiple levels of examination, in many different classroom
About This Book
Sparked by a conversation with the authors maid, Carmen, about Carmens
separation and reunion with her own son, Minor, Enriques Journey
as a series of articles for the Los Angeles Times. After their publication, the
articles won two Pulitzer prizes (feature writing for Sonia Nazario and feature
photography for Don Bartletti), the George Polk Award for International
Reporting, and the Grand Prize of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.
Realizing that the immigrants journey was the adventure story of the
twenty-first century, Sonia Nazario set out to tell a story that is very common
the story of the trek to the United States (xvi). The unique aspect of her
treatment, however, is that the immigrant whose story she chooses to tell is
only a child, and he is one, Nazario discovered, of an estimated 48,000
children who enter the United States from Central America and Mexico each year,
illegally and without either of their parents (5). While she was researching
the story, Nazario also discovered the many hazards of these childrens journeys
and the sometimes disappointing outcome of their reunions with their families.
tells the true story of a five-year-old boy whose
mother leaves him behind in Honduras so that she can seek better fortune in
America. Planning only to stay until she can send for her children or return
with enough money to support them, Enriques mother promises to bring him to be
with her, but each year setbacks prevent her from keeping her promise. Enrique
desperately misses his mother and believes that only she can understand and
After disappointing stays with other relatives, Enrique decides he will go to
America to find his mother. With only her phone number on a piece of paper,
Enrique sets out on the perilous journey at age 16. His journey means hopping
trains to get through Mexico to the United States border. Seven times he fails;
each time, though, he learns ways to make it further on the next trip.
After terrible hardships attacks by gang members, near misses on the train,
extreme hunger and thirst Enrique makes it to his mother, only to find that in
the years of separation, his image of her and the reality he finds are very much
This text offers a wide range of instructional opportunities in a variety of
courses. It is particularly well-suited to those in language arts, social
studies, and to courses within the social sciences. The text also lends itself
to a range of grade levels, beginning as early as middle school and up to
college-level coursework. The ideas addressed in the work have depth
inequality, prejudice, parental conflict but the pure adventure of the story
would allow any of these weighty issues to be glossed over in discussions in
lower grades. Other mature topics rape, assault, robbery while present in
the text, do not take place with such detail that they cannot be lightly touched
upon or ignored, depending on the teaching context.
This text also lends itself well to addressing the four strands of the language
arts curriculum reading, writing, communication, and research and to the
standards offered by the National Council of Teachers of English (these may be
accessed by linking to this site: http://www.ncte.org/about/over/standards/110846.htm
). The activities in this guide offer ideas for these four strands and in these
easily lends itself to a study of immigration in the
United States and of the trends in immigration that have formed this nation of
immigrants, as President George W. Bush has called the country (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/04/20010409-4.html
). Teachers may wish to have their classes trace the historical patterns of
immigration to the United States: from mostly northern European in the seventeen
and eighteen hundreds, to the addition of Scandinavian countries in the late
1800s, to southern European in the early 1900s, and finally to modern patterns
of immigration. Classes might also wish to examine peaks of immigration Irish,
Chinese, Italian, Cuban, etc. throughout Americas history and to examine
events that motivated these peaks.
fits comfortably within the tradition of investigative
journalism that has often forced Americans to examine their beliefs and
practices. As Upton Sinclairs The Jungle forced a closer look at the
meat-packing industry in the early 1900s, Enriques Journey
shows Americans a
side of immigration they might not wish to see and, in the process, presents a
set of characters that can only create sympathy for immigrants plightand
perhaps move its readers to a deeper understanding of and acceptance for the
immigrants with whom they might come into contact.
Finally, Enriques Journey
holds many parallels to other texts that have
become standard parts of many curricula. Enriques trip is an odyssey, and like
Odysseus, Enriques Journey
may be analyzed as an epic journey. The problems
Enrique faces are common problems that many students and their families may have
faced, as well; instructors may use these commonalities to generate discussion.
While Enriques story is a current storywhich will allow students to find
parallels in daily newspapers and news magazinesit is, ultimately, timeless.
is a story that is essential to the American, and,
further, to the human experience.
Discussion & Writing
Prologue In this section of Enriques Journey
, the author allows readers an
inside view of her creative process. Nazario reviews her background as the child
of immigrants, her inspiration for writing this story, and the process both
logistical and compositional that she begins as she prepares to research and
write Enriques story. The writer tells how and where she finds Enrique and how
he is representative of the children whose story she desires to tell.
- How did the author get the idea for this work?
- What shift, that is a change from the 1980s, has taken place in the face of
the modern immigrant population?
- Why has this change in the profile of the typical immigrant taken place?
- What were some of the preparations the author took before beginning her
research for this story?
- What safety nets did the author wish to have in place for her own personal
safety? Why were these safety nets necessary?
- How did the maids son make the journey to America?
- What does El Tren de la Muerte mean?
One This chapter introduces the characteristics of Enrique that readers will
encounter throughout the book his shyness, his affection for his mother, his
inability to understand why his mother leaves him. This chapter also traces
Lourdes (Enriques mother) decision to leave for America and her early
experiences in California. In this section of the text, readers see Enriques
rebellion against the relatives with whom he lives in Honduras and Enriques
desire to make his own journey to follow his mother.
- Approximately how many illegal immigrants enter the United States annually?
- In what Central American country do Lourdes and Enrique live?
- On what date does Enriques mother leave him?
- Approximately how many children enter the United States each year illegally
and without their parents?
- What is the name of Enriques father?
- What are some of Lourdes early jobs in California?
- Why is becoming a nanny difficult for Lourdes?
- What is the name of Enriques sister?
- With whom does Enriques sister live?
- Why does Enrique end up leaving his fathers home?
- How does Lourdes lose most of the money she has saved to try to bring her
children to her?
- What negative habits does Enrique develop in his mothers absence?
- How does Enrique feel about living with Uncle Marco?
- Why does Enriques relationship with Marco end?
- At fifteen, Enrique returns to live with whom?
- What is the name of Enriques girlfriend?
- Initially, what things does Enrique do to win his girlfriends affection?
- With whom does Enrique first try to head north?
- How does Enriques first attempt end?
- What event precipitates Enriques leaving for el Norte for good?
- On what date does Enrique leave his grandmothers house to begin his
- What possessions does Enrique take with him?
Two This chapter begins with Enriques seventh attempt to reach America. He
is battered and bloody. The chapter reviews Enriques first six attempts and
fills in the details of this attempt that led to Enriques injuries. After
getting medical treatment, Enrique hitches a ride with a man who turns out to be
an off-duty immigration officer. The chapter ends with Enrique being sent back
- When Enrique is attacked and injured, who helps him?
- What is the attitude of many Mexicans toward Enrique and other Central
- What often is the attitude of the police with whom Enrique has encounters?
- What is the primary mode of travel for immigrants passing through Mexico?
Three Chapter Three describes Enriques eighth attempt to reach the United
States. The chapter focuses on the horrors Enrique faces in Chiapas, Mexicos
southernmost state. This chapter introduces the dangers of the trains Enrique
must ride to complete his journey. The chapter also introduces Olga Sanchez
Martinez, who tries to help those who are injured by accidents on the trains.
- Describe Chiapas.
- What dangers does Enrique face on his journey?
- Why is it not a good idea to sleep on the train?
- Olga Sanchez Martinez is one of the people along Enriques route. How is she
different from those who try to hurt Enrique?
Four In Chapter Four, Enrique enters the Mexican state of Veracruz and
encounters many forms of kindness from the people along his route. Some provide
clothes; others, food and shelter. Enrique finds a job to get money to continue
his journey. He makes it all the way to Nuevo Laredo, a town on the
- What significant change takes place when Enrique reaches Veracruz?
- How do the people of Veracruz show their kindness?
- What does Hipolito Reyes Larios see as his mission?
- When Enrique finally arrives at Nuevo Laredo, he is on the banks of what
Five Chapter Five tells of Enriques life, waiting to cross the border into
the United States. Enrique has lost his mothers phone number on his trip, so he
must make money to call Honduras to get the number from relatives. Enrique also
needs money to pay for help in crossing the border safely.
- How does Enrique make money to buy a phone card?
- Why must Enrique call Honduras first?
- Who helps Enrique cross the border into the United States?
Six Chapter Six tells the end of Enriques trek. He enters the United States
and reunites with his mother. Chapter Six also continues the story of Enriques
relationship with his girlfriend in Honduras, Maria Isabel. Maria Isabel gives
birth to a daughter, but Enrique realizes that he cannot yet bring Maria Isabel
or the baby to the U.S.
- On what day is Enrique finally united with his mother?
- In what state does Enrique ultimately reunite with his mother?
- On November 2, 2000, another significant event happens to Enrique. What is
Seven In Chapter Seven, each characters story continues to unfold. Enrique,
having been separated from his mother for eleven years, struggles to accept her
advice and discipline. Lourdes continues to struggle financially and in her
relationship with her son. Maria Isabel, separated from the father of her baby,
struggles to rear the child and to assure the baby that her father in America
will someday return or send for them. The chapter ends as Maria Isabel, four
years after Enrique left Honduras, leaves herself to try to find a better life
for her child.
- Once reunited, how do Enrique and his mother get along?
- How does Enriques relationship with Maria Isabel progress?
- What conflicts arise between Maria Isabel and Enriques family?
- How does the book end as it began?
- Examine the authors background. What about that background gives her empathy
for her characters?
- Examine the authors writing process as described in the text. What evidence
do you see of the pre-composing and prewriting process.
- Discuss the shift in immigration from the 1980s to the present. What economic
and political factors might account for the shift? How does this shift impact
peoples attitudes about immigration? How does this shift impact the dangers of
the immigrant journey?
- What predictions can you make as you read?
- The author says that immigration is a powerful stream, one that can only be
addressed at its source. What is the meaning of this statement?
- Discuss Enriques relationship with his mother. How is that relationship
different from the relationships each has with other people?
- What does the author mean when she says that for these children, finding
their mothers becomes the quest for the Holy Grail?
- Contrast the images of the United States that Lourdes/Enrique see on
television versus what each finds in the United States.
- In this section, the seeds of Enriques desire to follow his mother are
planted. What seeds can you find?
- Contrast the descriptions of the first attack Enrique endures on his journey
with the first kindnesses he is shown.
- Discuss the attitudes toward immigrants and immigration Lourdes and Enrique
encounter in Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. Do those attitudes differ
even within different parts of each country?
- Summarize Enriques early attempts. Why does each fail?
- Describe Chiapas. How is it different from other places Enrique travels?
- Trace the different names given to the train. What does each name reveal
about the journey?
- The gangs aboard the trains are portrayed in both a positive and negative
- How is Oaxaca different?
- What is the significance of the statue of Jesus Enrique encounters?
- How does the journey change at the point of this encounter?
"Five and Six
- Contrast the sides of the Rio Grande. What is Enriques life like on his side
of the river that in Mexico is called Rio Bravo?
- Describe Enriques final journey into the United States.
- What problems develop almost immediately when Enrique is reunited with his
mother? Do these problems surprise you?
- What motivates Enrique to stay in the United States? What things make him
wish to return to Honduras?
- What factors cause conflict between Enrique and Lourdes? How do they seek to
overcome these factors?
- Contrast Enriques life in the United States with the life he left behind.
- How do you feel when Maria Isabel leaves Honduras?
- Trace Enriques Journey from Honduras to North Carolina. On a map, mark the
places of significance to this story.
- Examine the use of figurative language to describe the train in section
three. Descriptions include The Iron Worm, The Train of Death, The
Pilgrims Train, The Iron Horse, and The Train that Devours. How do these
different descriptions allow for different attitudes toward the journey?
- Interview someone who came to the United States from another country or even
someone who came from another place within the U.S. to your town. What obstacles
did they encounter? What changes did they see? What do they miss about their
former home? What do they like about their new home?
- Examine family relationships. Create a family tree for Enrique and for
yourself. Write an essay in which you compare/contrast two of your relatives or
two of Enriques relatives (his uncles, his parents or grandparents, for
example). Do you have one parent who is more lenient or more demanding?
- Examine current newspapers or magazines for articles concerning immigration.
What issues need resolution? What varying opinions exist?
- Examine the changes in Enriques character. Construct a character chart in
which you show the ways in which he changes throughout the text.
- Research a Central American country. Profile its political, economic, and
social structure in a presentation for your class.
- Create a plot map of Enriques Journey. Separate the plot events for each
central character. Where do these maps intersect?
- Choose one of the stops Enrique makes to analyze as setting. How does this
stop reflect the theme of the text? Make a drawing of this setting to
demonstrate its significance to the plot.
- Begin a class project to assist immigrant charities in your community."
Beyond The Book
- Read and compare Enriques Journey to other stories that trace a
characters odyssey. Possible texts include Homers The Odyssey, Mark Twains Huckleberry Finn, J.R.R. Tolkiens
Lord of the Rings, and stories
such as "Journey" by Patricia MacLachlan (middle school). Also compare Enriques
Journey to stories of the immigrant experience Howard Fasts The Immigrants,
Upton Sinclairs The Jungle, and Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane are
- Examine the history of immigration in the United States. Topics can include
tracing immigration patterns through American history, tracing the journey of a
particular immigrant population, and examining the contributions of immigrants
to American history.
- Viewing movies that show the immigrant experience can provide enrichment.
Popular films such as Titanic, Gangs of New York, or even Men
in Black (a very different kind of immigrant) can allow students to examine
the immigrant experience. Other more serious films may also be available to you.
- Trace your own immigrant experience. Use Enriques Journey as a
springboard to finding out how and when your own family came to the United
- Examine Enriques Journey as part of the tradition of American
investigative journalism. Upton Sinclair said that he aimed for Americas heart
and hit its stomach with The Jungle. Are the texts similar in their view
and treatment of the subject of immigration? What actions do you believe Sonia
Nazario wishes to inspire in her readers?
Other Titles of Interest
The Jungle Upton Sinclair
Kaffir Boy Mark Mathabane
The Immigrants Howard Fast
Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
A Nation of Immigrants John F. Kennedy
Call Us Americans Dorothy Chernoff
Ashes of Roses Mary Jane Auch
Lord of the Rings J.R.R. Tolkien
Journey Patricia MacLachlan
The Odyssey Homer
Websites of Interest
The Immigration History Research Center (www.ihrc.umn.edu/ )
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Teacher/Student Resources (http://uscis.gov/graphics/aboutus/history/teacher/Resources.htm
Ellis Island (www.ellisisland.org ) (www.historychannel.com/ellisisland/index2.html
) (www.nps.gov/elis/ )
About This Guide
David Corley teaches high school English in South Carolina. His experience is
with many different levels of students in grades 9-12. He has also taught
courses for adult education, college, and graduate-level students. First
published at randomhouse.com, reproduced with permission.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.