[BOOK REVIEW] Enrique’s Journey: The story of a boy’s dangerous odyssey to reunite with his mother

For my International Reporting in Public Affairs class we each had to read a book written by a journalist. I chose to read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario because 1. A great deal of the book takes place in Mexico and Central America, and 2. I’ve always heard it’s an amazing story beautifully told by a great female journalist.

Here is my review:

Few people truly understand the treacherous journey undocumented immigrants face when migrating to the United States—much less that each year thousands of children, too, have endured the deadly excursion in search of the mothers who left them behind.

The Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario takes readers on a chilling expedition that details the many difficulties and challenges hopeful migrant children, mostly from Mexico and Central America, face along the way in Enrique’s Journey.

The story begins in the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, Honduras where Lourdes tells her son, 5-year-old Enrique, that she is leaving him and his sister, 7-year-old Belky, with family for while. Lourdes is going to the United States to find work in order to provide her children with a better life. Her children don’t understand why their mother is leaving but Lourdes, terrified of the risky journey ahead, thinks it is the only way to keep her family from poverty. Once Lourdes makes it to the United States, she begins working and is soon able to send her family money, clothes, toys and letters, but for Enrique no gift she sends can take the place of his mother being physically present in his life. Time passes and Enrique, who after being sent from family to family member begins to rebel, grows resentment toward his mother. “Why did she leave me? Why hasn’t she come back? Does she not love me?” he asks himself. Enrique turns to substance abuse to forget his problems and numb his pain. After about a decade without his mother Enrique decides he will go find her; he needs to, he tells himself and his family. The trek through Mexico to the United States will not be easy, he knows, but other migrant children in search of their mothers have done it before and Enrique feels he must at least try.

While some journalists might sit a desk and make phone calls for a story, Nazario completely immersed herself in Enrique’s journey. In the course of five years she spent a total of six months in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and North Carolina retracing Enrique’s steps and conducting extensive interviews with the other people featured in the story.  She rode on top of the freight trains, walked around immigration checkpoints, hitchhiked with truckers—just like Enrique and the other migrants had.

Nazario did not abandon the journalistic style of storytelling. Much of the book reads like a well-researched newspaper article with examples, numbers, detail, people and quotes, but the story is told in long-form journalism.

Nazario especially does an exceptional job in her use of sensory images while depicting scenes in the story:

“By early afternoon, it is 105 degrees. Enrique’s palms burn when he holds on to the hopper. He risks riding no-hands. Finally, he strips off his shirt and sits on it. The locomotive blows warm diesel smoke. People burn trash by the rails, sending up more heat and a searing stench. Many migrants have had their caps stolen, so they wrap their heads in T-shirts. They gaze enviously at villagers cooling themselves in streams and washing off after a day of fieldwork and at others who doze in hammocks slung in shady spots near adobe and cinder-block homes. The train cars sway from side to side, up and down, like bobbing ice cubes.”

From being robbed, raped and beaten by Mexican authorities, gangsters and fellow migrants to the kindness and generosity offered by some of the village people on the road to el Norte (The North), Nazario carefully documents the epic journey, telling the story as though she’d accompanied any of the migrant children more than once.

By sharing Enrique’s story and the stories of many other migrant children, Nazario gave immigration, a complex and much debated issue, a human face.

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A majority of a minority

I was 15 when I attended my first “Latino assembly” in high school, or ever for that matter. It was the 2nd year the school excused all the Latinos from classes and gathered us in the auditorium for the day to educate and enlighten us about issues concerning our roots and us.

 

There were about 300 Latinos—Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, etc.—out of about 1200 students at my high school in Provo, Utah in 2006.

 

There were several speakers at the assembly. They talked to us about going to college, being proud of where we come from and encouraged us to dream big and go for those big dreams. There was also a DJ who tried to get everyone pumped by flashing names of different Latin American countries across a large projector screen on stage. For each country that appeared on the screen, excitement and cheering would come from the students in the audience who represent that country. One by one, each country got its glory. El Salvador, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico. But where was Mexico? Then suddenly, when it seemed all the countries had been recognized, in big, bold, red, white and green letters across the screen appeared “MEXICO,” and—as cliché as it may be—the crowd went wild. Well, the Mexicans at least, which was the majority in the auditorium.

 

It dawned on me then, just how much of a presence Mexicans have in the U.S.

 

A record 33.7 million Latinos of Mexican origin resided in the U.S. in 2012, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center. Mexicans accounted for nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the U.S. Latino population in 2012 and 11 percent of the entire U.S. population. Mexican immigration has played a key role in making Mexicans the single largest country of origin group among the nation’s 40 million immigrants. Today, approximately 11.4 million Mexican immigrants live in the U.S., according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

 

While Mexicans in the U.S. are spread out among many different cities and states, over one-quarter of all Mexican immigrants lived in three major metropolitan areas in 2011: greater Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago, according to migrationinformation.org.

 

There were about 684,000 Mexican immigrants in Chicago accounted for in 2011, according to migrantioninformation.org. Many of them reside in Pilsen and Little Village, and most of them have a story to tell.

 

From the cafes they’ve opened and kept alive, to food cart sales in the winter, to the families they’ve raised, to the decisions they made about living in a city filled with gang violence not different from the violence in their home countries, Chicago’s Mexicans hold a piece of history waiting to be told.