on February 13, 2014
Sonia Nazario has published a YA appropriate version of her multiple award winning non-fiction story, Enrique's Journey. It reads like a novel, but is an in-depth look at immigration and its impact on families. It is the story of a young man from Honduras who is desperate to come the USA to find the mother who left when he was 5. Lourdes cannot support her family. Her children are starving. She hopes a job in the US will allow her to send money back to support mother, her children and her sisters. Nazario does a superb job of showing the emotional devastation suffered by both the parents who leave and the abandoned children. Her thoroughly researched story also creates a terrifying picture of how horrific and perilous the journey is. Only people who feel life has no other options for them put themselves in so much danger. Assaults, robberies, starvation, dehydration and deadly accidents are the norm. It takes Enrique seven tries, 122 days and two very close calls with death to finally reach his mother. Both Enrique and Lourdes have unrealistic expectations. After 13 years apart, they are strangers to each other. Enrique is angry. Lourdes is hurt that Enrique doesn't understand it was her loving and heartbreaking sacrifice that kept him alive and in school. Sonia Nazario does not romanticize or white-wash Enrique's story. He is not a hero. Enrique is a sad, lonely young man determined to reunite his family and create a happy life. Enrique's Journey is a testament to the power of family.
on March 18, 2015
The best creative non-fiction takes you straight down into the messy, contradictory, gut-wrenching heart of a subject, and awakens your appreciation for its complexity. By every measure, Enrique’s Journey is such a book. It’s the riveting epic of a Honduran teenager driven to escape intolerable conditions and fueled by the hope of crossing the border into the United States. The original version was published in 2007 as adult nonfiction. This edition, adapted for readers as young as the seventh grade, was released in 2013. It also updates the story. (Young-reader adaptations are a growing trend in nonfiction publishing.)
As Enrique launches his eighth attempt to reach the United States by means of train hopping, the risks are clearer than ever to him: death, dismemberment, robbery, extortion, and sexual victimization. But the way he sees it, staying in Honduras presents its own bleak and terrifying future. Gangs and violence are rampant, poverty is entrenched, and opportunities for work and self-betterment are virtually nonexistent. Worst of all, Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, has been absent from his life for an achingly long time. A single mother with no dependable means of support, she left for the United States when Enrique was five, entrusting her two children into the care of relatives. Enrique’s sister has weathered the eleven-year separation reasonably well, but it takes a heavy toll on the young boy. During his teen years in Honduras, he spirals down into serious drug use and antisocial behavior. As his life grows ever more troubled, Enrique imagines that reuniting with his mother will repair the hole in his heart.
In this vivid and comprehensive account, Sonia Nazario retraces Enrique’s eighth attempt, following his 1,800-mile route through the heart of Mexico, an odyssey lasting 47 days. She expands the picture to cover conditions facing others on a similar migratory path. The chapters are embedded with fascinating micro stories of places and people who assist, deter, or exploit the thousands of Central Americans flowing northward through Mexico on train roofs and other modes of transportation. The narrative captures the flavor of distinct geographic zones. The most notorious stretch is Chiapas, in extreme southern Mexico. Chiapas is dense with gangs, bandits, immigration patrols, and unsympathetic residents who look down on the migrants as the “stinking undocumented.” In this region, migrants are easy targets of crime, since as a rule, they’re too fearful to report it, and in many cases, the police collude with the criminals. At one point, gang members chase Enrique along the top of a moving train. After they catch and beat him, he jumps off the train and sustains a serious injury.
Migrants like Enrique also encounter good-hearted people, who are typically quite poor themselves. Some of them make it a regular practice to toss food and water to migrants clinging to the roofs of passing trains. Some even open their homes to strangers with nowhere to shelter between train departures. There are agencies and churches that offer assistance, including a few that give the severely injured a place to heal. These accounts of compassion touched me to the core. I was also moved by the camaraderie that develops among train riders, who often sacrificially share with strangers whatever small comfort they can—blankets, food, water. Although they pool resources, exchange information, and organize lookout duty so others can sleep, individual migrants often find themselves in terrifying circumstances beyond the reach of kind, but equally vulnerable, strangers.
When Enrique arrives at the border with Texas, he’s finally able to call his mother, yet his ordeal is far from over. After many complications and long delays, Enrique makes a perilous crossing. There is no fairy-tale reunion. His anger over the heartbreaking separation spills out in words and self-destructive actions. Gradually, things get better as Enrique matures, finds work, and begins to seek legal status.
For kids who like dystopian stories, here’s a true-to-life dystopia to check against those from fantasy. This book is not light reading, nor is it meant to be. Most young readers will endure the gritty parts if only to find out what happens to Enrique, who, like teens everywhere, holds a mix of dreams and demons. Some readers may have a hard time getting past the controversies that swirl around undocumented immigrants, but the slant of this book is not toward proposing policy or resolving debates. By concentrating on the story of one boy from a broken society—a boy whose resilience and courage seem at times superhuman in the face of nearly insurmountable odds—Sonia Nazario brings deep human dimension to a thorny issue of our times.
on September 1, 2014
Enrique's Journey is a well-written book that keeps the reader totally engaged. Nazario has done much research and presents a well-rounded, factual account of the perils that these children are facings as they flee poverty in Central America and bandits in Mexico. Also explored are the reasons why so many young parents, as well as their children later on, feel the need to endure these hardships (and even death) to reach the U.S. Middle school and high school teachers should encourage their students to read this book, exposing them to real-life and real-time adversity. Spirited debates will probably follow. There is so much that we in the U.S. think we know about problems like this, but until we read a book like Enrique's Journey instead of just watching the news, we'll never have the full story.
on December 2, 2015
Enrique’s Journey is the story of one child’s journey from Honduras through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States to find his mother, whom he has not seen in more than ten years. Enrique’s story is a unique one, but the power of Enrique’s Journey is how the author, Sonia Nazario, highlights the struggles that many unaccompanied minors face before, during, and after their journey. Topics such as immigration and the influx of unaccompanied minors into the United States have become something of a talking point for US national news organizations and politicians, but despite all the press, humanity is noticeably lacking – popular talk show hosts discuss deportations numbers or legislators argue about border policy without ever really saying anything the people behind the statistics. For me, this is the beauty and value of Enrique’s Journey. Nazario, who herself has made the terrifying trip from Honduras to the US multiple times, humanizes the experience and demands that the reader engage with the very people who are so often omitted from the discussion.
The story itself is arranged in three distinct sections – Enrique’s struggles in Honduras after his mother leaves for the US, his trip north, and then his experience in the US. I think the most important part is to look at all three sections as Enrique’s “journey,” because, as we come to see, each period in his travels has a significant influence on the rest of his life.
In the end, I think, this book succeeds in giving a more complete understanding of what it is like for unaccompanied minors traveling from their home countries to the United States. It is a devastating story, but it’s also filled with hope. It is a story that tries to represent a common experience through one individual’s story, and although it can’t represent the entire experience, I believe Enrique’s family story has the power to change how we view unaccompanied minors, Latin American immigrants, and immigrants and refugees from around the world — from better understanding their reasons for coming to empathizing with their struggles once in the country.
While many of us may not teach students who have experienced what Enrique has, it is important that all of our students are familiar with stories like Enrique’s. These are families suffering from trauma. They’ve been forced to make the difficult decision to risk their lives and separate their families because they think that is the only way to survive. Then, often times, they are shamed for these choices. So often these conversations are couched in political and legal jargon. In doing this we lose sight of the mothers and fathers who, when faced with the decision between breaking a law or watching their children starve, see only one obvious choice. They make a choice that I think many of us would make if we were really honest with ourselves. These are families that live in our cities. They might be our neighbors, our children’s classmates, or our students. To refuse to learn about their stories and to understand their experience, or to shut down any real conversation by simply saying what they have done is illegal, is to ensure that we won’t move forward in finding any solution that can help ameliorate all this pain.
For me, one of the most troubling parts of the book was the blatant disregard for human life. The senseless violence enacted on Central American immigrants speaks to both the depravity and desperation of the situation. This is a population with absolutely no protection. As Nazario’s work shows, they are vulnerable to attacks by gangs, bandits, and corrupt authorities. Individuals are murdered for sport, beaten for nothing more than a few pesos.
While I understand that the situation is complex, I also believe that this culture of violence for the sake of violence has been allowed to thrive because we refuse to really engage in a discussion that doesn’t hide behind jargon or broad-stroke generalizations. We refuse to have a conversation that places the humanity of those involved at the center. I believe it could be a major step forward if we begin having discussions like this in our classrooms.
For our complete review and additional resources, please check out our Vamos a Leer blog at teachinglatinamericathroughliterature.com.