Enrique’s Journey: The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother
Pub 8-2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers
In the young adult adaptation of her book Enrique’s Journey, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the true story of a Honduran boy named Enrique who faces hardship from a young age. His father leaves the family. Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, sells tortillas and candy on the street, earning fistfuls of change at the end of the workday. Every night, she tells Enrique and his sister, Belky, to sleep on their bellies so that their grumbling stomachs won’t wake them up. To feed her children and pay for their education, she reasons that she needs to work in the United States. She assures five-year-old Enrique that she will return in a few years and then pays a smuggler to take her across the U.S.-Mexico border. Enrique is inconsolable. Even years afterward, as a teenager, he still cries “¿Dónde está mi mami?”
She has never returned.
After years of gang violence, poverty, and drugs, a teenage Enrique decides that he cannot live in Honduras any longer. He chooses to make his way to the U.S. to find his mother in what his peers now call la guerra sin nombre, “the nameless war.” Every town is a battle or a blessing: some villages curse and turn in migrants, others give them food and shelter. Enrique narrowly dodges la migra, immigration police who sometimes collaborate with gangs to rape, torture, and rob migrants.
On one day of his journey, a villager of a town just outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, sees Enrique limping along freight train tracks. Enrique’s body is a Pollack painting of purple and black bruises. His right eye is crimson, his left eyelid drooped shut. His upper lip is split. A sweater he finds on the tracks to use as gauze has soaked up so much of his blood that dabbing his gashes with it only makes him dirtier. By nothing short of a miracle, locals find him, spoon a meaty broth into his mouth, and dress his wounds. On his last train, Enrique was beaten up, stripped, and robbed by gangsters. The villagers shake their heads but aren’t surprised. Hundreds of thousands of migrants like Enrique ride on freight trains that pass through their town. After they fix him up, they send him on his way and hope that he won’t end up in an unmarked grave.
Nazario follows Enrique’s eighth attempt to cross the border in acute detail. With her lively imagery, we are riding every freight train, clutching every roll of bread, and ducking under every tree branch. We, too, are amazed by the deserts, forests, and beaches that dot the landscape. We meet nine-year-old migrants in a church who are looking for their mothers, as well. And yet, even through his constant and unbelievable peril, Enrique still dwells on universal teenage questions: Where is my life going? What will I be when I grow up? He wonders about his girl back home, María Isabel. Does she love him? If she is pregnant with his baby, will he be abandoning it like his own mother abandoned him? He can only hope that the U.S. will give him a second chance. He doesn’t stop searching for his mother because, really, he is searching for dignity and control over his own life.
Whatever a reader’s stance on immigration, it is clear that Enrique’s Journey points out the flaws of American immigration policies, some of which deny undocumented immigrants the right to rent housing, seek higher education, and obtain a job in select states. Many immigrants face de facto racism and economic strife: they typically receive lower pay than natural-born citizens, and a study by the Pew Research Center found that Hispanic household wealth dropped more than that of any other racial or ethnic group during the recession.
Enrique’s Journey also challenges our ideas of family, and for that reason especially, is a very emotionally difficult book. It asks us what it means to be a good parent, sibling, or spouse. Is it right for a mother to leave her family for years if being apart guarantees financial safety, or does a parent’s presence provide the only kind of safety that matters? What are the causes of Enrique’s struggles: his family dynamic or the corrupt government that fosters it?
As a journalist, Nazario typically refrains from interacting with her subjects, however she cannot help but sympathize with and support Enrique and his family in this book. Perhaps one of the most striking components of Enrique’s Journey is the inclusion of Nazario’s own story in it. Her original publication of Enrique’s story in the Los Angeles Times is instrumental to reuniting Enrique, Lourdes, and Belky on one of Spanish television’s highest-rated talk shows.
“I am not a brave person,” Nazario explains in the prologue, “I avoid danger if possible.” Yet, to write the book, she found the courage to trace Enrique’s steps across Central and North America. She rode freight trains for thousands of miles. She spoke with the villagers, priests, and medical workers who crossed Enrique’s path. Unlike him, she had the luxury of checking into a hotel and purchasing food when she couldn’t handle the migrant life. But even so, the constant fear of rape and hunger stayed with her for months. As much as Enrique’s Journey is a feat in its reevaluation of the American Dream, it is an incredible tale of the lengths to which a journalist will go to get the full story.
- Shannon D., 17