Fearless journalist amazes me; Sonia Nazario certainly fits the bill. Evolving from her award-winning newspaper series in Los Angeles Times, she writes a story of an arduous journey of a Honduran boy, Enrique. In 2000, 16-year-old Enrique left his home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to North Carolina in search of his mother.
While most writers conduct research in the comfort of their library or by “googling” or surfing the internet, Nazario retraces Enrique’s 1,600-miles-journey from Honduras to Texas by foot, train and living in motels. She interviews people who have helped and met Enrique along his journey.
Nazario claims that she is not a brave person; however, this book proves otherwise.
Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, leaves Honduras without saying goodbye to him and his older sister-Belky. Unable to feed her children, Lourdes decides to follow the foot steps of thousands Central Americans who left their country to travel north to the USA in pursuit of a better life. She promises herself that she’d return home as soon as she earns enough money. Enrique was five when she left him. Years passed but Lourdes fails to keep her word.
In her absence, Enrique was passed along from a relative to a relative in search of a better home. He grows up in rebellion; what he fails to understand is that he lacks maternal love every growing child deserves.
Honduras – like her other Central American’s counterparts – is steeped in corruption, caught in political turmoil, poverty and drug abuses. Enrique makes up the rising statistic of drug users by sniffing glue. Glue sniffing is a form of escapism for him to forget his frustration. Enrique’s salvation comes in a form of two women – his grandmother Maria and his girlfriend, Maria Isabel.
At 16, Enrique sets off his journey of 1,600 miles from Tegucigalpa to Texas – with little money but abundant of naive bravery. He must pass Guatemala before attempting to get to Mexico before proceeding to cross the 2,000 miles stretch of Mexico-Texas border.
Enrique begins his journey by sitting atop of moving freight train dubbed as El Tren de la Muerte (The Train of Death). Aboard this train, Enrique encounters the worst part of his journey, where he and other immigrants, risk being captured by the authority; or pushed off from the train. Gangsters, bandits, the Mexican police force and La Migra (Mexican immigration authority) hinder Enrique’s path. They prey on immigrants like dogs. The authorities and bandits push the immigrants off the train, extort their money and, sometimes, beat them senseless.
Immigrants, onboard Train of Death, strap themselves atop the coach to avoid falling off from the moving train. At times, they talk to each other loudly to combat sleepiness at night. They duck out and flatten themselves to the coach as branches of tree graze the train. Often, they go without food or drinks for days on end. In writing this story, Nazario, once spots an immigrant child drinking from a puddle of dirty water laced with diesel by the rail track.
Enrique progresses to La Arocera after his 7th attempt. He endures being beaten up on the train. He seeks help from a local named Olga in Chiapas. Nazario tells the story beautifully as she sits atop the train herself to experience, what she calls, only a fraction of what the boy has gone through.
Enrique fears capture and deportation back to Honduras more that death itself. He eludes the authorities by sleeping at cemeteries and working with locals in exchange for food and boarding. His misery continues as he reaches Nuevo Lavedo, the US-Mexican border. He lost his mother’s phone number in North Carolina and he doesn’t have any money to call home so that they could provide him the same. In Nuevo Lavedo, Enrique shelters with other immigrants by the riverside controlled by El Tirindaro, a heroin addict and immigrant-smuggler. Enrique washes cars and begs in the street to earn the pesos he desperately needs to buy the phone card.
On May 19, 2000 Lourdes hears Enrique on the phone saying “Mami?” She answers with with “Hola mi hijo.” Hello my son. Lourdes pays El Tirindaro $1,200 to smuggle her son to her. Enrique fears desert and its inhabitants; raucous hyenas and poisonous scorpions. He chooses to cross the river of Rio Grande to get into Texas. Once again, he tempts death. Many immigrants have drowned while trying to cross the dangerous river.
God must be listening. Enrique arrives at Lourdes’ doorstep.
In North Carolina, Enrique finds that life isn’t bed of roses either. Despite making decent money doing painting job, he struggles to bond with his mother. They know nothing about each other. He resents Lourdes for abandoning him and Belky. Lourdes thinks he should be thankful because it had been a struggle for her to send money home to him.
Nazario made further research on the relationship between migrant parents and their children after the much-awaited reunion. Often, the family reunion among them disintegrates. The emotional scars are just too much to be ignored. Some seek ways to rectify the damage; others remain restless wanderers.
The writer takes five years to complete this book. Apart from sitting atop the Train of Death, she traces Enrique’s steps by visiting the places he went. She interviews the people who helped or met Enrique in his journey. She bugs Mexican authorities to give their side of the story. She climbs hill to meet Enrique’s grandmother. Amidst doing all these, she realizes the grave danger she puts herself in. Hers is path less-traveled.
My reading journey has been immensely enriched by this book. It humbles me and, hopefully, other readers too. I feel for Sue, my domestic helper, who leaves behind her two growing children and husband in Jawa Barat. She leaves anyway to give them more than what her country has to offer her. I fervently hope that she will not loose the love of her children like Lourdes.
Nazario concludes the book by leaving her readers wondering whether the immigrants’ choice to leave their native country is worth risking losing their children’s affection. You will also be asking whether the US’s policy on illegal immigrants would have any effect at all when the economy of the Central-Americans continues to plunge deeper into misery.
This is one non-fiction you must read. Highly recommended. Happy New Year.
Title: Enrique’s Journey
Local Price: RM55.90 (Times)
Publisher: Random House