In the early 1990's Lourdes, a single mother trapped in Hondura's poverty made the decision to leave her two children with relatives and travel illegally to the United States. Her intent was to make enough money that she could return to her country and give her beloved family a better life.
What she finds in California and later North Carolina are a series of low paying jobs and dead ends; yet, this life still offers more opportunities than home. Often barely scraping by herself, she sends money back to Honduras so that her daughter and son can stay in school. For her daughter, life does improve some, but for her son Enrique, who has been left to live with his father and paternal grandmother, life is rough.
Only five when his mother leaves, Enrique feels abandoned and no one can fill the void her absence creates. When his father establishes a new family, he leaves Enrique behind - a second abandonment. Once taken under his uncle's wing, Enrique hopes for a more secure future, but then the uncle is killed and Enrique begins sniffing glue and smoking drugs to mask his pain. He does not stay in school and his mother does not support him financially as much as she does her older daughter. In his mid-teens Enrique decides to ride the "death trains" through Mexico to the northern border and then enter the United States illegally. He plans to join his mother, believing all will be better once they are reunited.
In 2000, author and journalist Sonia Nazario met Enrique in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico as Enrique was waiting for his opportunity to cross the border. After interviewing him, she decided to write her series of news articles on immigration with Enrique as the focus. She met with him several times, then later with his mother and also family in Honduras. She traveled the same path he did, interviewing people as she went. Her articles became the book Enrique's Journey for which she won a Pulitzer prize.
This book definitely puts a unique face and story on the immigration debate at the same time it expands the debate into a wider look at the impact 11 million illegal immigrants have on our own country's resources, including schools and healthcare. Those are no easy answers here.
You'll be appalled at the inhumane treatment and danger the young travelers face as they ride the tops of trains headed north. Many are caught, beaten, and robbed, then sent back to their Central American homelands. Enrique himself failed nine times before he made it to the border. While druggees and thugs attack these vulnerable immigrants, others, very poor themselves, reach out daily with food, shoes, and clothing. Alongside the same train tracks are evil and sainthood!
Without being preachy, Nazario presents a tale of family and love undermined by poverty and abandonment. She also recreates an epic journey. In fiction, such journeys may be littered with obstacles and even tragedy, but they usually end in triumph, but this is reality; and Enrique and his mother Lourdes are still living out their journeys as illegal immigrants. They have not earned enough to return to their homeland. They live in a country which says it does not want them, yet readily takes advantage of their need to work. At the same time, such illegal immigrants often receive entitlements and aid, many believe should be reserved for citizens. Such a confliction of humanity, rights, and duties.
Many colleges, high schools, and communities have adopted this book for "common book" programs or city-wide reads. This was our book club's last book for the year -- actually, it was a sustitution for another book which we couldn't get enough copies of. I am really glad I read this book. I pray that countries like Honduras and Guatemala can begin to alleviate their poverty issues. In our country - our politics and our businesses have added to their struggles, I hope we make improvements.
Many in the book group felt the book was slow reading and quite repetitive (it was). I suggest that if you are interested in this topic, you go to enriquesjourney.com, read about his family, and then watch some of the videos that have been posted. You will get a feel for the issues right there on the website.