Eighth-graders at Escalante Middle School spent 45 minutes Friday firing questions at the author of Enrique’s Journey, the true story of a 16-year-old Honduran youth who braved almost incredible hardships during a journey from his homeland to the United States to find his long-departed mother.
The book, by former Los Angeles Times reporter Sonia Nazario, first appeared as a six-part series in the newspaper in 2002 and then was published as a book in 2006. Nazario was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her work in 2003.
Enrique’s Journey was a common read for eighth-graders at Escalante and Miller middle schools. Nazario also spoke at Miller on Friday morning.
Nazario, who met Enrique in Mexico near the U.S. border, twice rode the freight trains that Latin Americans, fleeing poverty and violence, take from the Mexican border with Guatemala to the U.S.
The story of Enrique chronicles the abuses by drug cartels and gangs of thugs who prey on train travelers, robbing, raping and holding them for ransom from relatives in the U.S. Travelers brave hunger and risk perils inherent in simply riding atop cars from which a fall takes one under the wheel of what travelers call “The Beast.”
Nazario said what strikes home is the determination of “people who are willing to die for what I take for granted.”
In fielding questions, Nazario said refugees now are fleeing violence in their homelands rather than the crippling poverty that led people of Enrique’s mother’s generation to look for a second chance in the U.S.
The Pulitzer Prize brought Nazario global recognition. She has addressed the U.S. Senate, the United Nations and a journalism conference in Amsterdam.
It has helped her develop political views, among them the need for the U.S. to find better solutions to immigration than three failed efforts: the program that brought Mexican field workers to the U.S. after World War II, the wall along the U.S./Mexican border and the current legalization of undocumented immigrants.
For middle-schoolers, the common reading experience is a foundation for exploring themes they found in Nazario’s work. They may address the Holocaust and immigration to America, including current U.S. policies. They will write papers and look at the role of local organizations that serve immigrant needs.