Adapted for young people, this edition of Enrique’s Journey is written by Sonia Nazario and based on the adult book of the same name. It is the true story of Enrique, a teenager from Honduras, who sets out on a journey, braving hardship and peril, to find his mother, who had no choice but to leave him when he was a child and go to the United States in search of work. Enrique’s story will bring to light the daily struggles of migrants, legal and otherwise, and the complicated choices they face simply trying to survive and provide for the basic needs of their families. The issues seamlessly interwoven into this gripping nonfiction work for young people are perfect for common core discussion.
In the following review you’ll get to read both my thoughts and Logan’s. Originally we thought we’d coauthor the post, but Logan did such a great job in writing a general review, that we decided to share his thoughts with you first. Then I’ll follow-up with a few of my own on why I think it’s so important to use a book like this with our students. Please note, there are two versions of this book: Nazario’s original written for adults and the adaptation for young people.
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.
For years many Central American nations have dealt with a spider web of complicated political, economic, and historical issues that have resulted in widespread violence, fewer job opportunities, broken families, and disjointed educational opportunities. For these and many other reasons, adults from Central American countries have perceived the US as a place of opportunity for a better life. Enrique’s mother was once such individual when she left him as a five-year-old. In large part because of her absence, he grows into a troubled youth even though her remittances provide enough income for he and his sisters to live a reasonable life. He vows, once old enough, that he will reconnect with his mother and leave the whole of Honduras behind
Enrique’s travel is littered with small and large disasters. Although we follow Enrique’s journey specifically, the obstacles he faces are not unique. Many adults and unaccompanied minors face the same dangers when traveling north, living in constant fear from immigration officials, corrupt police, the desperation of other migrants or traveling gangs who steal and assault others. The worst experiences in Enrique’s journey come after he leaves Honduras as he tries to travel through and cross into Mexico. This part of his journey leaves him with emotional and physical scars that will haunt him for the rest of his days. It will take Enrique eight attempts to get to the United States.
For me, the hardest and saddest part of the story is the end. One reason Nazario’s work is so powerful is because she grapples with the reality of the misconception of the golden “American dream.” Families such as Enrique’s, where mothers and fathers have been torn from the lives of their children, do not easily mend. Economic obstacles, though resources are perhaps more available in the US than in some parts of Central America, are not easily overcome.
Immigrants, especially those reuniting with long-lost family members, have a lot to process. They are now living undocumented in a country which does not, largely, respect undocumented immigrants. They must deal with language barriers and substandard living conditions, sharing homes with various friends or family members. With little legal protection or knowledge of what rights they do have, they can easily be taken advantage of. Looming over everything is the threat of deportation, and though the quality of their day to day life is normally better than in their home country, it’s not the “dream” they thought it would be.
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.
I’ve put off reading this book for months. I read the first ten pages a while ago and realized this was going to be painful. This is a book that confronts us with realities we often like to avoid. Logan’s discussion above explains a lot of this, but there are a just few thoughts I’d like to share that I believe speak to why it’s important that we read books like Enrique’s Journey in our classrooms, even if, or perhaps because, they make us go to those hard places.
We’ve talked before about how one of the reasons diverse literature is so important is because it can begin to teach and encourage empathy in its readers. 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. As Logan referenced above, 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.
Before I close (we’ve already written a lot more than we usually do in these reviews), I wanted to share where you can find more complementary resources. We’ve created a “button” that links to anything we’ve posted about immigration. You can click here or find this on the right side of our home page. There are also a number of lesson plan and teaching resources for a range of grade levels available on the website for the book.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the book. If you’re Albuquerque local, definitely check out Sonia Nazario’s speaking engagement schedule when she’s in town next week.
Until next week,
Katrina and Logan