Shared read author fights to find home for immigrants


Author Sonia Nazario discusses her childhood during her keynote lecture on Oct.19.
Author Sonia Nazario discusses her childhood during her keynote lecture on Oct.19.
Author Sonia Nazario signs books after her keynote lecture on her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Enrique’s Journey.”
Author Sonia Nazario signs books after her keynote lecture on her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Enrique’s Journey.”

By Lauren Lavelle

Award-winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario delivered a keynote lecture on Oct. 19 about moral struggles while writing Rider’s 2016 shared read  “Enrique’s Journey.”

Originally published in 2006, “Enrique’s Journey” follows 17-year-old Enrique as he attempts to escape the clutches of his homeland of Honduras to meet his mother in the United States, where she immigrated when he was a young boy.

Nazario periodically accompanied Enrique throughout his journey and tried her best to participate in his daily struggles in order to truly portray the life of a young immigrant.

“I was drawn to the fact that it was such a great story,” said Nazario. “When you see what people go through, you realize no wall will stop someone this determined. In a time with the greatest hostility towards immigrants since the Great Depression, I wanted to take people inside one immigrant family. Perhaps the most compelling way to do that, to put people in someone’s shoes, would be to show a child going to his mother. I thought people might be willing to go along for the ride, and, once they’re in the shoes, they can decide what they like and what they don’t like.”

Nazario originally became aware of the immigration struggle after having a conversation with her housekeeper about her life before traveling to the United States.

“She told me she left four kids behind in Guatemala and hadn’t seen them in 12 years,” said Nazario. “The number one thing I look for is if the story moves me on an emotional level, because if it moves me, maybe it will move you to do something about what I’ve described. When she told me she hadn’t seen her kids, the hair went up on my arms. As a storyteller, I was very drawn to it.”

In order to truly delve into Enrique’s situation, Nazario took her reporting techniques to the extreme by attempting to live her life as closely to an immigrant’s as possible. When asked if she would do it all again, she seemed a bit hesitant but ultimately willing.

“Right now, I would not ride on top of freight trains,” said Nazario. “It’s gone from going up to the line of crazy to actually going over that line. There are so many kidnappings on top of the trains now. Fifteen years ago, it was an urban myth that people would get snatched and now it’s a reality. It was a lot less of an issue when I did the journey, but I would still do the story itself if I could find a safe way to do it.”

Nazario often mentions how Enrique’s story has impacted not only those in similar situations but people in all aspects of life.

Assistant Adjunct Spanish Professor Magui Pérez-Garrido felt a deep connection with the story when initially deciding to make the book a part of her curriculum.

“I read “Enrique’s Journey” in my backyard, and, as I was reading, I started crying and had to go inside,” said Pérez-Garrido. “Even if I tried to read it objectively as a journalistic or literary work, as a mother, I could not help it but feel empathy for all the children that had to make this unimaginable journey through Central America and Mexico. There are multiple monumental messages about humanity in this book. For a child to take this journey in search of his or her mother is beyond human. It is an example of tremendous hope, faith and resilience.”

Nazario appreciates such meaningful reactions and is happy her words and Enrique’s story had the opportunity to touch so many lives.

“It’s educated huge numbers of people in the U.S.,” said Nazario. “I get emails everyday from students saying, ‘I was forced to read your book; I was raised anti-immigrant, and I had to read this, and it changed my perspective about immigrants.’ It’s made everything worthwile.”

Pérez-Garrido feels reading “Enrique’s Journey” helps students understand an issue that often falls below the surface.

“This book exposes students to a global issue that involves not just Latin America but the rest of the world, too,” said Pérez-Garrido. “These are problems that should be addressed in constructivist ways and in other ways. They are global issues students should consider.”

She also reminds her students that the immigration struggle will not become easier any time soon.

“We shall not forget Enrique; there are many Enriques around us,” said Pérez-Garrido.

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