A shy 5-year-old boy stands outside his house clutching his mother’s leg. He knows something is wrong.
“Don’t forget to go to church this afternoon,” she prods him, holding back tears. Then she bids farewell to his sister and aunt and walks off, never to return again.
“Where is my mother?” the boy wails. Left in the care of relatives, his life goes into a downward spiral. Finally, after years of waiting, the boy — now a teenager — sets out to find her. Alone.
The boy is Enrique, a youngster from a poor neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. His mother is Lourdes, a young, single mother working as an undocumented migrant in the United States so she can send money home.
Heartbroken by her absence, at age 15, Enrique embarks on the treacherous journey north. He rides atop a cargo train called “the train of death,” crossing through dangerous, gang-controlled territory in Guatemala and Mexico, slipping across the U.S. border, and making it all the way to his mother’s home in North Carolina.
On the way he meets violent criminals and corrupt officials, as well as people who feed and encourage him. But there are more hardships to come. How, after years of separation and neglect, can he learn to be his mother’s son again? How can he and his mother reclaim their relationship?
The story is recounted in Sonia Nazario’s riveting, journalistic account of one family’s struggle to reunite across borders, titled “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother.” A Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who first covered the story for the Los Angeles Times, Nazario set out to retrace Enrique’s steps, chronicling his physical and emotional journey north and into adulthood. Her goal: to explore the world of unaccompanied child migrants, revealing the human face and hidden costs of illegal migration.
“Enrique’s Journey” is the focus of several free, public events coming up in October, part of the annual Davis Reads community book project. Based at the Stephens Branch Library, the project encourages readers in Davis and in Yolo County to read a book together and engage in meaningful discussion about contemporary social issues.
The project is run by historian and linguist Krystyna von Henneberg and librarian Joan Tuss, with support from the Davis Friends of the Library and International House, Davis.
This year, Davis Reads is reaching out to young adult and adult readers in both English and Spanish. The library stocks multiple copies of the book in both languages, as well as a young adult imprint and audio and e-book versions in English.
The line-up of events includes a community forum and roundtable, as well as two film screenings of a companion bilingual English-Spanish film.
“Enrique’s Journey” is already a hit with local readers.
“It has been hard to keep copies on the shelves,” Tuss reports.
No surprise there. According to the publisher, “Enrique’s Journey” has been chosen by 10 other U.S. cities for a “one city, one book” read program, adopted by 62 U.S. universities for campuswide reads, and published in eight languages.
With Congress still debating immigration reform, the choice of this year’s book is timely. Border control policy plays a major role in the life of migrant families. According to Nazario, some 700,000 migrants enter the United States illegally every year, most of them hoping to support families back home. Many are parents who plan to return shortly, but end up building lives abroad.
Being undocumented makes family visits risky. Many children grow up knowing their parents only through photos, phone calls or, for the lucky ones, Skype.
Nazario notes the growing trend of mothers leaving children behind.
“In recent decades, the increase in divorce and family disintegration in Latin America has left many single mothers without the means to feed and raise their children,” she writes. “The growing ranks of single mothers paralleled a time when more and more American women began working outside the home.”
The result, she notes, has been a huge U.S. demand for service and domestic workers. This is largely met by migrant women, who often care for the children (or parents) of their employers, while missing their own loved ones back home.
Meanwhile, Nazario estimates, some 48,000 unaccompanied, undocumented minors from Mexico and Central America cross into the United States each year, many in search of a “missing” parent. But frayed relationships prove hard to mend, affecting the emotional, physical and mental health of families on both sides of the border.
“Enrique’s Journey” is not just a story about Latin American migrants.
“All over the world, and in all eras,” says von Henneberg, “people have crossed the globe to make a better life for their kin. Think of the Irish, Jewish, Chinese or Filipino diasporas. Whatever their reasons for leaving, migrants almost always have a vulnerable family member who is left behind.”
This separation, she adds, “touches almost every aspect of society, from parenting and education, to agriculture, medicine, public health, psychology and law. It has a huge impact on children, whose voices are often missing from policy debates about migration.”
Organizers von Henneberg and Tuss encourage readers to bring “Enrique’s Journey” into their own workplaces, classrooms, book clubs and houses of worship throughout the coming year. This, they say, is a book people can discuss in their own terms, on their own turf.
“This is not an academic or a political forum,” they note. “There is no right or wrong, no right or left. Davis Reads is a chance for people with different views and backgrounds to come together to ponder the forces that shape our lives.”
For more information, or for name of a companion film, contact Tuss at 530-757-5588 or Joan.Tuss@yolocounty.org
You do not need to have read the book to attend! English and Spanish speakers are welcome. All events are free. Refreshments will be served.
* Monday, Oct. 7, 6-8 p.m.: Presentation of “Enrique’s Journey” and screening of companion film, Blanchard Room, Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis
* Sunday, Oct. 20, 3-5 p.m.: Presentation and discussion of “Enrique’s Journey,” Blanchard Room, Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis
* Thursday, Oct. 24, 6-9 p.m.: Presentation of “Enrique’s Journey” and screening of companion film, International House Davis, 10 College Park
* Saturday, Oct. 26, 2-4 p.m.: Spanish-language round-table discussion of “Enrique’s Journey,” Blanchard Room, Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis.