Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique's Journey (the March pick for the Social Justice Book Club) answered a few club questions for us to add on to the discussion of her book (see my recap of the month here).
How do you think the journey has changed since you originally did your research for this book? Would there be anything additional you would choose to focus on if you were to do this trip again today?
The main change in the journey is that the narco cartels are heavily into the human smuggling business [it used to be mom and pop operators] and they are kidnapping a lot of people—18,000 Central Americans a year. They prefer to snatch children, and they use the scrap of paper they carry to demand ransom from relatives or parents in the U.S. If you don’t have a relative or your mom can’t pay, they will kill you. They have just discovered 136 mass graves in the state of Veracruz alone, a state that in recent years has been controlled by the brutal Zetas cartel. People believe many in the graves are migrants. Migrants are enslaved, prostituted, their organs are harvested. Once a year a parade of mothers walks through Mexico looking for their lost loved ones. I think I would focus now more on this phenomenon—how many migrants simply disappear in Mexico. No one really knows.
Do you ever wonder what happened to the other children and migrants whose stories you encountered during this work? Did you keep in touch with any after this project?
It’s hard to keep in touch as a reporter—you meet so many people. But I have kept in touch with some. I’m going to meet with one kid I met in 1999, Eber. When I met him he was 11 years old. He was an orphan. I recently reconnected with him on Facebook and am going to see him this summer in Colorado, where he lives. I wrote about 15 year old twins I met in 1999 at the same shelter for immigrant kids in Los Fresnos, Texas. They found me after years, and I had coffee with one of the twins when he came to LA, where I live. He was doing well; he was in college. His twin brother was in jail. He had spent more time on the streets before coming to the U.S in search of a mother who had basically abandoned the boys. They ended up in foster care. He eventually married —but when his wife said she was divorcing him, he tried to commit suicide by drinking brake fluid and having his children drink it, too. He was clearly troubled and couldn’t handle another abandonment from someone close to him.By watching these kids grow up, I see that some of them thrive, and some of them are unable to get past all the traumas they have suffered.
If your readers could only take away one thing from the reading of Enrique's Journey, what would you want that one thing be?
To be grateful. That’s what I have mostly taken from the experience of reporting the book. I saw a boy who had lost a leg a few weeks before get back up on the train because he was so determined to reach the U.S. and the opportunities I took for granted. I wake up every morning with a different perspective. My mother was a poor seamstress, but I was able to go to college for free, basically, and rise to the top of my profession as a journalist. That upward mobility is rare in most of the world. I can vote for president and have a fair amount of assurance that my vote will be counted fairly.
I think it’s always important to put yourself in someone else’s shoes before judging them. Many readers tell me they were raised racist, anti-immigrant, hated immigrants [even though they didn’t know one], but that reading this book changed their perspective.
I hope it reminds readers of the enormous determination we are all capable of.
If you'd like to participate in future Social Justice Book Club discussions, request an invite to our Slack here. If you're already in the Slack, hop on over to the #headscarveshymens channel to join in the April discussion of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution, by Mona Eltahawy.