Jacksonville, Fla.—Jacksonville University was proud to host Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario on Tuesday, August 30 in Terry Concert Hall. Nazario, who has spent 20 years reporting and writing about social issues, spoke about her book “Enrique’s Journey,” which recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peil to reach his mother in the United States.
Nazario’s quest to tell Enrique’s story began when she was a teenager. At 14 years old, Nazario’s father died of a heart attack and her mother moved her and her sister back to Argentina where both her parents immigrated to when they were younger. However, the move would not bring pleasant memories.
“I lived my 14th and 15th year in total fear,” said Nazario. “The military in Argentina wanted to control people’s every move and keep them from becoming informed. The fear was so great that my mother ended up taking all our books and burning them in the back yard.”
While walking in the street one day, Nazario came across something she would neve forget.
“I saw blood on the ground and my mother told me that two journalists had been killed,” said Nazario. “I realized how powerful words could be and from that moment on I was determined to become a journalist.”
Nazario’s desire led her to Williams College, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States. Even with determination, she said it wasn’t easy at first.
“I felt overwhelmed and had no help financially,” said Nazario, who was only one of five Latinos on campus.
However, as time passed, she realized that she wasn’t that different from the other students.
“I learned that these kids were no smarter than me they were just better prepared,” said Nazario, who graduated with honors.
Nazario then became the youngest person to work at The Wall Street Journal, where she would spend many years covering stories about Latinos and hunger issues.
She later moved to Los Angeles where she began writing at The Los Angeles Times. There, a conversation with her housekeeper, Carmen, began a more in depth discovery into the life of immigrants.
“I was stunned to learn that Carmen had left four children behind in Guatemala,” said Nazario.
Nazario quickly learned that there were many 'Carmen’s' in the US, who leave their home country to work and send money back to their children to give them a better life.
“Her choice is a terrible choice that I would not wish on any parent,” said Nazario.
Nazario also learned that many of these children travel to the United States to find their mothers. That is when she met Enrique, who was left by his mother when he was five years old.
After 11 years of separation, Enrique could not stand the overwhelming yearning to be reunited with her and set out on the dangerous journey to find her.
Standing in the way between him and his mother, however, were hundreds of corrupt cops who were usually on crack cocaine ready to rob and kill you in an instant.
Unfortunately for Enrique, like so many other immigrants, he did not escape encountering these people while on top of a train traveling north to the United States.
“He was beaten and at one point they tried to strangle him,” said Nazario.
Enrique was able to escape but the story would leave a lasting impression on Nazario.
“I was incredibly moved by what this kid had been through,” said Nazario, who became so inspired that she decided to travel to Mexico to ride the trains herself.
“I wanted to put readers like you on top of these trains because there is a whole new world up there,” said Nazario.
Equipped with a letter from the assistant to the president of Mexico for added safety, Nazario went to Mexico where she says she felt things that she will never forget.
“I felt tense and dirty and had an incredible fear of being raped or beaten,” said Nazario. “At times, I thought that I couldn’t take one more moment of this but I knew what I felt paled in comparison to what Enrique went through.”
After 122 days and eight attempts, Enrique finally made it to the US where he was reunited with his mother.
Through Enrique’s Journey, Nazario explains that she wanted to share the incredible desperation people like Enrique feel to leave their countries for a better life.
“My hope was to humanize immigrants,” said Nazario. “I think it’s easier to demonize people than to try and understand them.”