Sonia Nazario

Sonia Nazario speaks with Wooster students


Sonia Nazario Recounts Enrique's Journey And Her Own

Wooster Forum audience hears story behind a "21st-century Odyssey"

September 18, 2013 by John Hopkins

WOOSTER, Ohio, Sept. 18, 2013 – Sonia Nazario recalls walking down a street in Buenos Aires, when she was 13 years old, and seeing two pools of blood on the sidewalk. Her mother told her that two journalists who were critical of the military government had been murdered there the night before, victims of Argentina’s “dirty war.”

“For the first time, I understood the power of words, the power of stories,” Nazario told a rapt audience at The College of Wooster last night, “and then and there I decided that I wanted to be a journalist, too.”

That decision led her first to the Wall Street Journal and then, in 1993, to the Los Angeles Times, where she won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, for a series of articles about a Honduran boy’s harrowing journey to find his mother in the United States. Nazario later expanded those articles into a book, Enrique’s Journey, which was required reading for all in-coming first-year students at Wooster this year.

On Tuesday, Nazario met in classes and over meals with groups of students who had read and written about the book, before speaking to several hundred students, faculty, staff, and community members as part of the Wooster Forum series, whose theme this year is “Facing Race.”

Each year, Nazario told the audience, thousands of Central American children, some as young as 10-12 years old, embark on a perilous journey north, hoping to reunite with a parent who already has made the same trip in search of opportunity in the United States. Enrique’s Journey tells their story through the eyes of one 16-year-old boy, who has not seen his mother in 11 years. The novelist Isabelle Allende calls the result “a twenty-first-century Odyssey.”

When Enrique was five years old, his mother, Lourdes, left Honduras to work in America. The boy remained with his grandmother, and the money that his mother sent back kept him from going hungry and enabled him to stay in school. Lourdes hoped to return in a year or two, but could not. So at 16, Enrique set off alone, with little more than the clothes on his back and his mother’s phone number in North Carolina, to find her.

In the course of her reporting, Nazario retraced Enrique’s steps, not once but twice, clinging to the sides and tops of the freight trains that are the immigrants’ route north, almost 2,000 miles from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

“The journey is harrowing beyond anything I could have imagined,” Nazario said. As if riding on the outside of a train through brutal heat, cold, rain, and hail were not enough, while crossing Mexico the immigrants also face robbery and beatings at the hands of vicious bandits and corrupt police, kidnapping for ransom by members of the Zetas gang, and maiming or death beneath the wheels of the trains.

And yet, Nazario said, she also met people who go to extraordinary lengths to help those riding the train, like the woman who has set up a clinic to care for those who have lost arms or legs jumping on and off El Tren de la Muerte — the train of death. In central Mexico she saw people come out of their homes as the train passed by to hand food and water up to those clinging to the sides, because “they were sure this is what Jesus would do if he were standing in their shoes.”

The next Wooster Forum event will feature Valerie Kaur. The award-winning filmmaker, writer, and civil rights advocate, will speak on “America after Oak Creek and Boston: Race, Religion, and Resilience,” on Wednesday, Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m., in McGaw Chapel, 340 E. University St.