Discuss the influx of single mothers from Central America and Mexico who illegally enter the United States. What is the cause of this phenomenon? How does it affect the United States?
Each year, the number of single mothers entering the U.S. illegally from Central America and Mexico grows. In turn, the number of children who follow them grows as well, and their cultural tendency towards large families often leads them to have children in the U.S. The increase in single female immigrants coincides with a rising divorce rate in Latin America; more mothers are left single and decide to travel north to compensate for a lost income and stability. Even though they work menial jobs (as maids, housekeepers, factory workers, nannies) for low pay, they require significant government assistance in the form of schools, hospitals, and prisons. These institutions are increasingly unable to meet the demands of such a large general population, which results in substandard care for all citizens who rely on those institutions. Also, the long periods of separation have a deep emotional impact on both mother and child. Children who find their mothers in the U.S. often cannot come to terms with their pasts, and find violent outlets for their resentments, which have lasting effects on the community at large.
How does Lourdes's experience in the U.S. serve as a commentary on the American Dream?
When she was a child, Lourdes glimpsed images of the U.S. on television. She was enchanted by what she saw, and created for herself an image of prosperity that is often referred to as "the American Dream." However, Lourdes quickly realizes that the U.S. presents its own set of problems. She cannot rely on steady work, and even when she has it, racism and her illegal status limit her earning potential. Though she can send money home, her own pregnancy limits her ability to do so. Her economic potential is so low that she has to turn to a form of prostitution. Though Lourdes is able to prosper somewhat in the U.S., it requires significantly more sacrifice than "the American Dream" led her to expect, and also requires her to accept a certain sense of shame. The country is less open to immigrants than she had hoped.
Why does Enrique turn to drugs for comfort?
Enrique's drug use can be understood in terms of his abandonment issues. Enrique is five years old when his mother leaves for the United States. He is shuffled from one family home to another, first that of his father, then that of his grandmother. He does not understand why his mother left, and then grows angry when her regular promises to return are not kept. As he grows older and develops an identity, it is an angry one - first, he acts out in school, and then later, he sniffs glue and is willfully disobedient to his elders. He is certainly a sensitive kid, which suggests that this behavior is more a form of escapism than hatred. He believes nobody loves him, and sees no solution to his resentment, so he turns to glue and marijuana for comfort. He continues to struggle with these addictions in the U.S., showing that geography cannot answer emotional pains.
Why does Enrique decide to travel to the U.S.? Consider various reasons in your response.
The immediate impetus for Enrique's departure is his drug problem, but his decision can also be understood in terms of his strong penchant for hope and his personal strength. After his drug problem leaves him without a home, he makes plans to travel North and reunite with Lourdes. However, this plan had long been gestating in his mind. Enrique's issues - with drugs and anger - are easily connected to his abandonment issues, and as he shows through his persistence in attempting the journey eight times, he is not a quitter. When his circumstance in Honduras grow so bad that he cannot find anyone who loves him, he does not delve further into drugs but instead sets out on a dangerous journey, armed with few provisions outside of his hope and character. He idealizes Lourdes as his salvation, which could be understood as delusion but can also be seen as personal fortitude. He will not let the world beat him down.
Describe the dangers that migrants face while traveling on the tops of freight trains.
The dangers of the trains are many, and include both physical and emotional struggles. Not only are the trains themselves dangerous, but migrants who travel on them must also overcome an onslaught of opposition. For instance, migrants can get pulled under the wheels while boarding the moving train, which can cause dismemberment or death. Others fall off the train while it is in motion. Gangs rule the train tops, robbing, beating, killing, and raping as they please. Migrants are also targeted by corrupt police and immigration authorities. Further, all decisions must be tempered by an ever-present threat of deportation. Both female and male migrants are in continual danger of rape. Migrants suffer from starvation and dehydration, and are unable to go to the bathroom for long periods of time. Children are often kidnapped by gangs or bandits for ransom money if they have a parent in the United States. Finally, all of this causes great emotional hurdles - there are so many reasons to turn back or seek deportation that only the strongest can persevere.
Migrants use several different nicknames for the freight trains. Use examples to illustrate the meaning behind the monikers.
Migrants use several nicknames for the trains, each of which suggests a different outlook. Many call it El Tren de la Muerte (the Train of Death). This reflects a pessimism over the train's danger - many people die or are seriously wounded by it all the time, and must confront a multitude of other threats like bandits in order to survive. Another name that reflects this purpose is El Tran Devorador (The Train That Devours). Others call it the Pilgrim’s Train, which indicates their extent of hope. They recognize a noble or spiritual purpose to the train that is bringing them to salvation in the North. Enrique prefers to call the train El Caballo de Hierro (the Iron Horse). What he recognizes is not its spiritual potential, but rather its physical strength.
Discuss the treatment of Central Americans in Veracruz vs. their treatment in Mexico City.
Whereas the migrants receive mercy and gifts in Veracruz, they are treated as undesirables in Mexico City. Men, women, and children run along the sides of the trains in Veracruz, throwing much needed clothing and food to the migrants aboard. The priests and bishops of Veracruz preach mercy and charity, saying that it is each citizen's Christian duty to help the Central American migrants. Many in this state stand up for the rights of migrants - they house them and allow them the use of their church. This kindness gives the migrants hope, and the faith to push forward on their journey, especially after the terrible treatment they suffer in Chiapas. Their treatment in Mexico City is remarkably different. The people of Mexico City are afraid of the migrants - they hear terrible stories about migrants stealing, propositioning young girls, raping boys, and more. They believe migrants bring disease, crime, and prostitution to the city and as a result, they shun Central American migrants. Though they are not outwardly vicious, they treat the migrants as undesirables.
How is Enrique’s family overly critical of María Isabel? How does this tie into the book's other themes?
After Enrique leaves for the United States, María Isabel lives across the street from his sister, grandmother, and aunt. Enrique sends money to María Isabel to help pay for Jasmín’s diapers, clothes, dry milk, and other necessities, but his support is watched closely by his relatives, who accuse María Isabel of negligence and greed. María Isabel admittedly does spend some of the money on herself and her mother, but having lived her entire life in poverty, she sees no shame in it. It is an unfortunate conflict between people whose lives are all hampered by poverty, but also indicates the way much-needed money can drive wedges between the poor. In even generosity is the potential for miscommunication.
Discuss Enrique’s resentment toward Lourdes after he arrives in North Carolina.
Enrique makes an incredible journey to reunite with his mother, but quickly discovers that the truth of psychological damage is not easily addressed by idealized images. After Enrique arrives in the United States and settles into a new life with Lourdes, he quickly realizes his idealized version of his mother is inaccurate. She is practically a stranger to him, and he finds it difficult to manage his resentment and anger. He treats her cruelly, and sometimes explicitly accuses her of abandoning him and of not loving him. Despite the independence he showed on his journey, he regresses into a state of childish petulance in the way he lashes out at her, even for factors she cannot control, like the behavior of her roommates. The conflict poses another journey for Enrique, one in which he must come to peace with himself and his past. However, it also speaks to the lasting damage of abandonment, which in his case forces him to work through childhood feelings that had lain dormant for so long.
According to leading immigration experts, how can the United States decrease the number of immigrants (legal and illegal) entering the country each year?
Immigration is a complicated issue, both in terms of its causes and effects. However, immigration experts, as quoted by Nazario, suggest that the best way to address it is by helping the third-world countries help themselves. If the United States forgave foreign debt to countries like Honduras, the borrowing nations could use that money to strengthen their economy and create new resources and new jobs. If new jobs were created, fewer people would feel compelled to leave their families in hope of prosperity elsewhere. Similarly, if the United States were to employ trade policies favoring these nations, more manufacturing opportunities might emerge. In short, the best way to address immigration is to eliminate the need for it, but the punitive policies of the U.S. cannot compete with individual desperation. The only way to succeed is to eliminate this desperation born from poverty.