"'Dónde está mi mami?' Enrique cries, over and over. 'Where is my mom?'"
These haunting words, spoken by Enrique when his mother first leaves, touch at the center of the book's themes. No one tells five year old Enrique where his mother has gone, or when she is coming back. Lourdes and Enrique’s long distance relationship consists of telephone calls and short letters. This particular quote resonates throughout the text as Enrique travels from Honduras to the United States in search of his mother, having no idea what she looks like anymore, where she lives, or if he will ever reach her. Implicitly, these words reveal the depth of abandonment, since this sentiment of longing will serve as motivation for Enrique to pass through a terrible ordeal.
"The single mothers who are coming to this country, and the children who follow them, are changing the face of immigration to the United States."
In this quote, the author explains her purpose and inspiration for writing the book. Sonia Nazario wrote Enrique’s Journey to shed new light on the broader issue of immigration in the United States. In order to bring a human face to her investigation, she chose to follow one boy's journey. This approach lets her make an implicit statement to any Latina mothers who are considering immigrating to the United States - in the end, the separation of parent and child might not be worth it. The resentment the children feel toward their mothers never really goes away. Similarly, the guilt the mothers feel for having left their children also persists. Even after mother and child are reunited in the U.S., new issues arise, often resulting in negative consequences. Nazario does not want to write a political book - she wants to put a new "face" on the issue by exploring its personal, individual side.
"This is what they get for doing this journey."
This quote is spoken in the time period directly after Enrique was savagely beaten and robbed by six men on the train, and reveals one obstacle migrants must face: the resentments of Mexican citizens. The mayor and townspeople of Las Anonas, in Oaxaca, Mexico have gathered to stare at him after his beating. Some are kind and give him money, while others look on in disgust. The mayor of a neighboring town utters this statement, specifically referring to the many injured and dead migrants he has dealt with over the years. Díaz decides to take Enrique to a local hospital not from kindness, but from pragmatism - it is cheaper for the community to treat him than it would be to bury him. Díaz's distaste is disturbing but not uncommon in this part of Mexico. Some Mexicans believe Central Americans have no business being in Mexico at all. They are concerned with their own economic problems, and have little sympathy for the problems brought by others. Their racism blinds them to the plight of the Central American migrant.
"In spite of everything, Enrique has failed again - he will not reach the United States this time, either. He tells himself over and over that he’ll just have to try again."
Enrique’s determination to reunite with his mother is an underlying theme of the novel. Here, he is being deported to Guatemala for the last time. He sits on the Bus of Tears, with other migrants who have been caught, and wonders whether the threat is worthwhile. He has already sacrificed so much. Ultimately, though, the many arguments for giving up matter less than his determination to reunite with his mother. If he lacked even a bit of such perseverance, he would surely be deterred as many others are. This sense of determination in the face of such extreme odds is one of the many sides of immigration that Nazario wants to present and explore.
"They really screwed me up."
Enrique looks into a store window, and sees for the first time his battered reflection. He has been beaten, robbed, and humiliated. The scars on his head and body bear testament to what he has endured on this journey. When he looks into the window, he is ashamed by what he sees, and acknowledges that he is now marked by violence. However, he does not give up, but rather accepts this as another obstacle that he must overcome in order to succeed. His hope and determination are stronger than the troubles, and in confronting his own weakness but persisting nevertheless, he reveals that quality that ultimately facilitates his arrival in the U.S.
"It’s wrong for our government to send people back to Central America. If we don’t want to be stopped from going into the United States, how can we stop Central Americans in our country?"
This quotation addresses the larger issue of immigration within the text. As the author states, a number of Americans believe that Central American and Mexican immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born citizens, are over-using government aid, and are bringing crime into the country. Some Mexicans, in turn, feel similarly about the Central Americans in their country. And yet this man's opinion touches on an unsettling hypocrisy that suggests a wider truth. It is within our human nature to want to protect what is ours. Most societies are reluctant to share their resources, and yet we usually recognize a duty to help our fellow man. Whereas an individual might acknowledge a flaw in his society's policy, the society as a whole cannot be so easily led to practice such idealism.
"Can you imagine how far they have come?"
Unlike the citizens of many other states in Mexico, the people of Veracruz are known for their unwavering kindness toward migrants. Their priests and bishops encourage them to feed and clothe the migrants. They are reminded that Jesus himself was once a migrant, moving from Israel to Egypt. The migrants, in turn, view Veracruz as a land of hope and faith. Having passed through "the beast" of Chiapas, migrants are welcomed by the hope and kindness of Veracruz. Because this one part of Mexico is willing to show regular charity, many migrants are given the strength to continue that that might otherwise lose. This statement suggests that empathy can exist if we are willing to consider the migrants as individuals and not just faceless parts of a social problem.
"Thank you for returning to your country."
These words have been heard hundreds of thousands of times by the migrants on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Enrique hears them as well. Certainly, they are representative of the final great obstacle migrants face - crossing the border into the U.S. However, the horizon in their sight is a symbol of hope, and this implicit warning functions in the same way. Although the Border Patrol agents offer constant reminder of their presence, there is also a tantalizing hope that if a migrant can avoid the Border Patrol, he or she can cross into the promised land and end this journey. They can change their country from Mexico to the U.S. with just a little bit of luck.
"The effect of immigration has been family disintegration. People are leaving behind the most important value: family unity."
This sentiment touches on what is arguably the book's primary purpose. Referring to the lasting emotional damage of family separation, Oscar Escalada Hernández, director of the Casa YMCA shelter for immigrant children, suggests that dissolution of the family is the worst effect of immigration. The separation between mother and child creates irreparable emotional damage that impacts not only those involved but also the community in which they interact. Nazario explains how some children grow into restless adults, who are never able to forgive their parent(s) for leaving them. Others, like Enrique, try to overlook the past and move toward a brighter future; however, their lives are often marked by addiction or other coping methods. The true irony is the fact that the mothers originally left their country and children to help keep their family intact. Little did they realize the future ramification of that decision. One of Nazario's purposes is to remind us all of this less palpable risk that migrant parents run.
"We’ll have to leave the baby behind."
In a sad turn of events, María Isabel decides to leave her daughter, Jasmín, in Honduras while she joins Enrique in the United States. Enrique and María Isabel feel they are giving their daughter the best possible opportunity for the future. Yet, as Nazario insinuates in the Epilogue, this decision suggests that a vicious circle is continuing. Enrique's journey morphed from a trip through Mexico into a trip through himself, an attempt to make peace with his resentment over abandonment. And yet he and María Isabel repeat the same destructive pattern by leaving their daughter, with only hope of reuniting. Belky stands as a counterpoint, someone who actually does return to Honduras to raise her son, while Enrique persists in his hope that his family unit will not be too damaged by separation.
Enrique’s Journey Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Enrique’s Journey is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.