Without a doubt, family is the central theme of Enrique's Journey. By basing her investigation around Enrique's story, Nazario explores the ways that immigration affects individual families.
Lourdes believes she is acting responsibly by traveling to the U.S. for work. Though she makes the trip for the sake of her children, they immediately feel the pangs of separation. Their whole notion of “family” becomes jaded. Who is their parent, or as Enrique asks, “Dónde está mi mami? Where is my mom?” Because of her decision, both mother and child suffer loss.
In the wake of separation, all concerned are led to create new family structures, often unhealthy ones. Enrique’s father starts another family, leaving Enrique doubly deserted and starting a spiral that leaves him to be traded from home to home. He wants to get his girlfriend pregnant largely because it might satiate his feelings of abandonment.
Meanwhile, Lourdes creates a new life for herself in the U.S. with her daughter Diana, but finds her life is incomplete without Enrique and Belky. Overall, the family unit itself is endangered, and this is one of Nazario's overall points. Even when they are reunited, their various resentments made a true reunion difficult. When Enrique makes his own journey and asks Maria Isabel to join him, he risks starting the same cycle of abandonment with his own daughter, suggesting that these decisions are not easily criticized, but rather must be considered as one of many factors at risk in the immigration debate.
At various points of the book, Enrique is abandoned by every significant parental figure in his life. First, Lourdes emigrates to the United States, leaving a five year old Enrique to be raised by his irresponsible father. Then, his father leaves to begin a new family, after which he is traded from home to home, largely because of the rebellious attitude that forms in response to the abandonment. In many ways, it is adolescent confusion over this abandonment that inspires Enrique to brave the significant risks of the journey to reunite with a mother he barely knows. Though this pain does inspire Enrique to fear repeating the cycle, he does abandon María Isabel, his girlfriend, who is pregnant with their child. The theme of abandonment comes full circle when Enrique and María Isabel leave their daughter in Honduras while they create a new life together in the United States. Enrique's greatest hope is that he can bring his daughter to him and not prove guilty of the same offenses that corrupted him in his youth.
As the title of the book suggests, a main theme within the narration is that of the journey. Enrique must travel thousands of miles in order to reach his destination, his mother. His journey is one of suffering and fear, of pain and longing. Through the lens of the author’s narration, we follow in Enrique’s footsteps as he overcomes each obstacle. The physical aspect of his journey challenges his body, as seen during his recovery from the injuries he sustained at the hands of the six men on the train.
However, Enrique's journey is not only physical, but also mental as he grows from a boy to a man. His anger, resentment, and feelings of abandonment fuel his confrontations with his mother. There are times in the book when he falls victim to his own shortcomings: doing drugs, tantalizing his mother, mismanaging his finances. His emotional journey concludes when, after he is reunited for a second time with his mother in Florida, Enrique reveals that he will stop living in the past, and will save enough money to bring María Isabel into the country so that they might work together to bring happiness into their daughter’s life. He is ready to take yet another journey, this time marked by responsibility instead of adolescent rebellion and resentment.
Although it is not overtly stated in the text, love is one of the greatest motivations that drives the characters. Enrique travels thousands of miles to reach his mother because he believes she is the only one who still cares for him. Lourdes makes the incredibly difficult decision to leave her home, her children, and the only life she has ever known, all in the name of love. Through their actions, characters reveal how terribly they feel the absence of love. Enrique falls in love with María Isabel, who “loses herself in Enrique.” The two conceive a child together, and although Enrique is not physically in Jasmín’s life, the promise of bettering her life leads him to take control of himself.
Characters in this book must make many difficult decisions in order to deal with their debilitating poverty. Lourdes remembers too well the pain of her childhood poverty, and so refuses to let her children suffer it. As a result, she ironically must abandon them to take care of them - she sees no other option. Similarly, Enrique is willing to suffer the poverty of the journey in order to find greater wealth up north, wealth with which he can prove himself responsible and take care of his girlfriend and child.
However, one of the book's interesting counterpoints is the reminder that the U.S. contains its own threat of poverty. Lourdes works a series of menial jobs that disappear frequently, and has to weather many disgusting circumstances to survive. As the final chapter and afterword illustrate, the desire to escape poverty force families to make very difficult decisions that are ultimately not in their best interest.
Though the book is centered around Enrique's journey, its larger purpose is to examine the various approaches to immigration, in hopes of creating social awareness. Nazario's intention, clearly stated in her prologue, is manifest in the way she juxtaposes the protagonist's tale with interviews and details of other migrants and the many institutions they encounter on their journeys. By the end of the book, Nazario is directly confronting the questions of immigration. In the afteword, she examines how immigration affects the economy, the family unit, the community, and institutions like public schools. She is not interested in answering questions, but rather in asking them. This approach makes sense considering the complicated factors she explores through Enrique's journey - so much is at stake for both these individuals and their communities that a simple answer would surely ring false.
Behind the entire book sits the theme of hope - without it, most of the amazing accomplishment would not be possible. Enrique admits he lacks any faith that God will help him on his journey, as he has been too sinful. Instead, he relies on his own determination and skill to see him through. He finds hope in himself, in the distant idea of his mother, and in the other migrants who encourage one other. He sees defeat everywhere, but refuses to be discouraged.
Especially during the sections of the book devoted to the journey, Nazario explores the many places from which migrants get home. They are inspired by kindness from citizens, especially in places like Veracruz, where strangers run alongside the trains and toss up much needed food and clothing. They also find it in charity, given by the many churches and shelters devoted to their welfare. Nazario takes extra time to discuss particularly kind individuals like Padre Leo or Olga, largely because they help the reader understand how migrants can maintain their hope. However, most profound of all is the hope that migrants like Enrique have to reunite with their loved ones. The promise of Lourdes is the largest motivation he has.
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.
The chapter describes the perilous journey to American soil. It is 1:00am on May 21, 2000, and Enrique is waiting by the edge of the water. El Tiríndaro will soon take him and two Mexican migrants, a brother and sister, across the Rio Grande.