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. On the other side of the river stands a fifty-foot pole equipped with U.S. Border Patrol cameras. Patrol vehicles are nearby, but Enrique cannot see them in the dark. He and his companions strip to their underwear, and El Tiríndaro loads the Mexicans into a black inner tube and pushes them across the water to a small island halfway across the river. He then returns for Enrique.
They all know the dangers presented by the river - two nights before, a young migrant was killed when he was sucked into a whirlpool. In fact, fifty-four people had died that year in the Rio Grande near Nuevo Laredo. Enrique cannot swim, and is afraid. He holds onto the plastic bag filled with dry clothes and shoes as El Tiríndaro guides him across the river in the inner tube. Shortly after they arrive on the island, an SUV appears on the far bank, flashing red and blue lights and casting a spotlight on the island. Enrique and the others plaster themselves to the ground, and wait a half hour for the SUV to leave.
Immigrant children who are caught by the Border Patrol are sent to a Houston facility in shackles. There, they wait days in unsanitary conditions, with little food. The guards rarely speak Spanish, and the children have no idea when they will be deported. Some grow depressed and suicidal, while others stop eating altogether.
After the agents leave, El Tiríndaro takes them to shore. For the first time in his life and clothed only in his underwear, Enrique stands on U.S. soil. El Tiríndaro hides the inner tube and leads the group into a freezing cold creek filled with sewage. After waiting there for a half hour, they dress in their dry clothes from the plastic bags. El Tiríndaro gives them bread and soda. Once they are ready, El Tiríndaro leads them over a steep embankment and through other obstacles until they finally reach a two lane street. There, a Chevrolet Blazer flashes its lights.
The group jumps into the car, where a man and woman greet them. They are a part of El Tiríndaro’s smuggling network. There are pillows in the back, onto which Enrique gladly falls asleep. He’s awoken when their group has to leave the car so that the Blazer can pass through a U.S. checkpoint. They walk out of the way of the checkpoint, and regroup with the Blazer down the road. Enrique falls back to sleep. When he awakes again, El Tiríndaro is gone. Dawn arrives, and Enrique sees how beautiful and clean America is. After leaving the Mexicans somewhere, the driver brings Enrique to a house, where he changes into American clothing.
Meanwhile, Lourdes is waiting to hear from Enrique. She has not slept and worries for her son’s life. A female smuggler calls and demands another $500. Lourdes wires the money to Western Union. Five days later, Enrique is driven to Orlando, Florida in a green van. Lourdes’s boyfriend picks up Enrique there, and they drive to North Carolina. On May 28th, after traveling 122 days and over 12,000 miles, Enrique finally reunites with his mother. He bounds up the steps to Lourdes’s trailer and runs inside to find his mother in bed. They hug and kiss, but they do not cry.
Nazario provides some perspective on the boy's journey. Unlike the heroes of the Odyssey and the Grapes of Wrath, whose stories end in reunion and peace, Enrique finds life with Lourdes to be difficult. Children like Enrique dream of finding their mothers and living happily ever after, but reality soon sets in. The children show resentment for being abandoned, especially when they confront the new families their mothers have made. They sometimes turn to drugs, pregnancies, early marriages, or gangs for comfort and approval. On the other hand, their mothers want respect for the sacrifices they have made over the years, and see their resentful children as ungrateful.
Enrique and Lourdes are no different, although their bond is strong. They live together in a trailer shared with several other people. At first, they eat and watch television together. Enrique gets to know Diana, his nine year old half-sister, and buys her gifts with money he earns as a painter and sander. Soon enough, though, he and Lourdes begin to clash. She wants him to study English; he wants to do as he pleases. One day, Lourdes’s roommates reject a collect call from Marìa Isabel. Enrique is enraged, and packs to leave. Lourdes spanks him. Enrique locks himself in the bathroom, and later spends the night in a cemetery. They soon reconcile, but the difficulties persist. They have been away from one another for too long.
One day, Enrique learns that Marìa Isabel has given birth to a baby girl, whom they name Katerin Jasmín. Enrique encourages Marìa Isabel to come north, and she agrees to leave the baby behind.
When Enrique stands for the first time in the United States, he is in his underwear, an image which reflects the crossroads between his past and future. His underwear is his final possession from home, and yet the baptism of the Rio Grande has presented him with a new life. It is telling that Enrique leaves the underwear behind when he moves on.
Like his two left shoes, Enrique is out of sync as he and the others navigate themselves through unfamiliar terrain until they reach their destination, a Chevrolet Blazer. Ultimately, though, they are lucky to have pillows and a mostly comfortable ride. Many smugglers stuff their charges into unimaginably tight spaces in cars and vans. Immigrants (usually small children) have been found in glove compartments, inside car seats where the interior has been removed, and even stuffed into car doors. The pillows feel like heaven to Enrique after his long journey has comes to an end.
Nazario goes into great detail in relating the personality clashes that Lourdes and Enrique face. She expects respect and deference, but the very independence that helped him survive the journey is at odds with such expectations. The resentments that Nazario described when Enrique was still in Honduras now pay off in extreme ways, to the point that he is sometimes intentionally mean to his mother. She later reveals that ultimately, what he wants is an apology that she is unwilling to give. She, too, has suffered too much.
Despite his strong personality, Enrique's resentments reveal he is still a boy. He resents Diana, whom she sees as a representation of their riff, and cruelly tells his mother that her biggest mistake was getting pregnant with Diana. He argues that it was unwise to have another child when she struggled to provide for those she already had.
Their rift will grow more specific in the next chapter. Turning toward his favorite form of escapism, Enrique begins to drink, to sniff paint thinner, and misuse the steady money he now makes as a painter. In a role reversal, Enrique begins to neglect Marìa Isabel, and eventually Jasmìn. The similarities between his situation and Lourdes’s are striking. When Lourdes arrived, she was able to send money home, but her diminished circumstances soon made that difficult. However, her pride kept her from being totally honest with her relations. Similarly, when he worked regularly, Enrique sent money to his family, but once he started drinking heavily, he too felt ashamed and stopped sending money home.
Marìa Isabel, in turn, finds herself in the position Lourdes once faced - that of a single mother who cannot afford to raise her child. She will soon face the same dilemma Lourdes did - do I risk losing the love of my child in order to provide for her? The patterns from the beginning of the book begin to repeat, suggesting that even Enrique's heroic success does not ensure a happy ending. Our protagonist has won the fight, and yet the fight now seems bigger and harder than ever.