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Understanding Immigration Through Literature

UCSB Reads Presents Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother


On hand to lend a human face to what some deem an “alien” issue, four respected panelists discussed a book about immigration.

On February 9, UCSB professor Ralph Armbruster Sandoval, SBCC Dean Alice Scharper, SBCC professor Joe Martorana, and former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson met at Santa Barbara Library’s Faulkner Gallery to discuss this year’s UCSB Reads selection: Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother.

Written by Sonia Nazario, the nonfictoin story is as unique as it is universal, presenting the tale of a parent desperate to provide for her children, and of children desperate to be with their parent. Although not present at the Faulkner Gallery, Nazario — who did speak at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on February 11 — did provide much fodder for conversation.

Speaking of the story itself, Martorana called it “the human tragedy, the human experience.” Sandoval referred to it as a “humanistic story,” with Jackson deeming it “eye-opening.”

Delving deeper, Sandoval found it “troubling” that the story revealed little history regarding not only the reasons behind immigration, but also the stances often taken by American politicians. In addition to referencing former California Governor Pete Wilson’s anti-immigration campaign tactics, Sandoval questioned President Obama’s stance versus that of former President George W. Bush. “What has changed? Tone and rhetoric, or something of substance?” Sandoval wondered.

Equally focused on the political side of the debate, Jackson praised the book for raising such questions. “Why do people come, and why do they continue coming?” she asked. Jackson maintained that “people are willing to hire them,” and, in an effort to quash any notions that immigrants are an economic problem, she added, “they are a benefit to you and me.” Furthering the relevance, Jackson referenced the health care debate, finding the “notion that we shouldn’t provide healthcare [to immigrants] mind-boggling.”

“Tuberculosis doesn’t check for a green card,” Jackson added.

Third to speak, Martorana echoed Sandoval’s concern about the history behind immigration, and the United States’ response to it. “We [Americans] tend to look at the myths that we embrace, and we gloss over the history,” he said. One myth, Martorana said, is that “American people are generous,” when, according to Martorana, that is “not necessarily” the case.

Scharper seconded Martorana’s observations. “What we [Americans] espouse as our ideals and what we live out as our realities are abounding ironies,” she said.

Thus, thanks in part to Nazario’s novel and in an effort to lessen such hypocrisy, Scharper aims to understand immigration — and the wants, needs, and goals felt by the immigrants themselves — from a very local source: her students.

“I try to understand what that hope might mean for them,” she said.



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