INTREPID STORYTELLING: This month, educational institutions and libraries across the city are joining forces to get the entire reading community on the same page, or at least the same book. This time, it’s Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother. Nazario, a Pulitzer-winning former L.A. Times journalist, tells the true-life tale of a young Honduran’s trek from his hometown of Tegucigalpa to North Carolina, where his mother moved years before in search of work.
UCSB Reads is promoting Nazario’s book in innovative ways. In addition to the 2,500 copies distributed free to UCSB students, daily readings have been broadcast on KCSB-FM, and a day-by-day recounting of Enrique’s progress has been posted on Twitter. There’s a series of “Community Conversations” on subjects raised by and related to the text, and tonight, Thursday, February 11, the program brings Nazario herself to UCSB’s Campbell Hall to give a free lecture. Via email, the author discussed her research experience and how she grew the story from a newspaper feature to a full-length book.
“Although this was one of the longest series the L.A. Times had run,” Nazario wrote, “space constraints required that I hew almost exclusively to Enrique’s story. Expanding this to a book, I wanted to explore the interesting characters along the way. I am not a particularly religious person. I recognized that I had underplayed the role faith plays in allowing migrants to endure this modern-day odyssey.” Increasing the richness of detail in this area and others required Nazario to double back on her earlier research and dig even deeper. “I decided to retrace Enrique’s journey again, spending another three months along the tracks between Honduras and the U.S.,” she wrote. “This time, I focused on the heroes who selflessly help migrants. I often deviate from Enrique’s story and tell the stories of amazing people along the tracks.”
This endeavor demanded a riskier style of journalism than Nazario had engaged in so far, though she had immersed herself in the world of her subjects before. “In writing about the one in five children in the U.S. who grows up with a parent addicted to alcohol or drugs,” she recalled, “I spent a long time with a mother addicted to heroin and crack. We spent time in garages and crack sheds where she would shoot up. Seeing something up close and describing it as it happens allows you to write with incredible immediacy and power.”
Yet the process of writing Enrique’s Journey proved even more harrowing, as Nazario was forced to rely on the same dangerous, unreliable means of passage north that Enrique had taken. “I wanted readers to feel they were riding alongside Enrique and feeling everything he experienced on his journey—the cold, the heat, the heartache, the joy,” she explained. “I retraced his journey, step by step, just as he had done it. I started in Honduras, took buses through Central America, then boarded the tops of freight trains in southern Mexico. I traveled 1,600 miles, about half on top of seven trains up the length of Mexico.”
Nazario’s book is both the distinctive story of one unique boy and an examination of a larger migrant phenomenon. “I picked Enrique because his experiences were typical of what children go through trying to reunify with a mother,” she wrote. “About 100,000 children enter the U.S. illegally, without a parent, each year. Most who ride the trains are beaten, robbed, and have to make several attempts before they make it through Mexico. At first, I worried I needed a more angelic boy to tell this story. I had learned Enrique was a glue-sniffer. But he got into trouble because his mother wasn’t around. He didn’t feel loved. My editor said readers cannot identify with angels. They can identify with someone who, like them, isn’t perfect.”
Sonia Nazario will give a free lecture Thursday, February 11, at 7:30 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. For more information, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu. For more on the UCSB Reads program, visit ucsbreads.library.ucsb.edu. For more on related community discussions, visit sbplibrary.org.