Enrique’s Journey, by Sonia Nazario, published by Random House Trade Paperbacks, Random House, Inc., New York, copyright 2006
A Report by John Smyth, April 22, 2012
This story relates in amazing detail the travels of young men and women to find their parents. Each chapter is tremendously descriptive of the struggles the weakly prepared travelers have on this arduous journey from Central America to the United States. Enrique was born in Honduras and his mother Lourdes left him with his grandmother when he was 5 years old to come to the United States and work in 1989. The sadness Enrique experienced about his mother’s absence was matched by her sadness not to be with her son. This agony abides throughout the book. Family after family and generation after generation experience it. Actual relationships touched by this issue really seem to be multiplied by other family members and communities affected so that the entire society is negatively impacted. This remains true today. By the time Enrique reaches his mother, the cycle repeats itself with his daughter newly born in November 2000 in Teguchigalpa, Honduras, the place where Enrique’s journey began. The money the travelers send back is helpful to those in Honduras, but it cannot replace parenthood or fill a void of being orphaned in some way.
The characters throughout this journey represent the best and worst of humanity. The savage beating Enrique experienced on a moving train he had to jump from at night to save his life one night was offset by the kindness of those who took this naked, beaten stranger in and helped him back to his journey for his mom. The priest in the Mexico-US border town who gave his life fully for the poor, including the shirts off his back and, incredibly, the bed he slept in and all of his time and resources was a model of how much we each really can give to others. He was a light of angelic vision to the incredibly needy and absolutely destitute souls making this journey and his neighbors and congregation. Padre Leo at the parish of San Jose in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico may never be famous. Still, he is a saint.
The kind mother Lourdes who made the difficult decision between hungry children she saw and better fed children she didn’t see was a guiding light to our challenges in this part of the world. That she chose to leave cannot be condemned. She was a faithful mother in other ways. Her daughter in the States never had to know the circumstances of family and poverty that Enrique and his sister Belky knew. We are too far from her needs to judge her challenges and choices about friends, work, and money. We can only empathize with the sadness and suffering throughout the book.
The opportunities of success and family come at great cost to the ascetically clothed travelers. Heavily armed bandits and gangs, police, and army are all against them. In all cases, the weather is certain to be too hot and too cold as the travelers ride trains, cross bridges and rivers, go without food and water for days, and face distrust and discrimination by many. Each risks losing a limb or worse, his health and life. Many never make it.
Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for the circumstances and suffering so many deal with as part of life. The blessings we take for granted give us responsibility to serve those who have made this brave journey for family. Our own values of family are taught by how we regard these travelers. Autism would be overwhelming to the families and individuals it would strike. Overwhelming despair fills me as I think of the sentence of those poor souls with it in this population. May God have mercy on us all for the things we avoid that we must certainly be doing to care for others.