Aug 25, 2009

Enrique's Journey - Sonia Nazario

Thunderstruck! This powerful little book has changed the way I will look at immigrants forever. It is a moving story of determination, squalor, filth, brutality, hopelessness, hunger . . . . and kindness. Carefully written and fully documented, this is a modern story of poverty and corruption that is happening now. As I write this. Everyday.

My family was poor once. Grandfather and Grandmother lived in penniless London among the cobbled streets, grey tenements with no plumbing, horse drawn carts, mud and dirt, sooty fog, and abject poverty. There was little or no work for anyone. Children went to school hungry and shoeless. In those years (around 1900) England was going through a serious recession. Most working people scavenged and bartered in the streets. The government could not care for them and encouraged them to migrate. My family did. They landed in America in 1905.

By the time I came along in the 1930's our family was solidly lower middle class. We were all Americans by then and despite a worldwide depression my parents were able to maintain that status. My father was in and out of work several times as I grew up, but food was always on the table and clothes were always on my back. When I was between the ages of 5 and 15 years old the depression ended, America entered World War II, and my parents purchased our first home in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

Now contrast that with Enrique's experience beginning in Guatamala.

Enrique's Journey describes the world he was born into, the utter lack of a present or future in that world, and the tremendous impetus to go north and find a better life. The story is moving, sad and typical of the situation in Mexico and Central America. Enrique's experiences have the impact of a steam powered ram. His world was nothing like mine, and probably nothing like yours. After reading the book and reliving his impoverished early life and the magnetism of opportunities and family members already living, working, and sending money home from America, my mental picture of todays immigrants from Mexico and Central America changed. Changed a lot.

The book promotes understanding WHY migrants come, and WHY they act the way they do when they get here. For me, this was the most important and most influential book I've read this year.

Strongly recommended.