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1 Burnside Ethnic Studies- Latin American

Enrique's Journey


Enrique's Journey Cover

ISBN13: 9780812971781
ISBN10: 0812971787
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The boy does not understand.

His mother is not talking to him. She will not even look at

him. Enrique has no hint of what she is going to do.

Lourdes knows. She understands, as only a mother can, the

terror she is about to inflict, the ache Enrique will feel, and finally

the emptiness.

What will become of him? Already he will not let anyone

else feed or bathe him. He loves her deeply, as only a son can.

With Lourdes, he is openly affectionate. “Dame pico, mami. Give

me a kiss, Mom,” he pleads, over and over, pursing his lips.

With Lourdes, he is a chatterbox. “Mira, mami. Look, Mom,” he

says softly, asking her questions about everything he sees. Without

her, he is so shy it is crushing.

Slowly, she walks out onto the porch. Enrique clings to her

pant leg. Beside her, he is tiny. Lourdes loves him so much she

cannot bring herself to say a word. She cannot carry his picture.

It would melt her resolve. She cannot hug him. He is five

years old.

They live on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, in Honduras.

She can barely afford food for him and his sister, Belky, who is

seven. Shes never been able to buy them a toy or a birthday

cake. Lourdes, twenty-four, scrubs other peoples laundry in a

muddy river. She goes door to door, selling tortillas, used

clothes, and plantains.

She fills a wooden box with gum and crackers and cigarettes,

and she finds a spot where she can squat on a dusty sidewalk

next to the downtown Pizza Hut and sell the items to

passersby. The sidewalk is Enriques playground.

They have a bleak future. He and Belky are not likely to finish

grade school. Lourdes cannot afford uniforms or pencils.

Her husband is gone. A good job is out of the question.

Lourdes knows of only one place that offers hope. As a

seven-year-old child, delivering tortillas her mother made to

wealthy homes, she glimpsed this place on other peoples television

screens. The flickering images were a far cry from Lourdess

childhood home: a two-room shack made of wooden slats,

its flimsy tin roof weighted down with rocks, the only bathroom

a clump of bushes outside. On television, she saw New York

Citys spectacular skyline, Las Vegass shimmering lights, Disneylands

magic castle.

Lourdes has decided: She will leave. She will go to the

United States and make money and send it home. She will be

gone for one year—less, with luck—or she will bring her children

to be with her. It is for them she is leaving, she tells herself,

but still she feels guilty.

She kneels and kisses Belky and hugs her tightly. Then she

turns to her own sister. If she watches over Belky, she will get a

set of gold fingernails from el Norte.

But Lourdes cannot face Enrique. He will remember only

one thing that she says to him: “Dont forget to go to church

this afternoon.”

It is January 29, 1989. His mother steps off the porch.

She walks away.

“¿Dónde está mi mami?” Enrique cries, over and over. “Where

is my mom?”

His mother never returns, and that decides Enriques fate.

As a teenager—indeed, still a child—he will set out for the

United States on his own to search for her. Virtually unnoticed,

he will become one of an estimated 48,000 children who enter

the United States from Central America and Mexico each year,

illegally and without either of their parents. Roughly two thirds

of them will make it past the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization


Many go north seeking work. Others flee abusive families.

Most of the Central Americans go to reunite with a parent, say

counselors at a detention center in Texas where the INS houses

the largest number of the unaccompanied children it catches.

Of those, the counselors say, 75 percent are looking for their

mothers. Some children say they need to find out whether their

mothers still love them. A priest at a Texas shelter says they

often bring pictures of themselves in their mothers arms.

The journey is hard for the Mexicans but harder still for

Enrique and the others from Central America. They must

make an illegal and dangerous trek up the length of Mexico.

Counselors and immigration lawyers say only half of them get

help from smugglers. The rest travel alone. They are cold, hungry,

and helpless. They are hunted like animals by corrupt police, bandits, and gang members deported from the United

States. A University of Houston study found that most are

robbed, beaten, or raped, usually several times. Some are


They set out with little or no money. Thousands, shelter

workers say, make their way through Mexico clinging to the

sides and tops of freight trains. Since the 1990s, Mexico and

the United States have tried to thwart them. To evade Mexican

police and immigration authorities, the children jump onto and

off of the moving train cars. Sometimes they fall, and the wheels

tear them apart.

They navigate by word of mouth or by the arc of the sun.

Often, they dont know where or when theyll get their next

meal. Some go days without eating. If a train stops even briefly,

they crouch by the tracks, cup their hands, and steal sips of

water from shiny puddles tainted with diesel fuel. At night, they

huddle together on the train cars or next to the tracks. They

sleep in trees, in tall grass, or in beds made of leaves.

Some are very young. Mexican rail workers have encountered

seven-year-olds on their way to find their mothers. A policeman

discovered a nine-year-old boy near the downtown Los

Angeles tracks. “Im looking for my mother,” he said. The

youngster had left Puerto Cortes in Honduras three months before.

He had been guided only by his cunning and the single

thing he knew about her: where she lived. He had asked everyone,

“How do I get to San Francisco?”

Typically, the children are teenagers. Some were babies

when their mothers left; they know them only by pictures sent

home. Others, a bit older, struggle to hold on to memories: One

has slept in her mothers bed; another has smelled her perfume,

put on her deodorant, her clothes. One is old enough to re-

member his mothers face, another her laugh, her favorite

shade of lipstick, how her dress felt as she stood at the stove patting


Many, including Enrique, begin to idealize their mothers.

They remember how their mothers fed and bathed them, how

they walked them to kindergarten. In their absence, these mothers

become larger than life. Although in the United States the

women struggle to pay rent and eat, in the imaginations of

their children back home they become deliverance itself, the

answer to every problem. Finding them becomes the quest for

the Holy Grail.


Enrique is bewildered. Who will take care of him now that his

mother is gone? Lourdes, unable to burden her family with

both of her children, has split them up. Belky stayed with Lourdess

mother and sisters. For two years, Enrique is entrusted to

his father, Luis, from whom his mother has been separated for

three years.

Enrique clings to his daddy, who dotes on him. A bricklayer,

his father takes Enrique to work and lets him help mix mortar.

They live with Enriques grandmother. His father shares a bed

with him and brings him apples and clothes. Every month, Enrique

misses his mother less, but he does not forget her. “When

is she coming for me?” he asks.

Lourdes and her smuggler cross Mexico on buses. Each afternoon,

she closes her eyes. She imagines herself home at

dusk, playing with Enrique under a eucalyptus tree in her

mothers front yard. Enrique straddles a broom, pretending its

a donkey, trotting around the muddy yard. Each afternoon, she

presses her eyes shut and tears fall. Each afternoon, she reminds

herself that if she is weak, if she does not keep moving

forward, her children will pay.

Lourdes crosses into the United States in one of the largest

immigrant waves in the countrys history. She enters at night

through a rat-infested Tijuana sewage tunnel and makes her

way to Los Angeles. There, in the downtown Greyhound bus

terminal, the smuggler tells Lourdes to wait while he runs a

quick errand. Hell be right back. The smuggler has been paid

to take her all the way to Miami.

Three days pass. Lourdes musses her filthy hair, trying to

blend in with the homeless and not get singled out by police.

She prays to God to put someone before her, to show her the

way. Whom can she reach out to for help? Starved, she starts

walking. East of downtown, Lourdes spots a small factory. On

the loading dock, under a gray tin roof, women sort red and

green tomatoes. She begs for work. As she puts tomatoes into

boxes, she hallucinates that she is slicing open a juicy one and

sprinkling it with salt. The boss pays her $14 for two hours

work. Lourdess brother has a friend in Los Angeles who helps

Lourdes get a fake Social Security card and a job.

She moves in with a Beverly Hills couple to take care of

their three-year-old daughter. Their spacious home has carpet

on the floors and mahogany panels on the walls. Her employers

are kind. They pay her $125 a week. She gets nights and

weekends off. Maybe, Lourdes tells herself—if she stays long

enough—they will help her become legal.

Every morning as the couple leave for work, the little girl

cries for her mother. Lourdes feeds her breakfast and thinks of

Enrique and Belky. She asks herself: “Do my children cry like

this? Im giving this girl food instead of feeding my own children.”

To get the girl to eat, Lourdes pretends the spoon is an

airplane. But each time the spoon lands in the girls mouth,

Lourdes is filled with sadness.

In the afternoon, after the girl comes home from prekindergarten

class, they thumb through picture books and play. The

girl, so close to Enriques age, is a constant reminder of her son.

Many afternoons, Lourdes cannot contain her grief. She gives

the girl a toy and dashes into the kitchen. There, out of sight,

tears flow. After seven months, she cannot take it. She quits and

moves to a friends place in Long Beach.

Boxes arrive in Tegucigalpa bearing clothes, shoes, toy cars,

a Robocop doll, a television. Lourdes writes: Do they like the

things she is sending? She tells Enrique to behave, to study

hard. She has hopes for him: graduation from high school, a

white-collar job, maybe as an engineer. She pictures her son

working in a crisp shirt and shiny shoes. She says she loves him.

Enrique asks about his mother. “Shell be home soon,” his

grandmother assures him. “Dont worry. Shell be back.”

But his mother does not come. Her disappearance is incomprehensible.

Enriques bewilderment turns to confusion

and then to adolescent anger.

When Enrique is seven, his father brings a woman home.

To her, Enrique is an economic burden. One morning, she

spills hot cocoa and burns him. His father throws her out. But

their separation is brief.

“Mom,” Enriques father tells the grandmother, “I cant

think of anyone but that woman.”

Enriques father bathes, dresses, splashes on cologne, and

follows her. Enrique tags along and begs to stay with him. But

his father tells him to go back to his grandmother.

His father begins a new family. Enrique sees him rarely,

usually by chance. In time, Enriques love turns to contempt.

“He doesnt love me. He loves the children he has with his

wife,” he tells Belky. “I dont have a dad.”

His father notices. “He looks at me as if he wasnt my son,

as if he wants to strangle me,” he tells Enriques grandmother.

Most of the blame, his father decides, belongs to Enriques

mother. “She is the one who promised to come back.”

For Belky, their mothers disappearance is just as distressing.

She lives with Aunt Rosa Amalia, one of her mothers sisters.

On Mothers Day, Belky struggles through a celebration at

school. That night she cries quietly, alone in her room. Then

she scolds herself. She should thank her mother for leaving;

without the money she sends for books and uniforms, Belky

could not even attend school. She reminds herself of all the

other things her mother ships south: Reebok tennis shoes, black

sandals, the yellow bear and pink puppy stuffed toys on her

bed. She commiserates with a friend whose mother has also

left. They console each other. They know a girl whose mother

died of a heart attack. At least, they say, ours are alive.

But Rosa Amalia thinks the separation has caused deep

emotional problems. To her, it seems that Belky is struggling

with an unavoidable question: How can I be worth anything if

my mother left me?

“There are days,” Belky tells Aunt Rosa Amalia, “when I

wake up and feel so alone.” Belky is temperamental. Sometimes

she stops talking to everyone. When her mood turns dark,

her grandmother warns the other children in the house,

¡Pórtense bien porque la marea anda brava! You better behave, because

the seas are choppy!”

Confused by his mothers absence, Enrique turns to his

grandmother. Alone now, he and his fathers elderly mother

share a shack thirty feet square. María Marcos built it herself of

wooden slats. Enrique can see daylight in the cracks. It has four

rooms, three without electricity. There is no running water.

Gutters carry rain off the patched tin roof into two barrels. A

trickle of cloudy white sewage runs past the front gate. On a

well-worn rock nearby, Enriques grandmother washes musty

used clothing she sells door to door. Next to the rock is the latrine—

a concrete hole. Beside it are buckets for bathing.

The shack is in Carrizal, one of Tegucigalpas poorest

neighborhoods. Sometimes Enrique looks across the rolling

hills to the neighborhood where he and his mother lived and

where Belky still lives with their mothers family. They are six

miles apart. They hardly ever visit.

Lourdes sends Enrique $50 a month, occasionally $100,

sometimes nothing. It is enough for food but not for school

clothes, fees, notebooks, or pencils, which are expensive in

Honduras. There is never enough for a birthday present. But

Grandmother María hugs him and wishes him a cheery ¡Feliz

cumpleaños! “Your mom cant send enough,” she says, “so we

both have to work.”

Enrique loves to climb his grandmothers guayaba tree, but

there is no more time for play now. After school, Enrique sells

tamales and plastic bags of fruit juice from a bucket hung in the

crook of his arm. “¡Tamarindo! ¡Piña!” he shouts.

Sometimes Enrique takes his wares to a service station where

diesel-belching buses rumble into Carrizal. Jostling among

mango and avocado vendors, he sells cups of diced fruit.

After he turns ten, he rides buses alone to an outdoor food

market. He stuffs tiny bags with nutmeg, curry powder, and paprika,

then seals them with hot wax. He pauses at big black

gates in front of the market and calls out, “¿Va a querer especias?

Who wants spices?” He has no vendors license, so he keeps

moving, darting between wooden carts piled with papayas.

Younger children, five and six years old, dot the curbs, thrusting

fistfuls of tomatoes and chiles at shoppers. Others offer to

carry purchases of fruits and vegetables from stall to stall in rustic

wooden wheelbarrows in exchange for tips. “Te ayudo? May I

help you?” they ask. Arms taut, backs stooped, the boys heave

forward, their carts bulging. In between sales, some of the young market workers sniff glue.

Grandmother María cooks plantains, spaghetti, and fresh

eggs. Now and then, she kills a chicken and prepares it for him.

In return, when she is sick, Enrique rubs medicine on her back.

He brings water to her in bed. Two or three times a week, Enrique

lugs buckets filled with drinking water, one on each shoulder,

from the water truck at the bottom of the hill up to his

grandmothers house.

Every year on Mothers Day, he makes a heart-shaped card

at school and presses it into her hand. “I love you very much,

Grandma,” he writes. But she is not his mother. Enrique longs to hear Lourdess

voice. Once he tries to call her collect from a public telephone

in his neighborhood. He cant get the call to go through. His

only way of talking to her is at the home of his mothers cousin

María Edelmira Sánchez Mejía, one of the few family members

who has a telephone. His mother seldom calls. One year

she does not call at all.

“I thought you had died, girl!” María Edelmira says, when

she finally does call.

Better to send money, Lourdes replies, than burn it up on

the phone. But there is another reason she hasnt called: her life

in the United States is nothing like the television images she saw

in Honduras.

Lourdes shares an apartment bedroom with three other

women. She sleeps on the floor. A boyfriend from Honduras,

Santos, joins her in Long Beach. Lourdes is hopeful. Shes noticed

that her good friend Alma saves much faster now that she

has moved in with a Mexican boyfriend. The boyfriend pays

Almas rent and bills. Alma can shop for her two girls in Honduras

at nice stores such as JCPenney and Sears. Shes saving to

build a house in Honduras.

Santos, who once worked with Lourdess stepfather as a

bricklayer, is such a speedy worker that in Honduras his nickname

was El Veloz. With Santos here, Lourdes tells herself, she

will save enough to bring her children within two years. If not,

she will take her savings and return to Honduras to build a little

house and corner grocery store.

Lourdes unintentionally gets pregnant. She struggles

through the difficult pregnancy, working in a refrigerated fish

factory, packing and weighing salmon and catfish all day. Her

water breaks at five one summer morning. Lourdess boyfriend,

who likes to get drunk, goes to a bar to celebrate. He asks a female

bar buddy to take Lourdes to the public hospital. Lourdess

temperature shoots up to 105 degrees. She becomes

delirious. The bar buddy wipes sweat dripping from Lourdess

brow. “Bring my mother. Bring my mother,” Lourdes moans.

Lourdes has trouble breathing. A nurse slips an oxygen mask

over her face. She gives birth to a girl, Diana.

After two days, Lourdes must leave the hospital. She is still

sick and weak. The hospital will hold her baby one more day.

Santos has never shown up at the hospital. He isnt answering

their home telephone. His drinking buddy has taken Lourdess

clothes back to her apartment. Lourdes leaves the hospital

wearing a blue paper disposable robe. She doesnt even have a

pair of underwear. She sits in her apartment kitchen and sobs,

longing for her mother, her sister, anyone familiar.

Santos returns the next morning, after a three-day drinking

binge. “Ya vino? Has it arrived?” He passes out before Lourdes

can answer. Lourdes goes, alone, to get Diana from the hospital.

Santos loses his job making airplane parts. Lourdes falls on

a pallet and hurts her shoulder. She complains to her employer

about the pain. Two months after Dianas birth, she is fired. She

gets a job at a pizzeria and bar. Santos doesnt want her to work

there. One night, Santos is drunk and jealous that Lourdes has

given a male co-worker a ride home. He punches Lourdes in the

chest, knocking her to the ground. The next morning, there is

coagulated blood under the skin on her breast. “I wont put up

with this,” Lourdes tells herself.

When Diana is one year old, Santos decides to visit Honduras.

He promises to choose wise investments there and multiply

the several thousand dollars the couple has scrimped to

save. Instead, Santos spends the money on a long drinking

binge with a fifteen-year-old girl on his arm. He doesnt call

Lourdes again.

By the time Santos is gone for two months, Lourdes can no

longer make car and apartment payments. She rents a garage—

really a converted single carport. The owners have thrown up

some walls, put in a door, and installed a toilet. There is no

kitchen. It costs $300 a month.

Lourdes and Diana, now two years old, share a mattress on

the concrete floor. The roof leaks, the garage floods, and slugs

inch up the mattress and into bed. She cant buy milk or diapers

or take her daughter to the doctor when she gets sick. Sometimes

they live on emergency welfare.

Unemployed, unable to send money to her children in

Honduras, Lourdes takes the one job available: work as a fichera

at a Long Beach bar called El Mar Azul Bar #1. It has two pool

tables, a long bar with vinyl stools, and a red-and-blue neon

façade. Lourdess job is to sit at the bar, chat with patrons, and

encourage them to keep buying grossly overpriced drinks for

her. Her first day is filled with shame. She imagines that her

brothers are sitting at the bar, judging her. What if someone she

knows walks into the bar, recognizes her, and word somehow

gets back to Lourdess mother in Honduras? Lourdes sits in the

darkest corner of the bar and begins to cry. “What am I doing

here?” she asks herself. “Is this going to be my life?” For nine

months, she spends night after night patiently listening to

drunken men talk about their problems, how they miss their

wives and children left behind in Mexico.

A friend helps Lourdes get work cleaning oil refinery offices

and houses by day and ringing up gasoline and cigarette sales at

a gas station at night. Lourdes drops her daughter off at school

at 7 A.M., cleans all day, picks Diana up at 5 P.M., drops her at a

babysitter, then goes back to work until 2 A.M. She fetches

Diana and collapses into bed. She has four hours to sleep.

Some of the people whose houses she cleans are kind. One

woman in Redondo Beach always cooks Lourdes lunch and

leaves it on the stove for her. Another woman offers, “Anything

you want to eat, there is the fridge.” Lourdes tells both, “God

bless you.”

Others seem to revel in her humiliation. One woman in

posh Palos Verdes demands that she scrub her living room and

kitchen floors on her knees instead of with a mop. It exacerbates

her arthritis. She walks like an old lady some days. The

cleaning liquids cause her skin to slough off her knees, which

sometimes bleed. The woman never offers Lourdes a glass of


There are good months, though, when she can earn $1,000

to $1,200 cleaning offices and homes. She takes extra jobs, one

at a candy factory for $2.25 an hour. Besides the cash for Enrique,

every month she sends $50 each to her mother and


Those are her happiest moments, when she can wire

money. Her greatest dread is when there is no work and she

cant. That and random gang shootings. “La muerte nunca te avisa

cuando viene,” Lourdes says. “Death never announces when it is

going to come.” A small park near her apartment is a gang

hangout. When Lourdes returns home in the middle of the

night, gangsters come up and ask for money. She always hands

over three dollars, sometimes five. What would happen to her

children if she died?

The money Lourdes sends is no substitute for her presence.

Belky, now nine, is furious about the new baby. Their mother

might lose interest in her and Enrique, and the baby will make

it harder to wire money and save so she can bring them north.

“How can she have more children now?” Belky asks.

For Enrique, each telephone call grows more strained. Because

he lives across town, he is not often lucky enough to be at

María Edelmiras house when his mother phones. When he is,

their talk is clipped and anxious. Quietly, however, one of these

conversations plants the seed of an idea. Unwittingly, Lourdes

sows it herself.

“When are you coming home?” Enrique asks. She avoids

an answer. Instead, she promises to send for him very soon.

It had never occurred to him: If she will not come home,

then maybe he can go to her. Neither he nor his mother realizes

it, but this kernel of an idea will take root. From now on, whenever

Enrique speaks to her, he ends by saying, “I want to be

with you.”

“Come home,” Lourdess own mother begs her on the telephone.

“It may only be beans, but you always have food here.”

Pride forbids it. How can she justify leaving her children if she

returns empty-handed? Four blocks from her mothers place is

a white house with purple trim. It takes up half a block behind

black iron gates. The house belongs to a woman whose children

went to Washington, D.C., and sent her the money to build it.

Lourdes cannot afford such a house for her mother, much less


But she develops a plan. She will become a resident and

bring her children to the United States legally. Three times, she

hires storefront immigration counselors who promise help. She

pays them a total of $3,850. But the counselors never deliver.

One is a supposed attorney near downtown Los Angeles.

Another is a blind man who says he once worked at the INS.

Lourdess friends say hes helped them get work papers. A

woman in Long Beach, whose house she cleans, agrees to sponsor

her residency. The blind man dies of diabetes. Soon after,

Lourdes gets a letter from the INS. Petition denied.

She must try again. A chance to get her papers comes from

someone Lourdes trusts. Dominga is an older woman with

whom Lourdes shares an apartment. Dominga has become

Lourdess surrogate mother. She loans Lourdes money when

she runs short. She gives her advice on how to save so she can

bring her children north. When Lourdes comes home late, she

leaves her tamales or soup on the table, under the black velvet

picture of the Last Supper.

Dominga is at the Los Angeles INS office. Shes there to try

to help a son arrested in an immigration raid. A woman walks

up to her in the hallway. My name, she tells Dominga, is Gloria

Patel. I am a lawyer. I have friends inside the INS who can help

your son become legal. In fact, I work for someone inside the

INS. She hands Dominga her business card. IMMIGRATION


of the Statue of Liberty. Residency costs $3,000 per person up

front, $5,000 total. Find five or six interested immigrants, the

woman tells Dominga, and Ill throw in your sons residency

papers for free.

“I found a woman, a great attorney!” Dominga tells Lourdes.

“She can make us legal in one month.” At most, three

months. Dominga convinces other immigrants in her apartment

complex to sign up. Initially, the recruits are skeptical.

Some accompany Dominga to Patels office. It is a suite in a

nice building that also houses the Guatemalan Consulate. The

waiting room is full. Two men loudly discuss how Patel has

been successful in legalizing their family members. Patel shows

Dominga papers—proof, she says, that her sons legalization

process is already under way.

They leave the office grateful that Patel has agreed to slash

her fee to $3,500 and require only $1,000 per person as a first

installment. Lourdes gives Patel what she has: $800.

Soon Patel demands final payments from everyone to keep

going. Lourdes balks. Should she be sending this money to her

children in Honduras instead? She talks to Patel on the phone.

She claims to be Salvadoran but sounds Colombian.

Patel is a smooth talker. “How are you going to lose out on

this amazing opportunity? Almost no one has this opportunity!

And for this incredible price.”

“Its that there are a lot of thieves here. And I dont earn


“Who said Im going to rob you?”

Lourdes prays. God, all these years, I have asked you for only one

thing: to be with my children again. She hands over another $700.

Others pay the entire $3,500.

Patel promises to send everyones legalization papers in the

mail. A week after mailing in the last payments, several migrants

go back to her office to see how things are going. The office

is shuttered. Gloria Patel is gone. Others in the building say

she had rented space for one month. The papers the migrants

were shown were filled-out applications, nothing more.

Lourdes berates herself for not dating an American who

asked her out long ago. She could have married him, maybe

even had her children here by now . . .

Lourdes wants to give her son and daughter some hope.

“Ill be back next Christmas,” she tells Enrique.

Enrique fantasizes about Lourdess expected homecoming

in December. In his mind, she arrives at the door with a box of

Nike shoes for him. “Stay,” he pleads. “Live with me. Work here.

When Im older, I can help you work and make money.”

Christmas arrives, and he waits by the door. She does not

come. Every year, she promises. Each year, he is disappointed.

Confusion finally grows into anger. “I need her. I miss her,” he

tells his sister. “I want to be with my mother. I see so many children

with mothers. I want that.”

One day, he asks his grandmother, “How did my mom get

to the United States?” Years later, Enrique will remember his

grandmothers reply—and how another seed was planted:

“Maybe,” María says, “she went on the trains.”

“What are the trains like?”

“They are very, very dangerous,” his grandmother says.

“Many people die on the trains.”

When Enrique is twelve, Lourdes tells him yet again that

she will come home.

“Sí,” he replies. “Va, pues. Sure. Sure.”

Enrique senses a truth: Very few mothers ever return. He

tells her that he doesnt think she is coming back. To himself, he

says, “Its all one big lie.”

The calls grow tense. “Come home,” he demands. “Why

do you want to be there?”

“Its all gone to help raise you.”

Lourdes has nightmares about going back, even to visit,

without residency documents. In the dreams, she hugs her children,

then realizes she has to return to the United States so they

can eat well and study. The plates on the table are empty. But

she has no money for a smuggler. She tries to go back on her

own. The path becomes a labyrinth. She runs through zigzagging

corridors. She always ends up back at the starting point.

Each time, she awakens in a sweat.

Another nightmare replays an incident when Belky was two

years old. Lourdes has potty-trained her daughter. But Belky

keeps pooping in her pants. “Puerca! You pig!” Lourdes scolds

her daughter. Once, Lourdes snaps. She kicks Belky in the bottom.

The toddler falls and hits her face on the corner of a door.

Her lip splits open. Lourdes cant reach out and console her

daughter. Each time, she awakens with Belkys screams ringing

in her ears.

All along, Enriques mother has written very little; she is

barely literate and embarrassed by it. Now her letters stop.

Every time Enrique sees Belky, he asks, “When is our mom

coming? When will she send for us?”

Lourdes does consider hiring a smuggler to bring the children

but fears the danger. The coyotes, as they are called, are

often alcoholics or drug addicts. Usually, a chain of smugglers

is used to make the trip. Children are passed from one stranger

to another. Sometimes the smugglers abandon their charges.

Lourdes is continually reminded of the risks. One of her

best friends in Long Beach pays for a smuggler to bring her sister

from El Salvador. During her journey, the sister calls Long

Beach to give regular updates on her progress through Mexico.

The calls abruptly stop.

Two months later, the family hears from a man who was

among the group headed north. The smugglers put twentyfour

migrants into an overloaded boat in Mexico, he says. It

tipped over. All but four drowned. Some bodies were swept out

to sea. Others were buried along the beach, including the missing

sister. He leads the family to a Mexican beach. There they

unearth the sisters decomposed body. She is still wearing her

high school graduation ring.

Another friend is panic-stricken when her three-year-old

son is caught by Border Patrol agents as a smuggler tries to

cross him into the United States. For a week, Lourdess friend

doesnt know whats become of her toddler.

Lourdes learns that many smugglers ditch children at the

first sign of trouble. Government-run foster homes in Mexico

get migrant children whom authorities find abandoned in airports

and bus stations and on the streets. Children as young as

three, bewildered, desperate, populate these foster homes.

Víctor Flores, four years old, maybe five, was abandoned

on a bus by a female smuggler. He carries no identification, no

telephone number. He ends up at Casa Pamar, a foster home in

Tapachula, Mexico, just north of the Guatemalan border. It

broadcasts their pictures on Central American television so

family members might rescue them.

The boy gives his name to Sara Isela Hernández Herrera,

a coordinator at the home, but says he does not know how old

he is or where he is from. He says his mother has gone to the

United States. He holds Hernándezs hand with all his might

and will not leave her side. He asks for hugs. Within hours, he

begins calling her Mama.

When she leaves work every afternoon, he pleads in a tiny

voice for her to stay—or at least to take him with her. She gives

him a jar of strawberry marmalade and strokes his hair. “I have

a family,” he says, sadly. “They are far away.”

Francisco Gaspar, twelve, from Concepción Huixtla in

Guatemala, is terrified. He sits in a hallway at a Mexican immigration

holding tank in Tapachula. With a corner of his Charlie

Brown T-shirt, he dabs at tears running down his chin. He is

waiting to be deported. His smuggler left him behind at Tepic,

in the western coastal state of Nayarit. “He didnt see that I

hadnt gotten on the train,” Francisco says between sobs. His

short legs had kept him from scrambling aboard. Immigration

agents caught him and bused him to Tapachula.

Francisco left Guatemala after his parents died. He pulls a

tiny scrap of paper from a pants pocket with the telephone

number of his uncle Marcos in Florida. “I was going to the

United States to harvest chiles,” he says. “Please help me!

Please help me!”

Clutching a handmade cross of plastic beads on a string

around his neck, he leaves his chair and moves frantically from

one stranger to another in the hallway. His tiny chest heaves.

His face contorts in agony. He is crying so hard that he struggles

for breath. He asks each of the other migrants to help him

get back to his smuggler in Tepic. He touches their hands.

“Please take me back to Tepic! Please! Please!”

For Lourdes, the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend, Santos,

hits closest to home. When Diana is four years old, her father

returns to Long Beach. Soon after, Santos is snared in an

INS raid of day laborers waiting for work on a street corner

and deported. Lourdes hears he has again left Honduras

headed for the United States. He never arrives. Not even his

mother in Honduras knows what has happened to him. Eventually,

Lourdes concludes that he has died in Mexico or

drowned in the Rio Grande.

“Do I want to have them with me so badly,” she asks herself

of her children, “that Im willing to risk their losing their lives?”

Besides, she does not want Enrique to come to California.

There are too many gangs, drugs, and crimes.

In any event, she has not saved enough. The cheapest coyote,

immigrant advocates say, charges $3,000 per child. Female

coyotes want up to $6,000. A top smuggler will bring a child by

commercial flight for $10,000. She must save enough to bring

both children at once. If not, the one left in Honduras will think

she loves him or her less.

Enrique despairs. He will simply have to do it himself. He

will go find her. He will ride the trains. “I want to come,” he

tells her.

Dont even joke about it, she says. It is too dangerous. Be



Now Enriques anger boils over. He refuses to make his

Mothers Day card at school. He begins hitting other kids. At

recess, he lifts schoolgirls skirts. When a teacher tries to make

him behave by smacking him with a large ruler, Enrique grabs

the end of the ruler and refuses to let go, making the teacher


He stands on top of the teachers desk and bellows, “Who

is Enrique?”

“You!” the class replies.

Three times, he is suspended. Twice he repeats a grade. But

Enrique never abandons his promise to study. Unlike half the

children from his neighborhood, he completes elementary

school. There is a small ceremony. A teacher hugs him and

mutters, “Thank God, Enriques out of here.”

He stands proud in a blue gown and mortarboard. But nobody

from his mothers family comes to the graduation.

Now he is fourteen, a teenager. He spends more time on the

streets of Carrizal, which is controlled by the Poison gang and

is quickly becoming one of Tegucigalpas toughest neighborhoods.

His grandmother tells him to come home early. But he

plays soccer until midnight. He refuses to sell spices. It is embarrassing

when girls see him peddle fruit cups or when they

hear someone call him “the tamale man.” Sometimes his

grandmother pulls out a belt at night when Enrique is naked in

bed and therefore unable to quickly escape her punishment by

running outside. “Ahora vamos a areglar las cuentas. Now we are

going to settle the score,” she says. She keeps count, inflicting

one lash for each time Enrique has misbehaved.

Enrique has no parent to protect him on the streets of Carrizal.

He makes up for it by cultivating a tougher image. When

he walks alongside his grandmother, he hides his Bible under

his shirt so no one will know they are headed to church.

Soon, he stops going to church at all.

“Dont hang out with bad boys,” Grandmother María says.

“You cant pick my friends!” Enrique retorts. She is not his

mother, he tells her, and she has no right to tell him what to do.

He stays out all night.

His grandmother waits up for him, crying. “Why are you

doing this to me?” she asks. “Dont you love me? I am going to

send you away.”

“Send me! No one loves me.”

But she says she does love him. She only wants him to work

and to be honorable, so that he can hold his head up high.

He replies that he will do what he wants. Enrique has become her youngest child. “Please bury me,” she says. “Stay with me. If you do, all this is yours.” She prays that she can hold on to him until his mother sends for him. But

her own children say Enrique has to go: she is seventy, and he

will bury her, all right, by sending her to the grave.

Sadly, she writes to Lourdes: You must find him another


To Enrique, it is another rejection. First his mother, then his

father, and now his grandmother.

Lourdes arranges for her eldest brother, Marco Antonio

Zablah, to take him in. Marco will help Enrique, just as he

helped Lourdes when she was Enriques age. Marco once took

in Lourdes to help ease the burden on their mother, who was

struggling to feed so many children.

Her gifts arrive steadily. She sends Enrique an orange polo

shirt, a pair of blue pants, a radio cassette player. She is proud

that her money pays Belkys tuition at a private high school and

eventually a college, to study accounting. In a country where

nearly half live on $1 or less a day, kids from poor neighborhoods

almost never go to college.

Money from Lourdes helps Enrique, too, and he realizes it.

If she were here, he knows where he might well be: scavenging

in the trash dump across town. Lourdes knows it, too; as a girl,

she herself worked the dump. Enrique knows children as young

as six or seven whose single mothers have stayed at home and

who have had to root through the waste in order to eat.

Truck after truck rumbles onto the hilltop. Dozens of adults

and children fight for position. Each truck dumps its load.

Feverishly, the scavengers reach up into the sliding ooze to

pluck out bits of plastic, wood, and tin. The trash squishes beneath

their feet, moistened by loads from hospitals, full of

blood and placentas. Occasionally a child, with hands blackened

by garbage, picks up a piece of stale bread and eats it. As

the youngsters sort through the stinking stew, thousands of

sleek, black buzzards soar in a dark, swirling cloud and defecate

on the people below.

Enrique sees other children who must work hard jobs. A

block from where Lourdes grew up, children gather on a large

pile of sawdust left by a lumber mill. Barefoot atop the peachcolored

mound, their faces smeared with dirt, they quickly

scoop the sawdust into rusty tin cans and dump it into big white

plastic bags. They lug the bags half a mile up a hill. There, they

sell the sawdust to families, who use it as kindling or to dry mud

around their houses. An eleven-year-old boy has been hauling

sawdust for three years, three trips up the hill each day. The

earnings buy clothes, shoes, and paper for school.

Others in the neighborhood go door-to-door, offering to

burn household trash for change. One afternoon, three children, ages eight to ten, line up in front of their mother, who loads them down with logs of wood to deliver. “Give me three!” one boy says. She lays a rag and then several pieces of wood atop his right shoulder.

In one neighborhood near where Enriques mother grew

up, fifty-two children arrive at kindergarten each morning.

Forty-four arrive barefoot. An aide reaches into a basket and

places a pair of shoes into each ones hands. At 4 P.M., before

they leave, the children must return the shoes to the basket. If

they take the shoes home, their mothers will sell them for food.

Black rats and a pig root around in a ravine where the children


At dinnertime, the mothers count out three tortillas for

each child. If there are no tortillas, they try to fill their childrens

bellies with a glass of water with a teaspoon of sugar

mixed in.

A year after Enrique goes to live with his uncle, Lourdes

calls—this time from North Carolina. “California is too hard,”

she says. “There are too many immigrants.” Employers pay

poorly and treat them badly. Even with two jobs, she couldnt

save. She has followed a female friend to North Carolina and

started over again. It is her only hope of bettering her lot and

seeing her children again. She sold everything in California—

her old Ford, a chest of drawers, a television, the bed she shares

with her daughter. It netted $800 for the move.

Here people are less hostile. She can leave her car, even her

house, unlocked. Work is plentiful. She quickly lands a job as a

waitress at a Mexican restaurant. She finds a room to rent in a

trailer home for just $150 a month—half of what the small

garage cost her in Los Angeles. She starts to save. Maybe if she

amasses $4,000, her brother Marco will help her invest it in

Honduras. Maybe shell be able to go home. Lourdes gets a

better job on an assembly line for $9.05 an hour—$13.50 when

she works overtime.

Going home would resolve a problem that has weighed

heavily on Lourdes: Dianas delayed baptism. Lourdes has held

off, hoping to baptize her daughter in Honduras with Honduran

godparents. A baptism would lift Lourdess constant concern

that Dianas unexpected death will send her daughter to


Lourdes has met someone, a house painter from Honduras,

and they are moving in together. He, too, has two children in

Honduras. He is kind and gentle, a quiet man with good manners.

He gives Lourdes advice. He helps ease her loneliness. He

takes Lourdes and her daughter to the park on Sundays. For a

while, when Lourdes works two restaurant jobs, he picks her up

when her second shift ends at 11 P.M., so they can share a few

moments together. They call each other “honey.” They fall in


Enrique misses Lourdes enormously. But Uncle Marco and

his girlfriend treat him well. Marco is a money changer on the

Honduran border. It has been lucrative work, augmented by a

group that for years has been in constant need of his services:

U.S.-funded Nicaraguan contras across the border. Marcos family,

including a son, lives in a five-bedroom house in a middleclass

neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. Uncle Marco gives Enrique

a daily allowance, buys him clothes, and sends him to a private

military school in the evenings.

By day, Enrique runs errands for his uncle, washes his five

cars, follows him everywhere. His uncle pays as much attention

to him as he does his own son, if not more. Often, Marco plays

billiards with Enrique. They watch movies together. Enrique

sees New York Citys spectacular skyline, Las Vegass shimmering lights, Disneylands magic castle. Negrito, Marco calls Enrique

fondly, because of his dark skin. Marco and Enrique

stand the same way, a little bowlegged, with the hips tucked forward.

Although he is in his teens, Enrique is small, just shy of

five feet, even when he straightens up from a slight stoop. He

has a big smile and perfect teeth.

His uncle trusts him, even to make bank deposits. He tells

Enrique, “I want you to work with me forever.” Enrique senses

that Uncle Marco loves him, and he values his advice.

One week, as his uncles security guard returns from trading

Honduran lempiras, robbers drag the guard off a bus and

kill him. The guard has a son twenty-three years old, and the

slaying impels the young man to go to the United States. He

comes back before crossing the Rio Grande and tells Enrique

about riding on trains, leaping off rolling freight cars, and

dodging la migra, Mexican immigration agents.

Because of the security guards murder, Marco swears that

he will never change money again. A few months later, though,

he gets a call. For a large commission, would he exchange

$50,000 in lempiras on the border with El Salvador? Uncle

Marco promises that this will be the last time.

Enrique wants to go with him, but his uncle says he is too

young. He takes Victor, one of his own brothers, instead. Robbers

riddle their car with bullets. Enriques uncles careen off

the road. The thieves shoot Uncle Marco three times in the

chest and once in the leg. They shoot Victor in the face. Both

die. Now Uncle Marco is gone. In nine years, Lourdes has saved $700 toward bringing her children to the United States. Instead, she uses it to help pay for

her brothers funerals.

Lourdes goes into a tailspin. Marco had visited her once,

shortly after she arrived in Long Beach. She had not seen Victor since leaving Honduras. If the dead can appear to the living,

Lourdes beseeches God through tears, allow Victor to

show himself so she can say good-bye. “Mira, hermanito, I know

you are dead. But I want to see you one more time. Come to

me. I promise I wont be afraid of you,” Lourdes says.

Lourdes angrily swears off Honduras. How could she ever

live in such a lawless place? People there are killed like dogs.

There are no repercussions. The only way shell go back now,

she tells herself, is by force, if she is deported. Soon after her

brothers deaths, the restaurant where Lourdes works is raided

by immigration agents. Every worker is caught up in the sweep.

Lourdes is the only one spared. It is her day off.

Lourdes decides to wait no longer. With financial help from

her boyfriend, she baptizes seven-year-old Diana. The girls

godparents are a trustworthy Mexican house painter and his

wife. Lourdes dresses Diana in a white floor-length dress and

tiara. A priest sprinkles her daughter with holy water. Lourdes

feels that one worry, at least, has been lifted.

Still, her resolve to stay in the United States brings a new

nightmare. One morning at four, she hears her mothers voice.

It is loud and clear. Her mother utters her name three times:

Lourdes. Lourdes. Lourdes. “Huh?” Lourdes, half awake, bolts up

in bed, screaming. This must be an omen that her mother has

just died. She is inconsolable. Will she ever see her mother


Back in Honduras, within days of the two brothers deaths,

Uncle Marcos girlfriend sells Enriques television, stereo, and

Nintendo game—all gifts from Marco. Without telling him

why, she says, “I dont want you here anymore.” She puts his

bed out on the street.


Enrique, now fifteen, gathers his clothing and goes to his maternal

grandmother. “Can I stay here?” he asks.

This had been his first home, the small stucco house where

he and Lourdes lived until Lourdes stepped off the front porch

and left. His second home was the wooden shack where he and

his father lived with his fathers mother, until his father found a

new wife and left. His third home was the comfortable house

where he lived with his uncle Marco.

Now he is back where he began. Seven people live here already:

his grandmother, Águeda Amalia Valladares; two divorced

aunts; and four young cousins. They are poor. Gone are

Marcos contributions, which helped keep the household financially

afloat. Águeda has a new expense: she must raise the young

child left by her dead son Victor. The boys mother left him as a

baby to go to the United States and hasnt shown any interest

since. “We need money just for food,” says his grandmother, who

suffers from cataracts. Nonetheless, she takes Enrique in.

She and the others are consumed by the slayings of the two

uncles; they pay little attention to Enrique. He grows quiet, introverted.

He does not return to school. At first, he shares the

front bedroom with an aunt, Mirian, twenty-six. One day she

awakens at 2 A.M. Enrique is sobbing quietly in his bed,

cradling a picture of Uncle Marco in his arms. Enrique cries off

and on for six months. His uncle loved him; without his uncle,

he is lost.

Grandmother Águeda quickly sours on Enrique. She grows

angry when he comes home late, knocking on her door, rousing

the household. About a month later, Aunt Mirian wakes up

again in the middle of the night. This time she smells acetone

and hears the rustle of plastic. Through the dimness, she sees

Enrique in his bed, puffing on a bag. He is sniffing glue.

Enrique is banished to a tiny stone building seven feet behind

the house but a world away. It was once a cook shack,

where his grandmother prepared food on an open fire. Its walls

and ceiling are charred black. It has no electricity. The wooden

door pries only partway open. It is dank inside. The single window

has no glass, just bars. A few feet beyond is his privy—a

hole with a wooden shanty over it. The stone hut becomes his home. Now Enrique can do whatever he wants. If he is out all night, no one cares. But to

him, it feels like another rejection.

At his uncles funeral, he notices a shy girl with cascading

curls of brown hair. She lives next door with her aunt. She has

an inviting smile, a warm manner. At first, María Isabel, seventeen,

cant stand Enrique. She notices how the teenager, who

comes from his uncle Marcos wealthier neighborhood, is

neatly dressed and immaculately clean, and wears his hair long.

He seems arrogant. “Me cae mal. I dont like him,” she tells a

friend. Enrique is sure she has assumed that his nice clothes and

his seriousness mean hes stuck-up. He persists. He whistles

softly as she walks by, hoping to start a conversation. Month

after month, Enrique asks the same question: “Would you be

my girlfriend?”

“Ill think about it.”

The more she rejects him, the more he wants her. He loves

her girlish giggle, how she cries easily. He hates it when she flirts

with others.

He buys her roses. He gives her a shiny black plaque with a

drawing of a boy and girl looking tenderly at each other. It

reads, “The person I love is the center of my life and of my

heart. The person I love IS YOU.” He gives her lotions, a stuffed

teddy bear, chocolates. He walks her home after school from

night classes two blocks away. He takes her to visit his paternal

grandmother across town. Slowly, María Isabel warms to him.

The third time Enrique asks if she will be his girlfriend, she

says yes.

For Enrique, María Isabel isnt just a way to stem the loneliness

hes felt since his mother left him. They understand each

other, they connect. María Isabel has been separated from her

parents. She, too, has had to shuffle from home to home.

When she was seven, María Isabel followed her mother,

Eva, across Honduras to a borrowed hut on a Tegucigalpa

mountainside. Like Enriques mother, Eva was leaving an unfaithful


The hut was twelve by fifteen feet. It had one small wooden

window and dirt floors. There was no bathroom. They relieved

themselves and showered outdoors or at the neighbors. There

was no electricity. They cooked outside using firewood. They

hauled buckets of water up from a relatives home two blocks

down the hill. They ate beans and tortillas. Eva, asthmatic,

struggled to keep the family fed.

Nine people slept in the hut. They crowded onto two beds

and a slim mattress jammed each night into the aisle between

the beds. To fit, everyone slept head to foot. María Isabel

shared one of the beds with three other women.

When she was ten, María Isabel ran to catch a delivery

truck. “Firewood!” she yelled out to a neighbor, Ángela

Emérita Nuñez, offering to get some for her.

After that, each morning María Isabel asked if Ángela had

a chore for her. Ángela liked the sweet, loving girl with coils of

hair who always smiled. She admired the fact that she was a

hard worker and a fighter, a girl who thrived when her own

twin died a month after birth. “Mira,” María Isabel says, “yo por

pereza no me muero del hambre. I will never die out of laziness.”

María Isabel fed and bathed Ángelas daughter, helped make

tortillas and mop the red-and-gray tile floors. María Isabel

often ate at Ángelas. Eventually, María Isabel spent many

nights a week at Ángelas roomier house, where she had to

share a bed with only one other person, Ángelas daughter.

María Isabel graduated from the sixth grade. Her mother

proudly hung María Isabels graduation certificate on the wall

of the hut. A good student, she hadnt even asked her mother

about going on to junior high. “How would she speak of that?

We had no chance to send a child to school that long,” says Eva,

who never went to school a day and began selling bread from a

basket perched on her head when she was twelve.

At sixteen, a fight forced María Isabel to move again. The

spat was with an older cousin, who thought María Isabel was

showing interest in her boyfriend. Eva scolded her daughter.

María Isabel decided to move across town with her aunt Gloria,

who lived next door to Enriques maternal grandmother.

María Isabel would help Gloria with a small food store she ran

out of the front room of her house. To Eva, her daughters departure

was a relief. The family was eating, but not well. Eva

was thankful that Gloria had lightened her load.

Glorias house is modest. The windows have no panes, just

wooden shutters. But to María Isabel, Glorias two-bedroom

home is wonderful. She and Glorias daughter have a bedroom

to themselves. Besides, Gloria is more easygoing about letting

María Isabel go out at night to an occasional dance or party, or

to the annual county fair. Eva wouldnt hear of such a thing,

fearful the neighbors would gossip about her daughters morals.

A cousin promises to take María Isabel to a talk about birth

control. María Isabel wants to prevent a pregnancy. Enrique

desperately wants to get María Isabel pregnant. If they have a

child together, surely María Isabel wont abandon him. So

many people have abandoned him.

Near where Enrique lives is a neighborhood called El Infiernito,

Little Hell. Some homes there are teepees, stitched together

from rags. It is controlled by a street gang, the Mara

Salvatrucha. Some members were U.S. residents, living in Los

Angeles until 1996, when a federal law began requiring judges

to deport them if they committed serious crimes. Now they are

active throughout much of Central America and Mexico. Here

in El Infiernito, they carry chimbas, guns fashioned from plumbing

pipes, and they drink charamila, diluted rubbing alcohol.

They ride the buses, robbing passengers. Sometimes they assault

people as they are leaving church after Mass.

Enrique and a friend, José del Carmen Bustamante, sixteen,

venture into El Infiernito to buy marijuana. It is dangerous.

On one occasion, José, a timid, quiet teenager, is threatened

by a man who wraps a chain around his neck. The boys never

linger. They take their joints partway up a hill to a billiard hall,

where they sit outside smoking and listening to the music that

drifts through the open doors.

With them are two other friends. Both have tried to ride

freight trains to el Norte. One is known as El Gato, the Cat. He

talks about migra agents shooting over his head and how easy it

is to be robbed by bandits. In Enriques marijuana haze, train

riding sounds like an adventure. He and José resolve to try it


Some nights, at ten or so, they climb a steep, winding path

to the top of another hill. Hidden beside a wall scrawled with

graffiti, they inhale glue late into the night. One day María Isabel

turns a street corner and bumps into him. She is overwhelmed.

He smells like an open can of paint.

“Whats that?” she asks, reeling away from the fumes. “Are

you on drugs?”

“No!” Enrique says.

Many sniffers openly carry their glue in baby food jars.

They pop the lids and press their mouths to the small openings.

Enrique tries to hide his habit. He dabs a bit of glue into a plastic

bag and stuffs it into a pocket. Alone, he opens the end over

his mouth and inhales, pressing the bottom of the bag toward

his face, pushing the fumes into his lungs.

Belky, Enriques sister, notices cloudy yellow fingerprints on

María Isabels jeans: glue, a remnant of Enriques embrace.

María Isabel sees him change. His mouth is sweaty and

sticky. He is jumpy and nervous. His eyes grow red. Sometimes

they are glassy, half closed. Other times he looks drunk. If she

asks a question, the response is delayed. His temper is quick.

On a high, he grows quiet, sleepy, and distant. When he comes

down, he becomes hysterical and insulting.

Drogo, one of his aunts calls him. Drug addict.

Enrique stares silently. “No one understands me,” he tells

Belky when she tries to keep him from going out.

His grandmother points to a neighbor with pale, scaly skin

who has sniffed glue for a decade. The man can no longer stand

up. He drags himself backward on the ground, using his forearms.

“Look! Thats how youre going to end up,” his grandmother

tells Enrique.

Enrique fears that he will become like the hundreds of

glue-sniffing children he sees downtown.

Some sleep by trash bins. A gray-bearded priest brings

them sweet warm milk. He ladles it out of a purple bucket into

big bowls. On some days, two dozen of them line up behind his

van. Many look half asleep. Some can barely stand. The acrid

smell of the glue fills the air. They shuffle forward on blackened

feet, sliding the lids off their glue jars to inhale. Then they pull

the steaming bowls up to their filthy lips. If the priest tries to

take away their glue jars, they cry. Older children beat or sexually

abuse the younger ones. In six years, the priest has seen

twenty-six die from drugs.

Sometimes Enrique hallucinates that someone is chasing

him. He imagines gnomes and fixates on ants. He sees a cartoonlike

Winnie-the-Pooh soaring in front of him. He walks,

but he cannot feel the ground. Sometimes his legs will not respond.

Houses move. Occasionally, the floor falls.

Once he almost throws himself off the hill where he and his

friend sniff glue. For two particularly bad weeks, he doesnt recognize

family members. His hands tremble. He coughs black

phlegm. No one tells Enriques mother. Why worry her? Lourdes

has enough troubles. She is three months behind in school payments

for Belky, and the school is threatening not to let her take

final exams.


Enrique marks his sixteenth birthday. All he wants is his

mother. One Sunday, he and his friend José put train riding to

the test. They leave for el Norte.

At first, no one notices. They take buses across Guatemala

to the Mexican border. “I have a mom in the United States,”

Enrique tells a guard.

“Go home,” the man replies.

They slip past the guard and make their way twelve miles

into Mexico to Tapachula. There they approach a freight train

near the depot. But before they can reach the tracks, police stop

them. The officers rob them, the boys say later, but then let

them go—José first, Enrique afterward.

They find each other and another train. Now, for the first

time, Enrique clambers aboard. The train crawls out of the

Tapachula station. From here on, he thinks, nothing bad can


They know nothing about riding the rails. José is terrified.

Enrique, who is braver, jumps from car to car on the slowmoving

train. He slips and falls—away from the tracks, luckily—

and lands on a backpack padded with a shirt and an extra

pair of pants.

He scrambles aboard again. But their odyssey comes to a

humiliating halt. Near Tierra Blanca, a small town in Veracruz,

authorities snatch them from the top of a freight car. The officers

take them to a cell filled with MS gangsters, then deport

them. Enrique is bruised and limping, and he misses María Isabel.

They find coconuts to sell for bus fare and go home.


Enrique sinks deeper into drugs. By mid-December, he owes

his marijuana supplier 6,000 lempiras, about $400. He has only

1,000 lempiras. He promises the rest by midweek but cannot

keep his word. The following weekend, he encounters the

dealer on the street.

“Im going to kill you,” the dealer tells Enrique. “You lied to


“Calm down,” Enrique says, trying not to show any fear.

“Ill give you your money.”

“If you dont pay up,” the supplier vows, “Ill kill your sister.”

The dealer mistakenly thinks that Enriques cousin Tania

Ninoska Turcios, eighteen, is his sister. Both girls are finishing

high school, and most of the family is away at a Nicaraguan

hotel celebrating their graduation.

Enrique pries open the back door to the house where his

uncle Carlos Orlando Turcios Ramos and aunt Rosa Amalia

live. He hesitates. How can he do this to his own family? Three

times, he walks up to the door, opens it, closes it, and leaves.

Each time, he takes another deep hit of glue. He knows the

dealer who threatened him has spent time in jail and owns a

.57-caliber gun.

“Its the only way out,” he tells himself finally, his mind


Finally, he enters the house, picks open the lock to a bedroom

door, then jimmies the back of his aunts armoire with a

knife. He stuffs twenty-five pieces of her jewelry into a plastic

bag and hides it under a rock near the local lumberyard.

At 10 P.M., the family returns to find the bedroom ransacked.

Neighbors say the dog did not bark.

“It must have been Enrique,” Aunt Rosa Amalia says. She

calls the police. Uncle Carlos and several officers go to find


“Whats up?” he asks. He has come down off his high.

“Why did you do this? Why?” Aunt Rosa Amalia yells.

“It wasnt me.” As soon as he says it, he flushes with shame

and guilt. The police handcuff him. In their patrol car, he

trembles and begins to cry. “I was drugged. I didnt want to do

it.” He tells the officers that a dealer wanting money had

threatened to kill Tania.

He leads police to the bag of jewelry.

“Do you want us to lock him up?” the police ask.

Uncle Carlos thinks of Lourdes. They cannot do this to her.

Instead, he orders Tania to stay indoors indefinitely, for her

own safety.

But the robbery finally convinces Uncle Carlos that Enrique

needs help. He finds him a $15-a-week job at a tire store.

He eats lunch with him every day—chicken and homemade

soup. He tells the family they must show him their love.

During the next month, January 2000, Enrique tries to quit

drugs. He cuts back, but then he gives in. Every night, he comes

home later. María Isabel begs him not to go up the hill where

he sniffs glue. He promises not to but does anyway. He looks at

himself in disgust. He is dressing like a slob—his life is unraveling.

He is lucid enough to tell Belky that he knows what he has

to do: he has to go find his mother.

Aunt Ana Lucía agrees. Ana Lucía is wound tight. She and

Enrique have clashed for months. Ana Lucía is the only breadwinner

in the household. Even with his job at the tire store, Enrique

is an economic drain. Worse, he is sullying the only thing

her family owns: its good name.

They speak bitter words that both, along with Enriques

grandmother Águeda, will recall months later.

“Where are you coming from, you old bum?” Ana Lucía

asks as Enrique walks in the door. “Coming home for food,


“Be quiet!” he says. “Im not asking anything of you.”

“Youre a lazy bum! A drug addict! No one wants you

here.” All the neighbors can hear. “This isnt your house. Go to

your mother!”

“I dont live with you. I live alone.”

“You eat here.”

Over and over, in a low voice, Enrique says, half pleading,

“You better be quiet.” Finally, he snaps. He kicks Ana Lucía

twice, squarely in the buttocks. She shrieks.

His grandmother runs out of the house. She grabs a stick

and threatens to club him if he touches Ana Lucía again. Enrique

turns on his heel. “No one cares about me!” he says. He

stomps away. Ana Lucía threatens to throw his clothes out onto

the street. Now even his grandmother wishes he would go to

the United States. He is hurting the family—and himself. She

says, “Hell be better off there.”


María Isabel finds him sitting on a rock at a street corner, weeping,

rejected again. She tries to comfort him. He is high on glue.

He tells her he sees a wall of fire. His mother has just passed

through it. She is lying on the other side, and she is dying. He

approaches the fire to save her, but someone walks toward him

through the flames and shoots him. He falls, then rises again,

unhurt. His mother dies. “¿Por qué me dejó?” he cries out. “Why

did she leave me?”

Even Enriques sister and grandmother have urged María

Isabel to leave Enrique, to find someone better. “What do you

see in him? Dont you see he uses drugs?” people ask her. Her

uncle is also wary of the drug-addicted teenager. He and Enrique both work at the same mechanics shop, but the uncle never offers him a lift in his car to their job.

María Isabel cant leave him, despite his deep flaws. He is

macho and stubborn. When they fight, he gives her the silent

treatment. She has to break the ice. He is her third boyfriend

but her first love. Enrique also provides a refuge from her own

problems. Her aunt Glorias son is an alcoholic. He throws

things. He steals things. There are a lot of fights.

María Isabel loses herself in Enrique. At night, they sit on

some big rocks outside his grandmothers home, where they

have a bit of privacy, and talk. Enrique talks about his mother,

his life with his grandmother María and his uncle Marco.

“Why dont you leave your vices?” María Isabel asks. “Its

hard,” he answers quietly. When they walk by his drug haunts,

she holds his hand tighter, hoping it will help.

Enrique feels shame for what he has done to his family and

what he is doing to María Isabel, who might be pregnant.

María Isabel pleads with him to stay. She wont abandon him.

She tells Enrique she will move into the stone hut with him. But

Enrique fears he will end up on the streets or dead. Only his

mother can help him. She is his salvation. “If you had known

my mom, you would know shes a good person,” he says to his

friend José. “I love her.”

Enrique has to find her.

Each Central American neighborhood has a smuggler. In

Enriques neighborhood, its a man who lives at the top of a

hill. For $5,000, he will take anyone to los Estados. But Enrique

cant imagine that kind of money.

He sells the few things he owns: his bed, a gift from his

mother; his leather jacket, a gift from his dead uncle; his rustic

armoire, where he hangs his clothes. He crosses town to say

good-bye to Grandmother María. Trudging up the hill to her

house, he encounters his father. “Im leaving,” he says. “Im

going to make it to the U.S.” He asks him for money.

His father gives him enough for a soda and wishes him luck.

“Grandma, Im leaving,” Enrique says. “Im going to find

my mom.”

Dont go, she pleads. She promises to build him a one-room

house in the corner of her cramped lot. But he has made up his


She gives him 100 lempiras, about $7—all the money she


“Im leaving already, sis,” he tells Belky the next morning.

She feels her stomach tighten. They have lived apart most

of their lives, but he is the only one who understands her loneliness.

Quietly, she fixes a special meal: tortillas, a pork cutlet,

rice, fried beans with a sprinkling of cheese. “Dont leave,” she

says, tears welling up in her eyes.

“I have to.”

It is hard for him, too. Every time he has talked to his

mother, she has warned him not to come—its too dangerous.

But if somehow he gets to the U.S. border, he will call her.

Being so close, shell have to welcome him. “If I call her from

there,” he says to José, “how can she not accept me?”

He makes himself one promise: “Im going to reach the

United States, even if it takes one year.” Only after a year of

trying would he give up and go back.

Quietly, Enrique, the slight kid with a boyish grin, fond of

kites, spaghetti, soccer, and break dancing, who likes to play in

the mud and watch Mickey Mouse cartoons with his four-yearold

cousin, packs up his belongings: corduroy pants, a T-shirt, a

cap, gloves, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.

For a long moment, he looks at a picture of his mother, but

he does not take it. He might lose it. He writes her telephone

number on a scrap of paper. Just in case, he also scrawls it in ink

on the inside waistband of his pants. He has $57 in his pocket.

On March 2, 2000, he goes to his grandmother Águedas

house. He stands on the same porch that his mother disappeared

from eleven years before. He hugs María Isabel and

Aunt Rosa Amalia. Then he steps off.


Now updated with a new Epilogue and Afterword, photos of Enrique and his family, an author interview, and more, this is the definitive edition of a classic of contemporary America.

Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for feature writing and another for feature photography, this astonishing story puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States. Now a beloved classic, this page-turner about the power of family is a popular text in classrooms and a touchstone for communities across the country to engage in meaningful discussions about this essential American subject.


Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers. As Isabel Allende writes: “This is a twenty-first-century Odyssey. If you are going to read only one nonfiction book this year, it has to be this one.”


Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more. 

“Magnificent . . . Enrique’s Journey is about love. It’s about family. It’s about home.”The Washington Post Book World


“[A] searing report from the immigration frontlines . . . as harrowing as it is heartbreaking.”People (four stars)


“Stunning . . . As an adventure narrative alone, Enrique’s Journey is a worthy read. . . . Nazario’s impressive piece of reporting [turns] the current immigration controversy from a political story into a personal one.”Entertainment Weekly


“Gripping and harrowing . . . a story begging to be told.”The Christian Science Monitor


“[A] prodigious feat of reporting . . . [Sonia Nazario is] amazingly thorough and intrepid.”Newsday


Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Los Angeles Times" articles, "Enrique's Journey" is a timeless story of families torn apart, the yearning to be together again, and a boy who will risk his life to find the mother he loves.

About the Author

Sonia Nazario, a projects reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has spent more than two decades reporting and writing about social issues, earning her dozens of national awards. The newspaper series upon which this book is based won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, the George Polk Award for International Reporting, and the Grand Prize of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. Nazario grew up in Kansas and Argentina. She is a graduate of Williams College and has a masters degree in Latin American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband. For more information, visit

To schedule a speaking engagement, please contact American Program Bureau at  

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Amy Pang, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by Amy Pang)
This is a phenomenal book that details the experiences of many recent immigrants to the US. I teach at a Community College and we read this as a staff/faculty in my department so that we could understand more of what life has been like for some of our students. I have recommended it several times and intend to re-read the book myself.
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Product Details

Nazario, Sonia
Random House Trade
Ras, Ana V.
Children's Studies
Emigration & Immigration
Ethnic Cultures - General
United States Emigration and immigration.
Illegal aliens -- United States.
People of Color
Biography-Ethnic Cultures
Biography - General
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8 x 5.1 x .7 in .6 lb

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » Immigration
History and Social Science » Ethnic Studies » Latin American
History and Social Science » Sociology » Children and Family

Enrique's Journey Used Trade Paper
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Product details 400 pages Random House Trade - English 9780812971781 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Now updated with a new Epilogue and Afterword, photos of Enrique and his family, an author interview, and more, this is the definitive edition of a classic of contemporary America.

Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for feature writing and another for feature photography, this astonishing story puts a human face on the ongoing debate about immigration reform in the United States. Now a beloved classic, this page-turner about the power of family is a popular text in classrooms and a touchstone for communities across the country to engage in meaningful discussions about this essential American subject.


Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers. As Isabel Allende writes: “This is a twenty-first-century Odyssey. If you are going to read only one nonfiction book this year, it has to be this one.”


Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more. 

“Magnificent . . . Enrique’s Journey is about love. It’s about family. It’s about home.”The Washington Post Book World


“[A] searing report from the immigration frontlines . . . as harrowing as it is heartbreaking.”People (four stars)


“Stunning . . . As an adventure narrative alone, Enrique’s Journey is a worthy read. . . . Nazario’s impressive piece of reporting [turns] the current immigration controversy from a political story into a personal one.”Entertainment Weekly


“Gripping and harrowing . . . a story begging to be told.”The Christian Science Monitor


“[A] prodigious feat of reporting . . . [Sonia Nazario is] amazingly thorough and intrepid.”Newsday

"Synopsis" by , Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Los Angeles Times" articles, "Enrique's Journey" is a timeless story of families torn apart, the yearning to be together again, and a boy who will risk his life to find the mother he loves.
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