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Adult/YA (unfortunately) nonfiction
"Black rats and a pig root around in a ravine where the children play.
At dinnertime, the mothers count out three tortillas for each child. If there are no tortillas, they try to fill their children's bellies with a glass of water with a teaspoon of sugar mixed in."
In the most obscene and vicious election year of my life so far we're hearing a lot of condemnation of undocumented immigrants. They come to America to take advantage of our welfare system and live la dolce vita off our tax money. Simultaneously they take the jobs we need. They bring in drugs and make our crime rates soar. They impose a burden on our educational, medical, and penal systems.
The purveyers of those sound bites would almost certainly never read Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey. It behooves the rest of us to, however. This eloquent book simultaneously puts a human face on a complex plight and uses a young man's narrative to lead to greater understanding. I know I learned a great deal.
Many of us picture Central American and Mexican undocumented immigrants as males who send home money earned in the States. A lot these days are mothers (Hispanic mothers for whom family is of prime importance) driven by poverty to a very cruel Sophie's choice: to leave their beloved children with relatives and send the money that will give them a chance to survive or to risk starving together. They usually know full well that odds are high they will perish in the attempt. But they see no other choice.
This was the plight of Lourdes, Enrique's mother. Despite scrubbing laundry in a stream, selling food and used clothes door to door, and vending small items on the sidewalk she could scarcely feed her children (Enrique and his sister)-- mind afford school supplies as basic as pencils. How will they complete grade school? There was only place she could think of where she could earn the money they desperately needed. When Enrique was five she started the journey North.
Children in their teens and younger, striving to rejoin the mothers who left them, make another ever growing migrant stream. Enrique was one of those youngsters. Left with his father, he was sent to his grandmother when his dad started a new family. That was only the first time he was passed on. He was one of those child vendors scrambling to earn a few centavos. (Other children scavenged at a dump amid filth and medical waste). An uncle who took him in after his grandmother decided he was more than she could handle was killed. He believed that if he could just be together with his mother again his life would finally get better.
What he and other children went through is best captured in the phrase Hell on Earth. I can't describe it vividly enough. You have to read the book. Not all survived and many lost limbs falling under the wheels of trains they were riding on top of. Some of the people who robbed, beat, and took advantage of them were police. Imagine, as I did, that these were our children.
If humanitarian instincts and/or religious teachings aren't enough to motivate you to do something, ask yourself these questions:
Whose trade pacts make it impossible for so many Mexicans and Central Americans to survive in their homes?
Whose country destabilizes nations by selling arms and propping up dictators?
Whose citizens enrich gangs by providing the demand in the drug supply/demand equation?
That's all I have to say.
At the moment.
On a personal note, I read this book to get ready for a presentation by a graduate student who has seen first hand the cruelty that is inflicted on people trying to cross the border. Can you believe some people even slash bottles of water that are meant to keep them from dying of thirst? How can anyone be that heartless?
A great big shout out goes out to those who do their best to help undocumented immigrants.
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