Enrique's Journey is this year's Go Big Read selection - the book chosen by the UW-Madison to spark a community-wide discussion. Sonia Nazario's Pulitzer-winning story is the epitome of long-form enterprise journalism, first published as a 30,000-word Los Angeles Times series. It has since been expanded in book form and translated into eight languages. The book, about a Honduran boy who travels - on top of trains - to reach his mother in the United States, has found a broad audience on both sides of ongoing immigration debates.
Nazario speaks at Union South on Oct. 27. In a phone interview, she discussed the challenges of replicating Enrique's journey, all the way down to riding on top of trains.
What was it about the original L.A. Times assignment that grabbed you and would not let go?
This just really moved me on an emotional level - knowing that women were so desperate to leave their home countries because they couldn't feed their children, they couldn't see their children study past the third grade. That they were willing to be separated for 10, 15 years from their children, in order to provide them with something better than what they had had.
What were the greatest challenges of reporting Enrique's Journey?
I went back to Honduras where [Enrique] started, and I did it exactly as he had done it. I think the most challenging parts of the reporting were some of the things that I encountered doing that. I had a branch almost swipe me off the train. I had a gangster try to grab me. He was clearly going to try to rape me, and I had to get away from him. I had a train derail right in front of me.
What have been the greatest rewards of writing Enrique's Journey?
The most gratifying part now is that I get emails every day from students around the country, and because the book has been so popular as a freshman or all-campus read, you're getting people reading about immigrants who wouldn't otherwise.
I don't want to suggest that everything is hunky-dory. The Zetas, the worst narco-trafficking cartel now, is kidnapping about 20,000 Central Americans a year going through Mexico, and killing a lot of them. They're the most feared narco-trafficking group in Mexico, and since I did the journey they have taken control of the train tops in southern Mexico.
What's the solution?
I really emphasize the need to try to create jobs in these four or five countries, in Mexico and Central America. I think that's where we really need to pressure the U.S. government, instead of spending on useless things like walls, which are highly ineffective.
What accounts for your willingness to assume risks like riding atop trains for Enrique's Journey?
When you experience this personally, I think you write about it with a certain knowledge and confidence and also passion. I think a lot of that passion - and I'll discuss this in my talk at Madison - comes from my experiences growing up in Argentina part of the time, just as the Dirty War was starting up there. Walking around Buenos Aires, I saw blood on the ground and asked my mother what had happened, and she said, 'Well, it's these two journalists who were killed.' And I asked her why, and she said, 'Well, they were trying to tell the truth about what's going on here.' From 14 on, I knew that I wanted to be a journalist, and I wanted to tell certain kinds of stories. And I knew the power that knowledge could have in helping to sustain a democracy.