Pulitzer Prize journalist Sonia Nazario tales of child refugees

Pulitzer Prize winning author tells all.

Kyle Frizol, Intern

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What does a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter and an 11-year-old boy have in common? As Sonia Nazario, the woman who found that answer learned, the necessity and desire to be loved is shared throughout the world. Without it, boys and girls grow up cold and let evil take over their hearts. From suburban metropolises to corrupt and undeveloped cities deep within South America, we all share the same humanity.

When Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique’s Journey, first began her exploration into social issues, she had no idea that it would lead her to experience the horrors of a reality in immigration and corruption that she would later write about.

Her interest in social issues had its conception when she began attending college. Her university—Williams College—that was esteemed for its rigorous and exemplary education happened to be overwhelmingly white. The population on campus was nearly all white students, except for, “around 4 or 5 Latino students,” Nazario described. As a result, she made it her goal to represent her nationality and pushed herself to become cum laude of her graduating class. Her penchant for social issue did not stop there, but rather grew exponentially as she began her career.

As Nazario graduated and was tasked with figuring out her career, she accepted a job offer at The Wall Street Journal. Later she learned that she was the youngest person at the publication to ever be hired. Nazario quickly began to build her reputation alongside the publication.

Rather than focusing on the nuances of tracking the qualitative and quantitative trends of business and the economy, as the majority of WSJ reporters tended to do, Nazario wished to continue following her blooming interest in covering social issues.

One afternoon, as Nazario was standing in the kitchen, her maid came in crying hysterically. As she learned from the maid, originally a Guatemalan citizen, she had left her children at home while she traveled to America to provide for them. She had not seen her children for nearly 11 years, and the pain of being unable to be there for them was beginning to make her regret the decision.

This shocked Nazario, as she hadn’t the faintest notion to why a mother would leave her children and go to another country. However, the answer to her question was soon answered.

Once she learned of this common occurrence, Nazario decided to investigate what was going on in countries like Mexico and Guatemala that forced mothers to leave their children in search of work.

Not long after, Nazario found herself in the dangerous cities within Guatemala, asking children and mothers what was happening in the country to illicit such a heartbreaking phenomenon. The sad answer lay within the dangers of living in the country itself. Rather than having to raise their children in these cities, mothers decided to travel to America in search of jobs that could support their families.

The goals of these mothers was to pay the hefty $10,000 fee to have their children smuggled to America, where they could live together, “safely”. As Nazario discovered, obtaining this money was nearly impossible for them, as they were still surviving on barely livable wages in the U.S.

With the inability to smuggle their children to America, the young boys and girls began taking action into their own hands. The only form of transportation that would allow them to escape their endangered lives were the freight trains that ran through the jungles and into Mexico.

Once Nazario discovered this method of transportation, she decided to travel on it herself and experience its harsh realities. The expedition, which Nazario described as, “…a 12,000 mile journey that took 122 days, many of which were hungry, cold days,” was an equally dangerous and punishing journey.

“Each train would house hundreds of children and migrants that lived on the tops, and they held fast onto anything that they could,” Nazario said.

Boys, ranging from as young as ten years old to teenagers, lived on the tops of freight trains for months on end. They would encounter bandits and gangsters who patrolled the train and demanded money in exchange for their permission to ride. If a child did not have any money to pay the bandits, they would be killed or thrown off the train, which would consistently be moving at 40+ miles per hour. Rapists would traverse the train, beating and nearly killing any child that resisted them.

It was this very character that Nazario built her novel, Enrique’s Journey, on. However, Enrique was an actual boy who Nazario met on the top of a train making this exact trek.

Enrique, who was eleven years old at the time, described his life story, which included his mother leaving him behind to work in San Diego. He wished to find her, as the dangers of his city were growing quickly upon him. Weighing his options, he decided to use the freight trains to attempt to get to America.

His efforts were met eight times with failure, as he was beaten up and thrown off of trains, nearly caught by immigration officers, and forced to try and get back on the train again.

Nazario noted that Enrique described one of his scariest moments, and how “A bandit grabbed me on the train and beat me, punching me over and over in the face, and then threw me off of the moving train.”

“Once he came to in the morning, he was covered in blood that was dripping from his eyes and had nothing but underwear on,” said Nazario.

Finally reaching America after his countless efforts to overcome immigration, bandits, gangs, and the dangers of the train itself left him physically and mentally exhausted, Enrique ultimately reunited with his mother.

“The determination of these young boys shows how harsh the reality of migrants is,” said Nazario.

After discovering the realities with which hundreds of thousands of children are faced each year, it only made sense that Nazario continued following her interest in social justice, by writing her novel, Enrique’s Journey.

Living alongside Enrique for three months, experiencing the ups and downs of their journey, and seeing just how migrants are treated, Nazario’s passion for investigative journalism led her to creating her novel, which has since become a national bestseller.

The result of her continuous work in social justice and in removing the transparency of a contentious topic such as immigration is seen throughout her published work, which has reached thousands of eyes and minds that would have otherwise been blind to such atrocity.

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Pulitzer Prize journalist Sonia Nazario tales of child refugees