Enrique’s Journey

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Family and Abandonment Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Family and Abandonment Theme Icon
Perseverance and Survival Theme Icon
Compassion and Faith Theme Icon
Humanization and Dehumanization  Theme Icon
Immigration  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Enrique’s Journey, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family and Abandonment Theme Icon

Enrique’s Journey, as its title indicates, is the non-fiction story of a 17-year-old boy’s struggle to travel across Mexico to the United States to reunite with his mother. The events depicted in the book are set in motion by an initial instance of abandonment: Lourdes’ difficult decision to leave Enrique and his sister Belky in Honduras, while she seeks work in the United States to send money back to her family. Leaving her children is a painful choice that haunts her throughout her time in the United States. Abandonment, in this case, is harsh but necessary. The layers of family disintegration run deeper than this single decision, though. After Lourdes leaves, Enrique’s father, Luis, also walks out on the family, forming a new one with another woman and leaving his son in the care of their grandmother, Maria. When Enrique begins to rebel in response to his complicated feelings of abandonment, his grandmother also rejects him. By an early age, Enrique has felt the pain of being deserted by his family members three times.

Nazario writes throughout the book of the commonness of Enrique’s situation, giving statistics on the numbers of single women who leave behind their families in Central America in search of work in the U.S. and listing mothers in situations similar to Lourdes’. Within the story she tells, the reader starts to see patterns, in which abandonment leads to abandonment, and the disintegration of one family has ripple effects that lead to the disintegration of others. These traumatic moments of abandonment come out of necessity and the best of intentions in awful circumstances, but the scars of abandonment remain even after some families manage to reunite.

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Family and Abandonment ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family and Abandonment appears in each chapter of Enrique’s Journey. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family and Abandonment Quotes in Enrique’s Journey

Below you will find the important quotes in Enrique’s Journey related to the theme of Family and Abandonment.
Prologue Quotes

"I was stuck by the choice mothers face when they leave their children. How do they make such an impossible decision? Among Latinos, where family is all-important, where for women motherhood is valued far above all else, why are droves of mothers leaving their children? What would I do if I were in their shoes?"

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker)
Page Number: xii
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sonia Nazario talks about her motivation for writing the book. She was talking to her housekeeper Carmen, and gradually discovered that Carmen had left behind her children in order to come to America and seek fortune there. Nazario was amazed that a kind, talented woman would abandon her children in order to move to a new country; she couldn't help but wonder if she (Nazario) would do the same thing, if her best chance of finding a job was in America.

The passage lays out the basic project of the book: to study Latin-American culture and Latino immigration by focusing on a single family. The last sentence of the passage might be the most important: "What would I do?" Nazario's goal isn't just to describe her subjects' experiences: she wants to create a dialogue between reader and subject, creating empathy and, perhaps, political change.


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1. The Boy Left Behind Quotes

"[Enrique] will remember only one thing that she says to him: 'Don't forget to go to church this afternoon'."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique, Lourdes
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Nazario describes some of Enrique's last memories of his mother, leading up the moment when she abandons him and leaves for the United States. Lourdes loves Enrique, but she also needs to find a decent job--thus, she leaves her child and goes to the U.S. Enrique, a little boy at the time, has no idea why his mother is leaving him: from his perspective, she's leaving for no reason. Nazario conveys the senselessness of the abandonment by describing a particularly vivid memory of Enrique's: just before Lourdes left, she told Enrique to go to church. From Lourdes's perspective, the quote is probably insignificant (it's unlikely she remembers it after all these years). But because Enrique misses his mother so intensely, he remembers her words perfectly. The passage is a sign, then, that Enrique continues to long for his mother, even after she leaves him for America: in a way, Lourdes is Enrique's church; the woman who gives his life a purpose and a meaning.

"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."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker)
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Enrique's mother is an incredibly important figure: perhaps even more important as an absence than she'd be if she were present in his life. Enrique knows that he's supposed to have a mother; most of his friends do. The fact that he has no mother is such a basic part of his existence--a part that sets him apart from his peers and the rest of his family--that it becomes the source of all his problems (at least in his mind). Whenever everything bad happens to Enrique, he blames it one his lack of a mother. By the same logic, finding his mother becomes the solution to all of Enrique's problems. Because she's not there to take of him, Lourdes becomes a kind of "holy grail," something idealized and longed for, and which Enrique must quest after to achieve.

"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 father's mother, until his father found a new wife and left. His third home was the comfortable house where he lived with his uncle Marco."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique, Lourdes, Luis, Maria Marcos
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

In the absence of a mother to take care of him, Enrique finds himself moving from house to house, since his family situation just isn't stable. Although his father is supposed to take care of him, Enrique finds that his father isn't much good at parenting--he seems more interested in remarrying and enjoying himself. As a result, Enrique moves between many different households according to his father's situation: there's no stability in his life. One could say that Enrique is used to traveling and moving around: growing up, he's never able to find "roots" anywhere, which perhaps helps explain why he would choose to journey to the United States.

The passage is tragic because it suggests that Enrique's life is fragmented and twisted because his mother isn't there to take care of him. Enrique knows that a mother is supposed to comfort her children and provide a sense of stability--in the absence of such stability, he gets "thrown around" a lot. 

2. Seeking Mercy Quotes

"When Enrique's mother left, he was a child. Six months ago, the first time he set out to find her, he was still a callow kid. Now he is a veteran of a perilous pilgrimage by children, many of whom come looking for their mothers and travel any way they can."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique, Lourdes
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Nazario flashes back to the first time that Enrique tried to meet up with his mother in the United States. Enrique was only a small child, and he didn't get very far; and yet as he's grown older, Enrique has continued to try to journey to America. His love for his mother, and his assuredness that meeting his mother will solve all his problems, is total. One could say that Enrique's coming-of-age is just a steady process of trying to come to America and failing, again and again, until finally he succeeds.

As always Nazario makes it clear that she's not just telling the story of one immigrant, but many: there are thousands of young Enriques trying to come to America to rejoin their beloved families.

3. Facing the Beast Quotes

"Nearly one in six migrant girls detained by authorities in Texas says she has been sexually assaulted during her journey, according to a 1997 University of Houston study."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

It's difficult for any Latin-American immigrant to enter the United States, but it's particularly difficult for immigrant women to do so. Immigrant women are essentially forced to put their trust in strangers; people whom they hope will treat them with respect on their journey to the U.S. Instead, their "helpers" will often sexually assault them, recognizing that an illegal immigrant can't go the authorities to prosecute a sex criminal.

The passage is a good example of how Nazario situates Enrique's journey within the context of immigration as a whole. Enrique isn't a representative immigrant--because there's no such thing. Thus, Nazario enhances her book by adding information about some of the overall trends in the immigration experience: how immigration is different for women and men, the old and the young, etc.

"He was five years old when his mother left him. Now he is almost another person. In the window glass, he sees a battered young man, scrawny and disfigured. It angers him, and it steels his determination to push northward."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Enrique continues to be steadfast in his desire to reach the United States and reunite with his mother. He's changed visibly by his experiences attempting to enter America; his body is hurt, and his mind filled with traumatizing experiences. And yet Enrique never gives up. Even when he's confronted by real, material evidence of the way his journey is destroying his life--his battered reflection in the window glass--he continues with his quest. One could even argue that Enrique becomes more obsessed with entering America after he sees how he's changed. Enrique has sacrificed his present happiness for the sake of reuniting with his mother in the future: he can't give up now, because he has nothing left to lose.

4. Gifts and Faith Quotes

"It's wrong for our government to send people back to Central America. If we don't want to be stopped from going into the United States, how can we stop Central Americans in our country?"

Related Characters: Man from Veracruz (speaker)
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

A man from Veracruz offers Nazario his opinion of the immigration process in Mexico. There are many in Mexico who have come illegally from Central America in the hopes of entering the United States one day: Mexico is a transitional region for them, in which they'll live for a short time before journeying north. The man from Veracruz argues that it would be hypocritical for the governments of Mexico to send back illegal immigrants in their country, since so many people from Mexico attempt to enter the United States in much the same way. Mexico is caught in a tough position: it's trying to be a legitimate state, and yet its economy is to no small degree empowered by immigrants in the U.S. who send money home to their relatives.

The passage also alludes to one of the most common observations about the anti-immigration stance in the U.S.: many of the same Americans who are descended from immigrants are themselves opposed to Mexican immigration--how can they oppose immigration and yet come from immigrant stock?

"Somewhere over there lives his mother. She has become a mystery, too. He was so young when she left that he can barely remember what she looks like: curly hair, eyes like chocolate. Her voice is a distant sound on the phone."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique, Lourdes
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

The great irony of Enrique's journey is that although he's traveling to reunite with his mother, he can barely remember her: the actual physical evidence he remembers of her is so vague that it could be said to describe all sorts of people. Perhaps it's fair to say that Enrique is as interested in the idea of having a mother as he is in his specific mother's life. Enrique's lack of knowledge of his mother's life shouldn't be taken as a criticism of their relationship: rather, Enrique seems absolutely right to want to reunite with his mother--his actions seem like basic human nature (children want to be with their parents, particularly if they haven't seen their parents in a long time). The difference, of course, is that Enrique, unlike most people in the U.S., has to travel thousands of miles and break various laws in order to see his mother; as a result, his memory of his mother begins to fade, tragically.

5. On the Border Quotes

"His mother is a stranger...But he can feel her love."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique, Lourdes
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

 Enrique is still far away from his mother: he's living in Nuevo Laredo, working to ensure that he has enough money to travel into the United States. Enrique gets a tattoo of his mother's name in order to remind him of his devotion to his mother and provide himself with a constant reminder of his quest to enter the United States. Nazario sums up Enrique's relationship with his mother by saying that, although Lourdes is far away, Enrique can feel her love.

The passage is important because it acknowledges the vast distances between Enrique and his mother--both literal and metaphorical. At the same time, it suggests that it is possible for Enrique to love his mother, despite having never really known her.

6. A Dark River, Perhaps a New Life Quotes

"Children like Enrique dream of finding their mothers and living happily ever after. For weeks, perhaps months, these children and their mothers cling to romanticized notions of how they should feel toward each other. Then reality intrudes."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique, Lourdes
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

The tragedy of Enrique's journey, as Nazario has already hint, is that his quest isn't really that meaningful in the end. Enrique risks his life and his freedom in order to reunite with his mother, a woman he doesn't know well. Enrique is sure that meeting with his mother will solve all of his problems: over the years, his mother has become a nearly mystical figure, a "holy grail." Inevitably, then, when Enrique reunites with his mother, he'll be somewhat disappointed: the idea of his reunion will always be more satisfying and perfect than the real thing.

Without any need to idealize their parents, immigrants like Enrique can see their mothers for what they really are: kind, loving people who are nonetheless flawed. Ultimately, then, Enrique's journey is tragic because reality intrudes.

7. The Girl Left Behind Quotes

"'It's like a miracle,' [Lourdes] says. It is as if all the hurt he felt inside had to come out and now he is ready to move on."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Lourdes
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

Enrique continues to resent his mother for abandoning him when he was only a young child--even if he understands the harsh economic realities that led her to do so. And yet when he comes to America to live with his mother, he begins to change his relationship with her. As if in revenge, Enrique separates from his mother for a second time: he moves to North Carolina with his friends, voluntarily. Enrique quickly begins to realize that he really does love his mother: he begins to think more about why she left him to come to America.

As Lourdes puts it, Enrique has gone through two "rounds" of pain: the first when Lourdes left him to come to America; the second when he separated from Lourdes to live in North Carolina. Because of these painful separations, Enrique has come to see the truth about Lourdes: she's a kind, loving, but ultimately imperfect woman who tried to do her best to provide for her family, even if that meant abandoning her family. Enrique, it would seem, is ready to move on with his life, instead of dwelling on his love and resentment for his mother. One could say that Enrique's real journey has been psychological, not literal: he's come to see the light about his family situation.

"Maria Isabel does not say goodbye to her daughter. She does not hug her. She gets out of the car and walks briskly into the bus terminal. She does not look back. She never tells her she is going to the United States."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Maria Isabel, Jasmin
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:

Maria Isabel is Enrique's girlfriend, and she plans to leave their daughter, Jasmin, to come to the United States--repeating almost exactly the book's opening events. Maria Isabel chooses to leave her daughter because she thinks that she'll stand a better chance of getting to live with her daughter in America later if she goes there alone now. But as the passage shows, Maria's confidence in her plan doesn't make the pain of saying goodbye any less. Rather, Maria can't force herself to say goodbye to her daughter at all: she suppresses her emotions, afraid that if she sees her child one more time, she won't be able to force herself to leave for America after all.

Of course, this passage also mirrors the scene early in the book in which Enrique's mother left Enrique to come to America. The message is clear: abandonment and a flawed immigration system leads to a vicious cycle, in which one fractured family eventually leads to another one down the line.