Enrique’s Journey

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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.
Immigration  Theme Icon

Enrique’s story opens up the broader discussion of immigration and immigration reform in the United States and allows for a detailed understanding of the problems that immigrants face. In the prologue, Nazario recounts the conversation she had with her housekeeper Carmen when she first found out that Carmen had left behind children in Guatemala before coming the United States. This moment spurs Nazario’s interest in single immigrant mothers in comparable situations, forced to leave their families and to struggle alone for work in an unfamiliar country. In the book, Nazario details the changing landscape of immigration in recent years, describing the increase of both illegal immigrants and single mothers coming to the U.S. to find work in order to support their families at home. Enrique’s Journey delves into the complications of immigration and shows both the harm and the good that it can carry.

The debate about immigration is the backdrop of the book, and Nazario specifically brings it to the fore in the afterword, which outlines particular positions on immigration policy. Since Enrique’s journey, the trip has become even more dangerous for migrants, and even more people are trying to make it. For migrants, the financial and material benefits drive their decision to come. But the psychological trauma of family separation that often occurs should not be underestimated – it can create life-long problems for children and parents. For their home countries, the money sent from immigrants back to Central and Latin America brings a significant boost to their economic growth. From the perspective of Americans, immigration is a much-debated topic, but Nazario concludes that the immigration problem can be solved by helping bolster the economies of the countries from which immigrants come. Since the reasons for immigrating are economic, she argues, the solution to keep immigrants at home must be economic.

Immigration ThemeTracker

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

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

"Although I often felt exhausted and miserable, I knew I was experiencing only an iota of what migrant children go through...The journey gave me a glimmer of how hard this is for them."

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

In order to understand Enrique's journey, Nazario literally took the journey herself, walking and traveling through the different parts of Mexico in order to enter America. Nazario isn't trying to say that she underwent as much hardship as Enrique did (that's simply not true), but she does believe that she came to understand his experience a little better by imitating it herself.

Nazario wants to convey the difficulty and the stakes of Enrique's experience to her readers: the novel will give us a snapshot of Enrique's journey not through our own personal experience, but through another's--we'll be able to learn about the hardships he underwent through Nazario's journalism.


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1. The Boy Left Behind Quotes

"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.

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.

"In spite of everything, Enrique has failed again--he will not reach the United States this time, either. He tells himself over and over that he'll just have to try again."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker), Enrique
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

Enrique attempts to enter the United States for the seventh time; he catches a ride from an undercover border patrol officer, who just sends Enrique back to his home town. Enrique is discouraged from entering the U.S. again and again, and yet he keeps telling himself that he'll try again the next day. Enrique's courage and commitment to finding his mother is enormous: he refuses to give up, showing us how important the "stakes" of his travels are.

Enrique's journey to America is important because it symbolizes the journeys that millions of other immigrants have attempted, some successfully, some not. Enrique isn't motivated by crime, greed, or any other material motive: he just wants to see his mother again.

3. Facing the Beast Quotes

"At the rate of nearly one every other day, the Red Cross estimates, U.S.-bound Central American migrants who ride freight trains lose arms, legs, hands, or feet."

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker)
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the most common, and dangerous methods that immigrants use to enter the United States from the south is to ride a freight train. Doing so is extremely risky, because immigrants must ride on the outside of the train, meaning that they're often horribly injured, and can lose arms and legs. It's a testament to the immigrants' desperation that they continue to try to sneak into the country, even to the point where they hurt themselves. Enrique's dedication to entering the United States, in order to see his mother again, is no anomaly among Latino immigrants, as evidenced by the Red Cross's statistics about injuries on the freight trains.

"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

"'We are human. We should treat people in a humane way. It's okay to send people back. But they shouldn't shoot them, beat them this way.'"

Related Characters: Maria Enriqueta Reyes Marquez (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

Maria Enriqueta Reyes Marquez is a Mexican woman whom Nazario asks about the current immigration policy between the U.S. and Latin America. Maria offers what could be considered the "moderate" position on immigration: there should be some attempts to keep out certain immigrants, but governments shouldn't use such violent means (sending people to jail, beating people, etc.).

It's probably true that even the most enthusiastic supporter of American immigration wouldn't argue that there should be no attempt to control or monitor immigration; by the same logic, it's true that even the most hardened anti-immigration figure probably wouldn't support the human rights atrocities committed against immigrants trying to get into the U.S. Thus, Maria's position is fundamentally common-sensical: we should be stern but decent to other human beings, even if they don't share a nationality with us.

5. On the Border Quotes

"Outside the church after dinner, many migrants engage in a crude kind of street therapy: Who has endured the worst riding the trains?"

Related Characters: Sonia Nazario (speaker)
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Nazario describes some of the ways that immigrants and other downtrodden people survive their lives without falling into despair. Instead of trying to forget their hardships, the immigrants turn their hardships into entertainment: they make a game out of who endured the worst pain on the trains.

The immigrants' "game" is a powerful survival mechanism, designed to help traumatized, lonely people find a sense of community. The music historian Albert Murray said that the point of the blues isn't to cause sadness: it's to get rid of sadness by singing about it. Much the same could be said of the games the immigrants play: therapeutically, their games rid the immigrants of some of their pain.

7. The Girl Left Behind Quotes

"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.

Afterword Quotes

"'What would it take to keep people from leaving? There would have to be jobs. Jobs that pay okay. That's all.'"

Related Characters: Eva (speaker)
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

Eva, Maria Isabel's mother, tells Nazario that she thinks the only way to truly solve the immigration crisis is to strengthen the economies of Central and Latin America. Any other solution to the problem (continuing to deport millions of immigrants, for example) wouldn't really get to the root cause of the issue: it would just apply a superficial solution to a deep, economic problem.

The reason that so many people in Mexico, Honduras etc., come to the U.S., Nazario argues, is that their own economies are reeling from crisis to crisis. (And often, the reason their economies are doing so badly is that they have to compete with American industry--rather ironically, considering the anti-immigration pundits who claim that immigrants steal good American jobs.) The only way to ensure that millions of people don't want to immigrate to America illegally is to strengthen their job opportunities back at home.