Enrique’s Journey

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Perseverance and Survival 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.
Perseverance and Survival Theme Icon

Much of Enrique’s journey is about overcoming impossible obstacles, confronting extreme danger, and making it out alive. At 17, Enrique succeeds in traveling from Honduras through 13 of Mexico’s most violent states and crossing the border into the U.S. in large part due to his determination. Of course, he is lucky too – benefiting from the help of others and gaining knowledge from experienced peers. He gives himself a time limit that shows his perseverance and the gravity of his decision: he will make it to his mother even if it takes a year. Despite the dangerous circumstances jumping trains, facing corrupt policemen, immigration checkpoints and officers, bandits, and gangsters, Enrique persists.

Even before he sets out on his journey, he shows determination and resolve after a period of drug addiction and emotional confusion. Once on the route, it is not only Enrique, but also many other characters in the book that exhibit strength and perseverance in the face of impossible tasks, including the medics from the Red Cross and the leader of the shelter in Tapachula, Olga. Furthermore, perseverance is not only a quality that Enrique must possess in order to make the physical journey to the United States. After he arrives, survival is no longer a concern in the immediate sense that it was while riding the tops of trains through Chiapas. But now, he must learn to survive with his mother, to persevere in their relationship, and to stick to his goal of sending money back to Maria Isabel and his daughter Jasmin. Just as he persevered through his drug addiction in Honduras, Enrique also must fight addiction to drinking and sniffing paint thinner in the United States. Finally, his ultimate dedication to his family – Lourdes, Maria Isabel, and Jasmin – leads him to overcome addiction and work hard for the good of those who love him. Thus, Enrique learns that perseverance is important for both immediate and long-term consequences, for his literal survival and for the well-being and mental health of himself and his family.

Perseverance and Survival ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Enrique’s Journey related to the theme of Perseverance and Survival.
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

"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.

"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

"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?

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.

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.