Enrique’s Journey

Enrique’s Journey 3. Facing the Beast Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
This chapter recounts Enrique's eighth attempt to reach the United States, after having been deported to Guatemala after the seventh. He begins on the border of Guatemala and Mexico, about to enter the southernmost state, Chiapas, known by Enrique and other young migrants as the beast. His experiences in Chiapas have yielded knowledge: avoid buses, never ride freight trains alone, do not trust authorities. Enrique decides to spend the night in a cemetery near Tapachula, but not at the train station, where he has been caught in the past. A gangster of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, Big Daddy, sleeps next to him and rouses Enrique when he hears municipal police approaching. They are caught by the police and brought to the Tapachula jail. With the help of other migrants, Enrique escapes from the jail and runs back to the cemetery. At dawn, he hears the rumbling of an approaching train and runs towards the tracks. He grabs a hold of a ladder on the train car and, with the help of fellow migrants, hoists himself up.
The description of Chiapas typifies the type of dangers that migrants are forced to endure. Having persevered through many previous attempts, Enrique has the advantage of prior knowledge that leads him to make wiser decisions on his eighth try. But still, there are factors that he cannot control. Enrique's imprisonment and subsequent escape highlights his tenacity. Nazario's vivid depiction of the scene of migrants mounting the freight train emphasizes the fast-paced and perilous nature of the journey, while at the same time conveying the sense of camaraderie amongst the migrants. Her knowledge is also testament to her willingness to retrace Enrique’s steps herself: had she not rode these train tops herself, she might never have been able to tell this story as accurately or vividly as she does. In some ways, every detail of the book is a testament to Nazario’s compassion and determination to humanize and make public to story of Enrique and other migrants.
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On the trains, Enrique encounters many other children like him, some as young as nine, most fifteen or younger. Finding a place to hide on the trains is risky—many spots are dangerous, and others are the frequent targets of migras (immigration police). Enrique decides to steady himself atop a hopper car, and holds on as the train lurches on and rounds bends. The train slows as it approached La Arrocera, an immigration checkpoint well-known for its strict agents. Once the migrants spot agents, they begin to jump between cars to avoid being noticed. When Enrique is noticed, he decides to jump off the train and hide in the brush.
Though the train journey is full of risks, there are many migrants making the same journey as Enrique—some of them even younger and less experienced. That a nine year old would attempt such a journey communicates the true desperation of what life must be like for that child at home. Despite dangers of all types, Enrique makes quick decisions that allow him to make it out of life-threatening situations.
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In the brush, Enrique's main concern are madrinas, civilians who help the authorities. Carrying machetes, they often comb the areas around checkpoints and are known to commit horrible crimes. Enrique runs, trying to stay out of site, and worrying about bandits who are so powerful in the area that they are practically exempt from the law. He passes an abandoned house, a notorious spot where women are regularly raped by bandits. Sexual assault is one of the main threats that female migrants often encounter and are forced to endure. Nazario cites evidence that one in six female migrants are subject to sexual assault. Finally, Enrique makes it to the Cuil bridge, which is his only way across the river that will allow him to get back on the train past La Arrocera. The bridge is notorious as a spot where bandits ambush migrants, but Enrique makes it across unharmed.
Nazario interweaves details of Enrique's specific journey with information about La Arrocera that she has gleaned from her research. In such a dangerous area, Enrique's concerns are many—he must be on guard against migras, madrinas, and bandits, against those with official power and those who have taken power for themselves. As a migrant, he is at the mercy of everybody. Furthermore, Nazario uses the location that Enrique passes as a way to address the devastating cases of sexual assault of female migrants, who experience severe physical and psychological debasement and trauma.
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In Chiapas, Enrique knows that people are not likely to help migrants. They hold prejudices against Central Americans, fearing that migrants spread disease, prostitution, and crime. Some even turn them in. But Enrique is desperate for water, and needs help. He approaches a house and is fortunate to be greeted by a kind woman who gives him bread, beans, and water. Soon he hears the sound of a train coming, and he rushes to the tracks, and boards.
The hesitation of people in Chiapas to help migrants shows how immigration problems extend through many territories and effect places that are involved merely by their location. Despite the usual lack of hospitality in Chiapas, the woman who helps Enrique demonstrates that there are generous and compassionate people everywhere.
Themes
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In Honduras, Maria Isabel is convinced by her family members not to go and try to find Enrique. They are shocked that she would consider making such a dangerous journey, especially if she is pregnant.
The reaction to Maria Isabel's plan only underlines the dangers of the journey, and causes her to fear for Enrique's safety.
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Back on the train, Enrique stands holding on to a hopper as he suffers in the heat, which is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. He cannot let himself fall asleep—he might slip and fall, or become a victim of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. The Mara Salvatrucha gang controls the tops of freight trains in this area, looking for sleeping migrants to rob. They have also been known to beat anyone who defies them or fights back, to throw people from trains, among other brutalities. In earlier runs through Chiapas, Enrique had befriended a Mara Salvatrucha member named El Brujo, and thus was protected from their attacks. However, recently he refused to help Mara Salvatrucha take revenge against a rival gang, and thus lost his protection and has faced several beatings. Vulnerable, he keeps himself awake by jumping from car to car. Other migrants take amphetamines, exercise, or use other methods to stay awake. Finally, Enrique and the train pass out of Chiapas and Enrique is proud to have made it through the beast.
Enrique's chance relationship with El Brujo shows the role that good fortune plays in the migrant's ability to make his journey. And, just as easily as Enrique happens upon this lucky friendship, it ends. In this case, it ends because Enrique shows some moral courage, which in his position only makes him vulnerable. To make the journey, migrants must have the determination, knowledge and common sense that Enrique possesses, but they also must have luck. That does not diminish Enrique’s drive, determination, or quick thinking, but it does communicate just how desperate the journey is.
Themes
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Some migrants who set out with Enrique for Chiapas have been caught and deported, while others have been severely injured or even died. In the town of Arriaga, dedicated paramedics from the Red Cross treat migrants who have been injured on (or by) the trains. In Tapachula, Olga Sanchez Martinez, the head of the Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepherd, helps heal the wounded. Determined to do the impossible, she stops at nothing to try to save migrants' lives. Having suffered in her own life (including a bout with cancer), she turned to religion to help her and to allow her to help others. Her hard work she does for free, and she runs the operation on a shoestring with the help of donations from other generous people.
The people like Olga and the doctors at the Red Cross are compassionate and selfless in their concern for the health and safety of others. Olga turned to religion to bring her out of hard times, and to have the determination to pursue the difficult job that she does today. These characters recognize the humanity of the migrants and treat them as they would treat anyone else in need.
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Nazario also points out another group of people who do not make it out of Chiapas: victims of rape. Nazario cites an example of a woman from Honduras named Wendy, who is gang raped as her husband waits at a checkpoint.
Rape and sexual assault are just some of many forms of dehumanization that Central American migrants must confront as they make their journey across Mexico.
Themes
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Finally, Enrique makes it to the state of Oaxaca, 285 miles into Mexico. He gets off the train hoping to rest and find some food and water. Off the train, he must disguise himself so that he doesn't stick out as a Central American. He gets his hair cut, for instance, because his curly hair differs from Mexicans' straight dark hair, and pays attention to the way that he speaks so that he does not come across as Honduran. He glances at himself in the reflection of a window and sees that he has changed, how the trials of the journeys are visible in his body. This only augments his desire to find his mother.
Enrique's awareness of the differences between Central Americans and Mexicans reveals how the journey not only requires physical strength, bravery, and determination, but also careful attention to detail and sensitivity to the people who inhabit the territory that migrants must traverse. His hardening into a man at such a young age again attests to the difficulties of the journey, but also makes him only more desperate to reunite with his mother.
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