Blanketed in his blood after bring beaten against a train, Enrique, a child migrant from Honduras, stands, left in his underwear, alone. A woman notices him and clasps his hand attempting to pass him money saying, “Go home.”
But Enrique answered, “I can’t, I have to reach the United States.”
What motivated this child to continue his migration?
Enrique is just one of 48,000 child migrants who travel alone on top of trains from Latin America to the United States each year, searching for their mothers who left their home country to provide their children with a better livelihood.
This side of immigration often goes unnoticed, but Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist who formerly worked for the Los Angeles Times, wanted to put a face to the issue. With this, she decided to embark on the same journey Enrique did to find his mother, riding on top of trains during two separate three-month excursions.
She shared this experience, shadowing children like Enrique, – who on his eighth attempt finally immigrated to America – with about 350 members of the CSU and Fort Collins communities Tuesday evening in the Lory Student Center North Ballroom.
Nazario’s intrigue for this story stemmed from a conversation with her housekeeper, Carmen, in Nazario’s Los Angeles home.
Carmen is one of the single mothers described who left her four kids behind in Guatemala. At the time of the conversation, Carmen hadn’t seen them in 12 years, Nazario said.
“It stunned me. I could not understand what kind of desperation drives a mother 2,000 miles away,” Nazario said.
But Carmen knew. She did not want her children to experience the same life she had – no food, no education. Nazario said Carmen told her she would tell her children to sleep on their belly, so their stomachs didn’t growl as much.
Although a mother’s immigration benefits the children monetarily, it affects them emotionally. Yearning for their mother’s companionship, they go searching for her.
So anguished, the children risk their lives – overcoming gangs, corrupt police, hunger, thirst, inclement weather and the inherent dangers of the train itself – “El tren que devora” or “The train that devours.”
When the children reach their mothers, they are sometimes so consumed with hatred for being abandoned that Nazario said one boy told his mom, “Even a dog doesn’t leave its litter.”
But, the children would much rather have their moms with them, to love and nurture them, Nazario said.
Nazario’s journey, though rough at times – marked by instances of gang knifing and rape – did have a silver lining.
She said in Veracruz, Mexico, about 30 people would rush toward the train she rode as it slowed down, handing off food and water to the famished children even when they didn’t have enough food for themselves.
“It restored my faith in humanity,” she said. “. These are the poorest Mexicans, but they are giving food to total strangers. They believe this is the Christian thing to do. It’s what Jesus, a former refugee, would do.”
Nazario said she hopes her presentation allowed people to walk away seeing immigration in a different way. And they did.
Rosalyn Barminski, a junior soil and crop science major, knows a lot of people in Montrose who have migrated from Mexico but never knew about this incredible train migration.
“I was blown away. I never would’ve known about the train hopping. It definitely opened up a side of immigration you don’t see a lot of,” Barminski said.
Nazario told the Collegian Tuesday, after her presentation and book signing, she met a female CSU student whose boyfriend made the same journey Enrique did to the United States.
Nazario hopes Americans will see how important immigrants are to our society as well as how the plans developed today to combat illegal immigration don’t work.
“I want people to understand why they leave, why they are coming and why they are here,” she said. “I hope it changes (society’s) perspective on the solutions and mobilizes (people) to do something.”
Staff writer Lauren Leete can be reached at email@example.com.