Sonia Nazario, the author of “Enrique’s Journey,” referred to the technique she used to write her book as “fly on the wall reporting. This type of technique is one in which you observe a direct situation without actually being fully immersed in it. The story of “Enrique’s Journey” and his struggle to unite with his mother in the United States is a typical story of an immigrant but I think the way that Nazario documents her trip is representative of a habit of many American people in society today. As a privileged society, people in the United States often passively observe cruel scenarios rather than acting out and trying to make a change to these cruel situations. A tragic flaw of United States citizens is that we all use “fly on the wall reporting.” We see instances where people are less fortunate than us or are struggling and while we feel badly for them, we ignore it and move on with our own personal lives. A book such as “Enrique’s Journey” should be a call to arms to all American citizens that they must no longer be passive but instead must take action to change the difficulties that immigrants endure while attempting to come to the United States.
One of the most important pieces of the book that Nazario focused on in her lecture Thursday night was the unprecedented kindness of the people in certain places along the immigration trails. These people should be an example to all Americans about how they should treat immigrants who are often fleeing terrible lives and leaving their friends and families behind. She emphasized that both those who had food to give as well as those who didn’t have anything to offer fled to the railroad tracks when a train was scheduled to pass through. Those who did not have any food or water to give surrounded the trains while praying in order to show support to the eclectic group of immigrants traveling the dangerous rails hoping for freedom, happiness and reunification with their families. It is more important to focus on the people who extended their resources to strangers than to focus on the officers trying to deport the immigrants.
While this story did touch my heart, as well as enlighten me about the struggles of immigration, I think its important to take another step after reading a book and hearing from an author who has witnessed the difficulties of immigration. It is crucial that we do not act like “flies on the wall” and observe the pain of others. Instead, we must confront the situation and find a solution or at the very least a way to work toward reforming the immigration experience in the United States. Whether Nazario’s intention was to tell a story or make people more aware of the process illegal immigrants take to get to the United States is unclear. But, regardless, this story should be used to facilitate teaching American citizens about immigration railroads and help to form new grass roots organizations to attack immigration policies and help improve the lives of immigrants everywhere.
One theater company is taking the drama of Enrique’s Journey to the stage. Su Teatro, Denver’s Chicano theater company, presented the first-ever stage adaptation of Sonia Nazario’s book last week.
This production was a new challenge for Su Teatro. Not only does it touch on controversial topics, it also presents a technical challenge. A 16 person cast played over 50 roles, and the issue of train travel is also difficult to present on stage.
Enrique’s story is something that some members of the cast found easily relatable. The role of Enrique was played by 19-year-old Jose Guerrero, whose parents were illegal immigrants from Juarez who have since been naturalized. Su Teatro members hope that as a result of this production, awareness will be brought to the issues that Enrique and other immigrants face. One Su Teatro company member, Yolanda Ortega, stated that she hopes the play “will be something that brings us together and heals our community through understanding because it focuses not on the politics but on the reality of the struggle that it takes to actually come here.”
The film A Better Life, released this past July, was over 20 years in the making. It tells the story of a gardener whose truck- and his livelihood- were stolen. As an undocumented immigrant, he could not report the theft to the police for fear of being deported.
The film, which explores the struggles of illegal immigrants to the United States, specifically Los Angeles, had difficulty being picked up by production companies, who were wary of such a controversial film. A Better Life, however, does not take political sides in the debate, but instead focuses on the relationships between characters and the lives they lead in America.
Director Chris Weitz says the film focuses on people who are often “invisible” in real life- people afraid to be anything else for fear of authorities. In filming A Better Life, Weitz aimed to portray this story with empathy, giving a voice to those often unable to tell their story themselves.
For more information, see the official trailer for the film, or click here for an article by USAToday.
Have you seen A Better Life? Leave a comment and let us know!
Would you like to ask this year’s Go Big Read author a question about her book, her writing process, etc.?
Sonia Nazario’s October 27th lecture at Varsity Hall, Union South, is free and open to the public. The event will begin at 7 pm (doors open at 6 pm) and no tickets are required. We hope you’ll attend and invite anyone you know who might be interested. We’ll post more details on the web site soon!
Due to the large scale of the Varsity Hall event, the question and answer period will be moderated. Questions should be suggested in writing by October 21st. The moderator will select a representative set of questions and ask them of Sonia Nazario at the event.
If you would like to suggest a question, please post it as a comment to this blog post. Please also consider including your name and some very brief information about yourself (e.g., your major, unit, etc.).
Please note that blog comments are moderated so there may be a delay of up to 24 hours between submitting your question and seeing it appear on the blog.
Thanks to those who submitted questions for the author talk. Question submission is now closed on this post.
This morning, nearly 100 students from Middleton High Schools and UW-Madison engaged in Socratic Discussions of Enrique’s Journey in a half-day event sponsored by the Greater Madison Writing Project. Press Release.
The morning kicked off with remarks by Professor Susan Robinson from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Robinson discussed the emergence of literary nonfiction as a genre, situating Nazario’s book in a long tradition of storytelling as a way to discuss social and economic ills. Writers of literary nonfiction incorporate elements of myth and narrative to create compelling story – Enrique’s story is structured as an Odyssey. As an award-winning journalist, Nazario balances the techniques of fiction with the task of a journalist. She is bound by the ethics of her profession, for example her commitment to include background information and to not intervene in the story she is reporting.
The next segment of the program was devoted to Socratic Discussions. Students were assigned to discussion groups that spread out throughout the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Each discussion group had a pair of facilitators from a UW Madison English 100 class that was also reading the book. English 100 instructors provided their students with coaching on how to lead the discussions, so during the event these facilitators were truly leading groups of high school students. All of the groups seemed very focused on their discussions: students had their books out and it was exciting to see just the kinds of conversations we hoped Go Big Read would foster.
After a short break, Professor Petra Guerra, Associate Director of Chican@ and Latin@ Studies, talked with the full group about the importance of learning about issues in depth and becoming media literate. Guerra congratulated the students on reading Enrique’s Journey to develop a more nuanced understanding of complex issues related to immigration. She also talked about how immigrants are portrayed in the media, and the fact that stories like Enrique’s, which is really about coming to the U.S. in search of a better life, are told much less frequently. Guerra suggested that students seek out quality media about immigration such as Under the Same Moon, Sin Nombre, and Lost in Detention, to continue to become more informed.
Program organizers included the Greater Madison Writing Project, Middleton High School and Middleton Alternative High School teachers, and UW-Madison English 100 instructors. These organizers and the English 100 students who facilitated the discussions did an amazing job fostering discussions and learning. And it was great to see high school and college students on campus together, discussing books and ideas, and enjoying the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.
Go Big Read
On Sunday afternoon, Sonia Nazario was interviewed on the Wisconsin Public Radio program “University of the Air.” You can find the archived program online here! In the interview, Nazario talks about how a conversation in her home in Los Angeles with her house cleaner Carmen brought her to the story, as well as her own family’s immigration experience (and connection to Madison!) The show provides a great preview for Nazario’s visit to UW-Madison October 27th.
“University of the Air” is co-hosted by Norman Gilliland and Emily Auerbach , a University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor with a joint appointment in the English Department and the Department of Liberal Studies & the Arts (Continuing Studies).
Auerbach is also Director of The Odyssey Project, a program that gives adults facing economic barriers to education a chance to start college for free. Odyssey Project students are reading Enrique’s Journey this year and some of them will have an opportunity to meet Nazario when she visits campus.
Last summer people began asking me if at Capitol Lakes we were going to participate again in the UW Go Big Read. We had a great time a year ago discussing “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” and some of us heard author Rebecca Skloot speak in the Kohl Center. We’re involved again, thanks to the WAA’s loan of multiple copies of “Enrique’s Journey” and the support of the Capitol Lakes staff.
Our book discussions are currently underway. Each discussion is facilitated by a recently retired member of the UW-Madison faculty or academic staff. During the discussion I facilitated a couple of weeks ago, I asked readers to name one of the things that astonished them while they were reading “Enrique’s Journey.” They quickly listed quite a few surprises, such as: 1) Enrique’s anger after he and his mother reunited; 2) astonishing facts about young migrants and immigrants who are never in the news; 3) the bias of some Mexicans toward Central Americans; 4) the material poverty of Lourdes’ and Enrique’s lives in Honduras; 5) the ongoing benevolence of Veracruz villagers; 6) that some migrants with employment in the U.S. send so much of their earnings back to their families; and 7) the vivid account of crossing the Rio Grande.
We talked about where hope can be discovered midst the bleak, shocking account of Enrique’s odyssey. That was easy. It’s in the amazing generosity of the “food throwers” in Veracruz.
One of our readers was an expert on trains, and so he described what it would be like to ride on top of any train or in a boxcar. He explained that while a train was traveling forward @ 80 mph, there would be simultaneous side-to-side rocking and wind. There would be other dangers, too, such as hanging on whenever the train navigated curves and also when the car tops and sides were slippery.
We wondered it will ever become possible to ameliorate the economies south of the U.S. border so people won’t have an extreme economic need to leave their families and cultures.
Perhaps one of the most astonishing comments during this discussion was made by a woman who said she surprised herself after reading “Enrique’s Journey” by completely changing her mind about migrants and immigrants. As a result of reading this book she’s now passionate about doing whatever is possible to help migrants and immigrants make their way once they’re in the U.S.
Someone just phoned to ask me if there are plans to hear author Sonia Nazario speak at Union South. Yes, absolutely! We’re part of the UW Go Big Read!
Ginny Moore Kruse,
Resident Coordinator of the UW Go Big Read at Capitol Lakes Wellness and Retirement Community in Downtown Madison
Nearly 200 college students, Middleton high school students and members of the Madison area community will gather together next week in their first-ever Socratic Seminar to discuss and analyze Enrique’s Journey at Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Although the event was initiated by three educators affiliated with the Greater Madison Writing Project, several other UW English 100 instructors and another Middleton teacher were intrigued enough by the idea to want their students to participate as well.
UW students will be responsible to co-lead as facilitators of small group discussions that will include students from both Middleton High School and Middleton Alternative Senior High. In addition to the facilitated discussions, the group will hear from UW-Madison School of Journalism professor Dr. Susan Robinson and the UW-Madison Chican@ and Latin@ Studies Associate Director Dr. Petra Guerra. They will discuss the book’s unique genre, literary journalism, and perceptions of immigration in the media.
Greater Madison Writing Project
On Monday October 10th, Nancy Garcia, who works directly with migrants at the Center for the Orientation of Migrants (COMI) in Oaxaca, Mexico, discussed the dangers that Central American migrants face on their journey north. The presentation was held in College Library’s Open Book Cafe.
Elise Roberts, from Witness for Peace, a national organization offering educational travel opportunities, introduced Garcia and moderated the event.