Since this is a blog posting, I am going to save space and not sugarcoat my critique. I also think it is important to note, that I am reading this book through the lens that it was a Go Big Read book. This text is supposed to “promote connections among students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the wider community”, engage the community in academic discussions, create new learning experiences, and broaden views of the world.
In light of those lofty goals, Enrique’s Journey, while a gripping read, was an intellectual disappointment. Nazario’s journalistic approach is sensationalist to seemingly no end and a little voyeuristic. The theme of determination and love conquering all is a trite simplification of complex social and political forces informing migration practices.
Nazario’s “fly on the wall” approach feeds into the already narrow view of immigration that exists in mainstream discourse. Yes, this approach allows for empathizing. However, what it fails to do is illustrate the systemic circumstances that produced the conditions for both Enrique and his mom’s migration. Overall, as a reader, I was left with no tools to handle the empathy, anger, and frustration I felt while reading a harrowing story of the real-life near death encounters migrants make.
The idea that all you need is love and determination to succeed is naïve at best. How does love triumph over starvation? While Nazzario reported facts on unemployment and immigration numbers, they were not contextualized beyond statistics. I was left with a myriad of questions after reading this text: Why is the unemployment rate so high in Honduras? Why are women disproportionately affected? How do American foreign and economic policies contribute to migration patterns? What historic conditions produced such economic inequity in Honduras? Was there a military dictatorship? (If so, what was the US’s role?) Why do so many women “abandon” their children? Why is a grandmother raising her grandchild not considered a legitimate family/kinship form? Looking at the gendered aspect of this, why is only the mother’s love important?
What few answers Nazario does provide seem only to fall into the trope of the US being the saviors and progressive bastion to the backwardness of third world countries. This is clear in the general premise of the story, and Enrique’s hope that life will be better in the US. However, Nazario’s own language helps support the first world/third world dichotomy, inevitably placing the power in the hands of the first world. She writes, “Immigrants who return to their home countries also bring skills acquired while living in a more technologically advanced country… They bring lower levels of tolerance for corruption and stronger demands for democratic processes” (249). The problem with statements like these includes overgeneralization and an ivory tower lens of analysis. Instead of humanizing a struggle of immigration-related problems, Nazario totes a false sense of unity that just barely conceals an attitude that fits more appropriately with an exclusionary view of what immigrants provide toward American society. Nazario could, instead, have touted a view of seeing what people coming from foreign countries can provide to a theory of American intellect, culture, and society. This quote is just one small example of the classical, anti-foreign influence Go Big Read touts itself as standing against.
The logical conclusion of all this neoliberal hoopla is that all us rich, well-off northerners who now feel guilty about our privilege should just send our money to help all those poor folks with their backwards ideas. Obviously, sending money to border churches and other groups is noble and a valid use of funds. However, it will not solve the “problems of immigration” Nazario sought to brush over: childcare, education rights, food, access to potable water, etc. If you really have an issue with a child getting an education in this country because their family illegally migrated here for whatever reason, sending money is not going to help.
In my view, Nazario’s text itself does little to provide anything more than a heart wrenching mainstream view of how horrible it is for all those non-Americans. My sarcasm aside, I think that the University should reconsider a stand-alone book with such a narrow view as a Go Big Read book. Supplements or any contextualization would have been appreciated. I am glad I was able to read this class in the context of an immigration course. I think it would have been quite useless otherwise. The most I can hope for is that the Go Big Read blog proves me wrong and people actual engage the text beyond itself.