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Student Responses: Vanessa Akem

After reading the book Enrique’s Journey I put it on my bookshelf and sat there, trying to understand the hollow feeling I had in my stomach. It was as if I had eaten a nice little appetizer but the waiter had forgotten to give me the entre and I was still left hungry. Flipping through the pages again I began to put my thoughts together and realized that at least for me, Enrique’s Journey had humanized the face of immigration but had left me no big beefy concepts to think over in my mind: the story of the immigrant had remained just that, Enrique’s story and there were many larger issues at hand that I believe the author Sonia Nazario failed to interrogate or leave us with.

Nazario sprinkles many nuggets of information that she then chooses not to elaborate on further concerning the issue of the economy of immigration, in particular the migrant as a body commoditized. One particular scene that exemplified this was when a badly injured Enrique arrived to a village, sparking a debate over whether to give him assistance that was coldly discussed in the amount it would cost to bury his body versus give him medicine. Routinely through his journey Enrique either experienced, observed, or heard of banditos that would mug immigrants for food and money or even authority figures that were willing to turn a blind eye to these activities in turn for a bribe. I feel as though Nazario could have brought out more how immigrants such as Enrique become a part of the cogs of a community’s infrastructure, literally providing a means of living that in a twisted way this industry may help a country.

In even broader contexts, Enrique’s Journey has undercurrents of neo-liberalism that operate within Enrique’s world and sharing borders with our own. The trains used as the main form of transportation of these migrants carry cargo such as gleaming cars that are headed to the US border to be driven by citizens by us. The parallel of the car and undocumented workers being “cargo” on their way to work within our economy is a rupture in the text outside of Enrique’s travels and helped me to start thinking about capitalism, private property and lasses faire economics – leaving the market to take care of itself. How fitting that Enrique is also left to take care of himself too. The smugglers and gangs that operate in this environment carry guns that I also questioned as to where they obtained them. Who brought the guns into this country? Was it a domestic purchase or from other countries with looser gun control policies? Neo liberalism in an international context very much brings a relevance to Enrique’s Journey that I feel if Nazario had interrogated more could have really engaged her readers to see that his story is in reality one that affects all of us.

Yet although these are suggestions that are begging to be further explored Nazario remains very much in the “present” of the story, ultimately privileging the story line of Enrique over a larger national narrative. Her authorial voice is loud and clear in the prologue and epilogue yet disappears in the middle of the text – citing academic sources at selective opportunities yet subsuming herself in the character of Enrique. The book allows us to easily brush along all of these issues suggested and instead allows us to draw focus on affective issues: The story of a boy trying to find his mother.

Ultimately Nazario has successfully created a more empathetic depiction of an undocumented immigrant, she fails to really delve into the capitalistic mechanics of immigration that reach far beyond Enrique’s experience and affect the US economy and therefore our own experiences. I found the same technique mirrored in the Go Big Read lecture where Nazario used the majority of her hour to talking about her methodology and the actual story itself before offering a 7-minute reflection on the implication immigration has on our country. This troubled me as a member of the audience because these few minutes of review gave me no basis on which to critique critically process Nazario’s stance on immigration. Much like after reading the book, I left Union South wanting more.

Vanessa Akem