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Student Responses: Michelle Ruse

As I was sitting in the lecture hall of Union South, about 6 rows back from the front of the stage, I quietly listened as Sonia Nazario gave her speech on her book Enrique’s Journey. I looked around at the audience made up of students, professors, and other middle-class Wisconsinites and watched how they nodded in agreement with Nazario’s seemingly factual arguments and shook their heads in disgust at the gruesome details of her journey on the trains in Mexico. At the beginning of her speech Nazario said to the audience, “My goal is to grab you by the throat and take you on a ride and hopefully educate you about an issue along the way.” True to her word I think that this is exactly what Nazario accomplished—she wove a story of emotion and pain and churned out compassion toward immigrants within the audience. But that was it. Nazario’s lecture was basically a summary of her book Enrique’s Journey. Although it would have been interesting and simulating to those people who did not read the book, I’m assuming that the majority of the audience would have read the book and then came to see her speak, so I’m not quite sure why she just summarized her book that everyone had already read. Yet, everyone seemed to be captivated by the heartbreaking stories Nazario was telling during her speech, even though they had already read the same stories in the book just days before.

Yes, okay, I know this might be exaggerating the situation just a bit, but Nazario’s lecture was really a let down for me. I wanted her to go into detail on how she made her arguments, why she did this “reporting” on immigrant children, what the outcome of Enrique’s Journey was, and what would be some plausible solutions to this large issue at hand. Yet she seemed to just talk about her experience on the trains and such (basically what was in the book) and then started to talk about how the United States needs to help Central America with their own economy so immigrants will want to go back to their own countries and they will not want to come to America. Apparently these were some of her solutions to the issue and she did not really elaborate very much on them.

For the majority of her lecture Nazario talked about her journey on the trains. She states, “I really wanted to show people all the dangers these kids face, and what this is like for children to make the journey… So I decided to do the journey myself.” Yes it is true that she made this journey, but she never states the outcomes of her journey and what it has done to help these children. She says that, “I have written about this issue for more than two decades now, but honestly there were things that I did not get about this issue until I made this journey.” If she has written about this issue of immigration in the United States for more than 20 years, then why has she not researched more on the issue and used scholarly sources in her books and lectures? Her writing seems to be more stories then facts. I would agree that she is a great storyteller and it is great research to have done the journey in general, but I wanted to know what else she had done on this issue. Is the book Enrique’s Journey the only thing that has come out of the reporting she has done in Central America and Mexico?

I believe that Nazario’s lecture and her book Enrique’s Journey sheds some light on a very serious issue of immigration to the U.S., but I think that that is all that it does. Nazario writes this book, tells the story and then spreads the word to American citizens all over the U.S. and then she starts all over again. There seems to be no solution to her story, she just spreads the word about an issue and leaves it at that. It is because of this that I did not quite enjoy Nazario lecture as much as I wish I would have.

Michelle Ruse

Sources: http://www.gobigread.wisc.edu/ (Transcript)

Student Responses: Rebecca Lefkowitz

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.

Rebecca Lefkowitz