November 2011

The Latin American music series sponsored by Latino Arts in Milwaukee welcomes the Pedrito Martinez Quartet on Friday evening. Martinez, a vocalist and percussionist, is a native of Cuba and well-known collaborator with major artists.

His regular show is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Latino Arts auditorium, which is in South Milwaukee. There is a discount ticket price for students, and also matinee performances Thursday and Friday for a reduced rate.

More information is here.

Prize-winning author Sonia Nazario visited UW-Whitewater on Nov. 28 and spoke to a brimming Young Auditorium audience about the power of determination. This human quality is most powerfully demonstrated in immigrants. She found that determination in the story of her own family’s odysseys between Argentina, Wisconsin, and Kansas. That inherited determination helped Ms. Nazario succeed as a journalist as well.

However, Ms. Nazario was to realize this determination is puny in comparison to the drive she found among young Central Americans pulled by a desire to re-unite with mothers who immigrated before them to the U.S.  The valuable contribution that Ms. Nazario’s celebrated book Enrique’s Journey makes to our roiling debate over immigration is to humanize through one family’s story that flow of abandoned children to the U.S., a stream of as much as 48,000 per year and still growing even as overall immigration has declined.

Beyond the task of putting flesh and blood on the statistics, Nazario was also willing to add her own conclusions to the immigration debate. She is critical of the efforts of the U.S. to stanch the flow of immigration, both in terms of the harm it does to humans and its futility. “When we build 700 miles of fence, honestly, we do not understand this kind of determination,” she said.

Nazario also believes that mothers make a mistake, especially in the eyes of their own children, when they decide to leave their country and children to attempt to relieve economic misery with work in the U.S. She believes the best solution is to put resources and policy decisions toward the goal of improving those conditions in the home country. Money for border fences here, for example, would be more effective if spent in micro-loan programs in countries like Honduras that allow women there the minimal amount of security and nutrition needed to persuade them to stay put.

Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey brings the reader deep in to the challenges facing the tens of millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. As she claims as its intent, Nazario’s book puts a human face on the numbers. Both in the experience of Enrique and his mother Lourdes we see the living conditions, instability, poverty, and exploitation that many immigrants face. Here are some productive questions to answer as one studies the final four chapters and afterword of the book:

1. On page 199 where conflicts with Enrique are described, Lourdes feels resentment because her son does not appreciate the poverty and humiliation she has undergone after she left him in Honduras. What are examples of the poverty and humiliating circumstances that Lourdes lives through?

2. Based on the experiences in this book, describe the living conditions, level of income and expenses that immigrants face in the U.S.?

3. Based on the afterword, what are the effects that large-scale emigration to the U.S. on Latin American societies?

Portrait of Adelita

Portrait of Adelita

Professor Pilar Melero admits that it is partly her family roots in Durango state that feed her interest in the Mexican Revolution. Historians call that northern zone of Mexico “the cradle of the revolution” because of the leaders, battles, and ideas that nurtured the upheaval that erupted in 1910. Dr. Melero spent most of her childhood in Durango before immigrating to the U.S. Her research into the literature of the revolution focuses on women. In fact, her own family contains women revolutionaries. This was like a revelation. As celebrated as the revolution is, why have so many women been forgotten?

The fact is that there is a certain type of woman in the revolution that has been mythologized – a pretty, agreeable complement to the men. The image of “Adelita” comes immediately to mind, because she is celebrated in a famous ballad (or corrido). The work of Dr. Melero aims at bringing more of the women who fought and led attacks, and were perhaps not pretty and subservient, into the image of all those who participated in this movement.

This site contains interactive maps that help you track the various attempts that Enrique makes to get to his mother.

The first life of the book Enrique’s Journey was as a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times newspaper.  Both in the paper and in the book were accompanying photographs by Don Bartletti. In my opinion as a former reporter, this work is outstanding. To view a gallery of  this work on the Web, go here.

            Although it is disguised as a suspenseful page-turner, Enrique’s Journey is also a serious book about the burning real-world issues of immigration from Latin America to the U.S.  The contribution the book makes to the issue is to burrow deep inside one particular kind of immigration that has so far escaped notice. Hidden in the wider flow of close to a million illegal immigrants per  year is the arrival of almost 50,000 children to the U.S., most following a mother who already left them behind. For as loud and as long that the arguments about immigration have been in the U.S., this type of immigration has not been acknowledged or understood.

            The book is a compelling and powerful one to read for all the reasons that journeys have always made for good literature, from the book of Exodus to Hunter S. Thompson.  There is also the tension between two powerful opposing forces: the genetic bond attracting children to their mothers versus the war on illegal immigrants waged by both the world’s most powerful government and by desperate and evil predators.

The author Sonia Nazario focused on one boy and his mother, which pumps up the suspense by launching one single narrative in motion and placing real flesh-and-blood people on this ride. This is not just a gimmick; Nazario announces her main intent was to “humanize” the issue. In other words, this book is deliberately neither scholarly nor analytical, yet it is nonetheless worthwhile given how unknown is the type of immigration peopled by the abandoned children of single-mother immigrants. The lengths to which the professional reporter went to experience this journey, and the access she gains to the damaged lives and dangerous underworld the journey traces, are other sources of the wonder the book rewards its readers.

            The prologue of the book focuses more on the author Nazario and her own immigration history (all our families have them), and how she came to see that there was a story about the single-mother immigrants that had not been told. She also hints at what she concludes is the result or effect of this under-reported type of immigration. Although the book is not constructed overtly as an argument, Nazario betrays a point of view.

            The first chapter tells of the mother’s journey and the life of children left behind, and does so through the story of one child named Enrique. This part of the book provides the best view of the impoverished lives in the home country, weaving the attendant problems of hopelessness, violence, corruption, and malfunctioning civil society.  In other words, this is the story of what immigration scholars call the “push factors” in explaining the causes of any current of human flowing across borders.

            The second and third chapter narrate the early parts of Enrique’s quest to reach the U.S. and his mother. This is set in another foreign land—Mexico. Problems of poverty, violence, and corruption are also vivid here. I assume most Americans, if they consider the suffering of immigrants to the U.S. at all, know only of the challenge of crossing the U.S. border and very little of the treatment of migrants deeper within Mexico itself. Some active opponents in the U.S. of illegal immigration portray Mexican authorities as tougher on their immigrants than is the U.S. Enrique’s Journey provides a ground-level view from within Mexico of this shameful treatment by officials and gang. However, the book also complicates the premise that all Mexicans are rougher than those in the U.S. on immigrants who are, as they say in Spanish, sin papeles.

The following are some questions I askk of students regarding the book from the prologure through chapters 3:

1. What does the author seem to conclude about the result or effect of the child immigration to the U.S. to re-unite with mothers? What is ultimately her take or point?

2. Although the lives of Enrique and Lourdes are separated for many years, what is similar about their lives and experiences? What do they share in common?

3. Chapter titles refer to beasts and mercy. Give two examples each of the merciful and the beastly behavior of Mexicans toward Central American migrants. Be specific.