"Enrique's Journey" - Sonia Nazario - Los Angeles Times
At Journey's End, A Dark River, Perhaps a New Life
Enrique's mother pays smugglers to get him across the Rio Grande and then to her in North Carolina. She cannot sleep. She has visions of him dead. At 1 a.m., Enrique waits on the edge of the water. "If you get caught, I don't know you," says the man called El Tirindaro. He is stern. Enrique nods. So do two other immigrants, a Mexican brother and sister, waiting with him. They strip to their underwear. Across the Rio Grande stands a 50-foot pole equipped with U.S. Border Patrol cameras. In daylight, Enrique has counted four sport utility vehicles near the pole, each with agents. Now, in the darkness, he cannot see any. He leaves it up to El Tirindaro, a subspecies of smuggler known as a patero because he pushes people across the river on inner tubes by paddling soundlessly with his feet, like a pato, or duck. El Tirindaro has spent hours at this spot studying everything that moves on the other side. Enrique, 17, tears up a small piece of paper and scatters it on the riverbank. It is his mother's phone number. He has memorized it. Now the agents cannot use it to locate and deport her. She left him behind in Honduras more than 11 years ago and entered the United States illegally to seek work. In all, Enrique has spent four months trying to find her. El Tirindaro holds an inner tube. The Mexicans climb on. He paddles them to an island in midstream. He returns for Enrique with the tube. He steadies it in the water. Carefully, Enrique climbs aboard. The Rio Bravo, as it is called here, is swollen with rain. Two nights before, it had killed a youngster he knew. Enrique cannot swim, and he is afraid. El Tirindaro places a plastic garbage bag on Enrique's lap. It contains dry clothing for the four of them. Then El Tirindaro paddles and starts to push. A swift current grabs the tube and sweeps it into the river. Wind whips off Enrique's cap. Drizzle coats his face. He dips in a hand. The water is cold.
A Milky Green River Between Him and His Dream
Sunday, October 6, 2002
Enrique is stuck on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, watching, listening and planning. Somewhere on the other side, in the United States, is his mother. You are in American territory," a Border Patrol agent shouts into a bullhorn. "Turn back." Sometimes Enrique strips and wades into the Rio Grande to cool off. But the bullhorn always stops him. He goes back. "Thank you for returning to your country." He is stymied. For days, Enrique, 17, has been stuck in Nuevo Laredo, on the southern bank of the Rio Bravo, as it is called here. He has been watching, listening and trying to plan. Somewhere across this milky green ribbon of water is his mother. She left him behind 11 years ago in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to seek work in the United States. Enrique is challenging the unknown to find her. During her most recent telephone call, she said she was in North Carolina. He has no idea if she is still there, where that is or how to reach it. He no longer has her phone number. He had written it on a scrap of paper, but it blew away while he was being robbed and beaten almost four weeks ago on a freight train in southern Mexico. He did not think to memorize it.
Inspired by Faith, the Poor Rush Forth to Offer Food
From the top of his rolling freight car, Enrique sees a figure of Christ. In the fields of Veracruz state, among farmers and their donkeys piled with sugar cane, rises a mountain. It towers over the train he is riding. At the summit stands a statue of Jesus. It is 60 feet tall, dressed in white, with a pink tunic. The statue stretches out both arms. They reach toward Enrique and his fellow wayfarers on top of their rolling freight cars. Some stare silently. Others whisper a prayer. It is early April 2000, and they have made it nearly a third of the way up the length of Mexico, a handful of immigrants, riding on boxcars, tank cars and hoppers. Enrique is 17. He is one of an estimated 48,000 Central American and Mexican children who go to the United States alone every year. Many are searching for their mothers, who have left for El Norte to find work and never come back. Many credit religious faith for their progress. They pray on top of the train cars. At stops, they kneel along the tracks, asking God for help and guidance. They ask him to keep them alive until they reach El Norte. They ask him to protect them against bandits, who rob and beat them; police, who shake them down; and la migra, the Mexican immigration authorities, who deport them.
Defeated Seven Times, A Boy Again Faces 'the Beast'
As Enrique enters Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas, he knows why immigrants call it "the beast." Bandits, street gangs and police will be out to get him. Even tree branches scraping the boxcars may hurl him from the train. But he will take those risks. He needs to find his mother. Enrique wades chest-deep across a river. He is 5 feet tall, stoop-shouldered and cannot swim. The logo on his cap boasts hollowly, "No Fear." The river, the Rio Suchiate, forms the border. Behind him is Guatemala. Ahead is Mexico, with its southernmost state of Chiapas. "Ahora nos enfrentamos a la bestia," immigrants say when they enter Chiapas. "Now we face the beast." Painfully, Enrique, 17, has learned a lot about "the beast." In Chiapas, bandits will be out to rob him, police will try to shake him down, and street gangs might kill him. But he will take those risks, because he needs to find his mother. When he was 5 years old, she left him in Honduras and joined hundreds of thousands of women from Central America and Mexico seeking work in the United States. An estimated 48,000 youngsters go north alone every year, many to search for their mothers. This is Enrique's eighth attempt to reach El Norte. First, always, comes the beast. About Chiapas, Enrique has discovered several important things. In Chiapas, do not take buses, which must pass through nine permanent immigration checkpoints. A freight train faces checkpoints as well, but Enrique can jump off as it brakes, and if he runs fast enough, he might sneak around and meet the train on the other side. In Chiapas, never ride alone.
Badly Beaten, a Boy Seeks Mercy in a Rail-side Town
His quiet vow to villagers: 'I'm going to find my mom'. The day's work is done at Las Anonas, a rail-side hamlet of 36 families in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, when a field hand, Sirenio Gomez Fuentes, sees a startling sight: a battered and bleeding boy, naked except for his undershorts. It is Enrique. He limps forward on bare feet, stumbling one way, then another. His right shin is gashed. His upper lip is split. The left side of his face is swollen. He is crying. Gomez hears him whisper, "Give me water, please." The knot of apprehension in Sirenio Gomez melts into pity. He runs into his thatched hut, fills a cup and gives it to Enrique. "Do you have a pair of pants?" Enrique asks. Gomez dashes back inside and fetches some. There are holes in the crotch and the knees, but they will do. Then, with kindness, Gomez directs Enrique to Carlos Carrasco, the mayor of Las Anonas. Whatever has happened, maybe he can help. Enrique hobbles down a dirt road into the heart of the little town. He encounters a man on a horse. Could he help him find the mayor? "That's me," the man says. He stops and stares. "Did you fall from the train?" Again, Enrique begins to cry.
The Boy Left Behind
The boy does not understand. His mother is not talking to him. She will not even look at him. Enrique has no hint of what she is going to do. Lourdes knows. She understands, as only a mother can, the terror she is about to inflict, the ache Enrique will feel and finally the emptiness. What will become of him? Already he will not let anyone else feed or bathe him. He loves her deeply, as only a son can. With Lourdes, he is a chatterbox. "Mira, Mami." Look, Mom, he says softly, asking her questions about everything he sees. Without her, he is so shy it is crushing.Slowly, she walks out onto the porch. Enrique clings to her pant leg. Beside her, he is tiny. Lourdes loves him so much she cannot bring herself to say a word. She cannot carry his picture. It would melt her resolve. She cannot hug him. He is 5 years old. They live on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, in Honduras. She can barely afford food for him and his sister, Belky, who is 7. Lourdes, 24, scrubs other people's laundry in a muddy river. She fills a wooden box with gum and crackers and cigarettes, and she finds a spot where she can squat on a dusty sidewalk next to the downtown Pizza Hut and sell the items to passersby. The sidewalk is Enrique's playground.