I have very mixed feelings about this book, primarily due to the stance the author takes as to why she is writing which she shares with her readers in the first chapter:
“…for Latina mothers coming to the United States, my hope is that they will understand the full consequences of leaving their children behind and make better-informed decisions. For in the end, these separations almost always end badly.”
This declaration of the purpose of her book weighs on me primarily given that she makes it sound like these women have agency. She is also quick to point the figure at them, rather than perhaps the multitude of external factors that push these women to have to make these difficult decisions. I do not believe there is choice when considering living in abject poverty or trying at a chance of a better life for your kids by going to the United States. Furthermore, she mentions at the beginning of her book how for Enrique’s mom it was a choice between killing herself and her kids or leaving her children and going to America. I do not feel like there is much choice in this situation.
Outside of the lack of objectivity, the author has created an amazing piece of journalism that is well worth reading. Her descriptions of the various parts of the journey were splendid and powerful, particularly when describing the level of poverty some of these people are living in. The details she went into when describing Enrique’s family and the people he encountered during his trip made them feel absolutely real; this is not negligible, reading about people will always be less powerful than meeting them but Sonia Nazario was able to capture some of these people’s essence. I was most struck by the kindness of some of these people towards the migrants. This world needs more people like the ones she described throwing food to migrants on top of the trains.
Finally, this caused me a little cognitive dissonance, given my disagreement with the purpose of the book, but Sonia still managed to weave into her work the various greater forces that play into this migration of children like Enrique. She spoke of the corruption in regards to government officials, police officers, etc. She described the prejudice that many Mexicans have against other Central Americans and South Americans; how their migration to the United States entails going through Mexico which bring problems for the local communities and so a negative attitude towards migrants is born. She dived into the illogical nature of this prejudice, given that many Mexicans find themselves also making this harrowing journey. She saved the more poignant parts for the end, where she describes the role the United States has played in this immigration.
I have great reservations about this book, but it is well worth the read, mainly because it is an excellent piece of journalism and gives insight into a journey that not many of us are aware of or will ever experience.