The 5-year-old boy clung to his mother’s pant leg as she stepped off the front porch of the Honduras shack where she’d raised him. She was bound for the United States, in search of money to create a better life for her and her children.
The little boy, Enrique, knew nothing of that. He only knew his mother was leaving.
“Don’t forget to go to church this afternoon,” she told him as she walked away, unable to hug him.
And so begins the true story of "Enrique’s Journey," a tale first chronicled in a six-part series published in the Los Angeles Times in 2002. Journalist Sonia Nazario’s account of Enrique’s perilous trip across the U.S. border 11 years later to find his mother won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while photographs by her colleague, Don Bartletti, won the Pulitzer for feature photography.
Now, the University of New Orleans has selected "Enrique’s Journey," published in book form in 2006, as its Common Read selection for 2016-17. Celebrated author and journalist Sonia Nazario will speak at UNO’s University Center Ballroom on Sept. 20. The free, public event starts at 5:30 p.m. and will include a reception, author presentation, Q&A, and book signing.
Common Read was developed as a way to encourage first-year students as well as other UNO students staff and faculty, to engage in a shared experience while sparking meaningful dialogue about topics of wide-reaching concern. It is organized collaboratively as a partnership between the University’s first-year writing program and its first-year experience program.
As part of the program, "Enrique’s Journey" will be required reading in all first-year writing classes, where students will be expected to complete their first narrative essay based on themes from the book. Students are also invited to participate in a fall “Yeah, You Write!” live reading event, where students can read from their original works that include themes from the book.
When the committee comprised of faculty, staff and students was deciding what book should be UNO’s common read this year, "Enrique’s Journey" rose to the top of the list in part because of the election-year conversation happening around immigration, said Sarah DeBacher, chair of UNO’s first-year writing program, and Mike Hoffshire, assistant director of First Year Student Success.
“This book really tells a story that doesn’t get told and humanizes the immigrant experience,” said DeBacher, who also directs the Greater New Orleans Writing Project. “When students come to college, we want them to be a part of academic conversations and conversations that impact democracy. And this is an important conversation that is happening now.”
"Enrique’s Journey" was among the most selected books for freshman common reads in the 2015-16 academic year, according to an article in Inside Higher Education. It has been published in eight languages, including Spanish, as well as revised and rewritten for young adult readers.
Nazario, who grew up in Kansas and Argentina, has spent more than two decades reporting and writing about America’s most intractable social issues, including hunger, drug addiction and immigration. She is a graduate of Williams College and has a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband.