Enrique's Journey (the Young Adult Adaptation): The True Story Of A Boy Determined To Reunite With His Mother by Sonia NazarioEnrique's Journey (the Young Adult Adaptation): The True Story Of A Boy Determined To Reunite With His Mother by Sonia Nazario

Enrique's Journey (the Young Adult Adaptation): The True Story Of A Boy Determined To Reunite With…

bySonia Nazario

Paperback | August 5, 2014

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Adapted for young people, this edition of Enrique’s Journey is written by Sonia Nazario and based on the adult book of the same name. It is the true story of Enrique, a teenager from Honduras, who sets out on a journey, braving hardship and peril, to find his mother, who had no choice but to leave him when he was a child and go to the United States in search of work. Enrique’s story will bring to light the daily struggles of migrants, legal and otherwise, and the complicated choices they face simply trying to survive and provide for the basic needs of their families. The issues seamlessly interwoven into this gripping nonfiction work for young people are perfect for common core discussion. Includes an 8-page photo insert, as well as an epilogue that describes what has happened to Enrique and his family since the adult edition was published.

“A heartwrenching account. Provides a human face, both beautiful and scarred, for the undocumented. A must read."--Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"Nazario's straightforward . . . journalistic writing style largely serves the complex, sprawling story effectively. A valuable addition to young adult collections."—School Library Journal
"This powerfully written survival story personalizes the complicated, pervasive, and heart-wrenching debates about immigration and immigrants' rights and will certainly spark discussion in the classroom and at home."—Booklist

An NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People
A Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of the Year

A Junior Library Guild Selection

SONIA NAZARIO was a projects reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She has spent more than two decades reporting and writing about social issues. She won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on the Los Angeles Times series that served as the basis for the adult edition of Enrique's Journey. Sonia Nazario lives in Los Angeles with her husband.
Title:Enrique's Journey (the Young Adult Adaptation): The True Story Of A Boy Determined To Reunite With…Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8.25 × 5.56 × 0.65 inPublished:August 5, 2014Publisher:Random House Children's BooksLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385743289

ISBN - 13:9780385743280


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Read A heartbreaking story, but a great read.
Date published: 2017-02-13

Read from the Book

The boy does not understand.His mother is not talking to him. She will not even look athim. Enrique has no hint of what she is going to do.Lourdes knows. She understands, as only a mother can, theterror she is about to inflict, the ache Enrique will feel, and finallythe emptiness.What will become of him? Already he will not let anyoneelse feed or bathe him. He loves her deeply, as only a son can.With Lourdes, he is openly affectionate. “Dame pico, mami. Giveme a kiss, Mom,” he pleads, over and over, pursing his lips.With Lourdes, he is a chatterbox. “Mira, mami. Look, Mom,” hesays softly, asking her questions about everything he sees. Withouther, he is so shy it is crushing.Slowly, she walks out onto the porch. Enrique clings to herpant leg. Beside her, he is tiny. Lourdes loves him so much shecannot bring herself to say a word. She cannot carry his picture.It would melt her resolve. She cannot hug him. He is fiveyears old.They live on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, in Honduras.She can barely afford food for him and his sister, Belky, who isseven. She’s never been able to buy them a toy or a birthdaycake. Lourdes, twenty-four, scrubs other people’s laundry in amuddy river. She goes door to door, selling tortillas, usedclothes, and plantains.She fills a wooden box with gum and crackers and cigarettes,and she finds a spot where she can squat on a dusty sidewalknext to the downtown Pizza Hut and sell the items topassersby. The sidewalk is Enrique’s playground.They have a bleak future. He and Belky are not likely to finishgrade school. Lourdes cannot afford uniforms or pencils.Her husband is gone. A good job is out of the question.Lourdes knows of only one place that offers hope. As aseven-year-old child, delivering tortillas her mother made towealthy homes, she glimpsed this place on other people’s televisionscreens. The flickering images were a far cry from Lourdes’schildhood home: a two-room shack made of wooden slats,its flimsy tin roof weighted down with rocks, the only bathrooma clump of bushes outside. On television, she saw New YorkCity’s spectacular skyline, Las Vegas’s shimmering lights, Disneyland’smagic castle.Lourdes has decided: She will leave. She will go to theUnited States and make money and send it home. She will begone for one year—less, with luck—or she will bring her childrento be with her. It is for them she is leaving, she tells herself,but still she feels guilty.She kneels and kisses Belky and hugs her tightly. Then sheturns to her own sister. If she watches over Belky, she will get aset of gold fingernails from el Norte.But Lourdes cannot face Enrique. He will remember onlyone thing that she says to him: “Don’t forget to go to churchthis afternoon.”It is January 29, 1989. His mother steps off the porch.She walks away.“¿Dónde está mi mami?” Enrique cries, over and over. “Whereis my mom?”His mother never returns, and that decides Enrique’s fate.As a teenager—indeed, still a child—he will set out for theUnited States on his own to search for her. Virtually unnoticed,he will become one of an estimated 48,000 children who enterthe United States from Central America and Mexico each year,illegally and without either of their parents. Roughly two thirdsof them will make it past the U.S. Immigration and NaturalizationService.Many go north seeking work. Others flee abusive families.Most of the Central Americans go to reunite with a parent, saycounselors at a detention center in Texas where the INS housesthe largest number of the unaccompanied children it catches.Of those, the counselors say, 75 percent are looking for theirmothers. Some children say they need to find out whether theirmothers still love them. A priest at a Texas shelter says theyoften bring pictures of themselves in their mothers’ arms.The journey is hard for the Mexicans but harder still forEnrique and the others from Central America. They mustmake an illegal and dangerous trek up the length of Mexico.Counselors and immigration lawyers say only half of them gethelp from smugglers. The rest travel alone. They are cold, hungry,and helpless. They are hunted like animals by corrupt police, bandits, and gang members deported from the UnitedStates. A University of Houston study found that most arerobbed, beaten, or raped, usually several times. Some arekilled.They set out with little or no money. Thousands, shelterworkers say, make their way through Mexico clinging to thesides and tops of freight trains. Since the 1990s, Mexico andthe United States have tried to thwart them. To evade Mexicanpolice and immigration authorities, the children jump onto andoff of the moving train cars. Sometimes they fall, and the wheelstear them apart.They navigate by word of mouth or by the arc of the sun.Often, they don’t know where or when they’ll get their nextmeal. Some go days without eating. If a train stops even briefly,they crouch by the tracks, cup their hands, and steal sips ofwater from shiny puddles tainted with diesel fuel. At night, theyhuddle together on the train cars or next to the tracks. Theysleep in trees, in tall grass, or in beds made of leaves.Some are very young. Mexican rail workers have encounteredseven-year-olds on their way to find their mothers. A policemandiscovered a nine-year-old boy near the downtown LosAngeles tracks. “I’m looking for my mother,” he said. Theyoungster had left Puerto Cortes in Honduras three months before.He had been guided only by his cunning and the singlething he knew about her: where she lived. He had asked everyone,“How do I get to San Francisco?”Typically, the children are teenagers. Some were babieswhen their mothers left; they know them only by pictures senthome. Others, a bit older, struggle to hold on to memories: Onehas slept in her mother’s bed; another has smelled her perfume,put on her deodorant, her clothes. One is old enough to re-member his mother’s face, another her laugh, her favoriteshade of lipstick, how her dress felt as she stood at the stove pattingtortillas.Many, including Enrique, begin to idealize their mothers.They remember how their mothers fed and bathed them, howthey walked them to kindergarten. In their absence, these mothersbecome larger than life. Although in the United States thewomen struggle to pay rent and eat, in the imaginations oftheir children back home they become deliverance itself, theanswer to every problem. Finding them becomes the quest forthe Holy Grail.CONFUSIONEnrique is bewildered. Who will take care of him now that hismother is gone? Lourdes, unable to burden her family withboth of her children, has split them up. Belky stayed with Lourdes’smother and sisters. For two years, Enrique is entrusted tohis father, Luis, from whom his mother has been separated forthree years.Enrique clings to his daddy, who dotes on him. A bricklayer,his father takes Enrique to work and lets him help mix mortar.They live with Enrique’s grandmother. His father shares a bedwith him and brings him apples and clothes. Every month, Enriquemisses his mother less, but he does not forget her. “Whenis she coming for me?” he asks.Lourdes and her smuggler cross Mexico on buses. Each afternoon,she closes her eyes. She imagines herself home atdusk, playing with Enrique under a eucalyptus tree in hermother’s front yard. Enrique straddles a broom, pretending it’sa donkey, trotting around the muddy yard. Each afternoon, shepresses her eyes shut and tears fall. Each afternoon, she remindsherself that if she is weak, if she does not keep movingforward, her children will pay.Lourdes crosses into the United States in one of the largestimmigrant waves in the country’s history. She enters at nightthrough a rat-infested Tijuana sewage tunnel and makes herway to Los Angeles. There, in the downtown Greyhound busterminal, the smuggler tells Lourdes to wait while he runs aquick errand. He’ll be right back. The smuggler has been paidto take her all the way to Miami.Three days pass. Lourdes musses her filthy hair, trying toblend in with the homeless and not get singled out by police.She prays to God to put someone before her, to show her theway. Whom can she reach out to for help? Starved, she startswalking. East of downtown, Lourdes spots a small factory. Onthe loading dock, under a gray tin roof, women sort red andgreen tomatoes. She begs for work. As she puts tomatoes intoboxes, she hallucinates that she is slicing open a juicy one andsprinkling it with salt. The boss pays her $14 for two hours’work. Lourdes’s brother has a friend in Los Angeles who helpsLourdes get a fake Social Security card and a job.She moves in with a Beverly Hills couple to take care oftheir three-year-old daughter. Their spacious home has carpeton the floors and mahogany panels on the walls. Her employersare kind. They pay her $125 a week. She gets nights andweekends off. Maybe, Lourdes tells herself—if she stays longenough—they will help her become legal.Every morning as the couple leave for work, the little girlcries for her mother. Lourdes feeds her breakfast and thinks ofEnrique and Belky. She asks herself: “Do my children cry likethis? I’m giving this girl food instead of feeding my own children.”To get the girl to eat, Lourdes pretends the spoon is anairplane. But each time the spoon lands in the girl’s mouth,Lourdes is filled with sadness.In the afternoon, after the girl comes home from prekindergartenclass, they thumb through picture books and play. Thegirl, so close to Enrique’s age, is a constant reminder of her son.Many afternoons, Lourdes cannot contain her grief. She givesthe girl a toy and dashes into the kitchen. There, out of sight,tears flow. After seven months, she cannot take it. She quits andmoves to a friend’s place in Long Beach.Boxes arrive in Tegucigalpa bearing clothes, shoes, toy cars,a Robocop doll, a television. Lourdes writes: Do they like thethings she is sending? She tells Enrique to behave, to studyhard. She has hopes for him: graduation from high school, awhite-collar job, maybe as an engineer. She pictures her sonworking in a crisp shirt and shiny shoes. She says she loves him.Enrique asks about his mother. “She’ll be home soon,” hisgrandmother assures him. “Don’t worry. She’ll be back.”But his mother does not come. Her disappearance is incomprehensible.Enrique’s bewilderment turns to confusionand then to adolescent anger.When Enrique is seven, his father brings a woman home.To her, Enrique is an economic burden. One morning, shespills hot cocoa and burns him. His father throws her out. Buttheir separation is brief.“Mom,” Enrique’s father tells the grandmother, “I can’tthink of anyone but that woman.”Enrique’s father bathes, dresses, splashes on cologne, andfollows her. Enrique tags along and begs to stay with him. Buthis father tells him to go back to his grandmother.His father begins a new family. Enrique sees him rarely,usually by chance. In time, Enrique’s love turns to contempt.“He doesn’t love me. He loves the children he has with hiswife,” he tells Belky. “I don’t have a dad.”His father notices. “He looks at me as if he wasn’t my son,as if he wants to strangle me,” he tells Enrique’s grandmother.Most of the blame, his father decides, belongs to Enrique’smother. “She is the one who promised to come back.”For Belky, their mother’s disappearance is just as distressing.She lives with Aunt Rosa Amalia, one of her mother’s sisters.On Mother’s Day, Belky struggles through a celebration atschool. That night she cries quietly, alone in her room. Thenshe scolds herself. She should thank her mother for leaving;without the money she sends for books and uniforms, Belkycould not even attend school. She reminds herself of all theother things her mother ships south: Reebok tennis shoes, blacksandals, the yellow bear and pink puppy stuffed toys on herbed. She commiserates with a friend whose mother has alsoleft. They console each other. They know a girl whose motherdied of a heart attack. At least, they say, ours are alive.But Rosa Amalia thinks the separation has caused deepemotional problems. To her, it seems that Belky is strugglingwith an unavoidable question: How can I be worth anything ifmy mother left me?“There are days,” Belky tells Aunt Rosa Amalia, “when Iwake up and feel so alone.” Belky is temperamental. Sometimesshe stops talking to everyone. When her mood turns dark,her grandmother warns the other children in the house,“¡Pórtense bien porque la marea anda brava! You better behave, becausethe seas are choppy!”Confused by his mother’s absence, Enrique turns to hisgrandmother. Alone now, he and his father’s elderly mothershare a shack thirty feet square. María Marcos built it herself ofwooden slats. Enrique can see daylight in the cracks. It has fourrooms, three without electricity. There is no running water.Gutters carry rain off the patched tin roof into two barrels. Atrickle of cloudy white sewage runs past the front gate. On awell-worn rock nearby, Enrique’s grandmother washes mustyused clothing she sells door to door. Next to the rock is the latrine—a concrete hole. Beside it are buckets for bathing.The shack is in Carrizal, one of Tegucigalpa’s poorestneighborhoods. Sometimes Enrique looks across the rollinghills to the neighborhood where he and his mother lived andwhere Belky still lives with their mother’s family. They are sixmiles apart. They hardly ever visit.Lourdes sends Enrique $50 a month, occasionally $100,sometimes nothing. It is enough for food but not for schoolclothes, fees, notebooks, or pencils, which are expensive inHonduras. There is never enough for a birthday present. ButGrandmother María hugs him and wishes him a cheery ¡Felizcumpleaños! “Your mom can’t send enough,” she says, “so weboth have to work.”Enrique loves to climb his grandmother’s guayaba tree, butthere is no more time for play now. After school, Enrique sellstamales and plastic bags of fruit juice from a bucket hung in thecrook of his arm. “¡Tamarindo! ¡Piña!” he shouts.Sometimes Enrique takes his wares to a service station wherediesel-belching buses rumble into Carrizal. Jostling amongmango and avocado vendors, he sells cups of diced fruit.After he turns ten, he rides buses alone to an outdoor foodmarket. He stuffs tiny bags with nutmeg, curry powder, and paprika,then seals them with hot wax. He pauses at big blackgates in front of the market and calls out, “¿Va a querer especias?Who wants spices?” He has no vendor’s license, so he keepsmoving, darting between wooden carts piled with papayas.Younger children, five and six years old, dot the curbs, thrustingfistfuls of tomatoes and chiles at shoppers. Others offer tocarry purchases of fruits and vegetables from stall to stall in rusticwooden wheelbarrows in exchange for tips. “Te ayudo? May Ihelp you?” they ask. Arms taut, backs stooped, the boys heaveforward, their carts bulging. In between sales, some of the young market workers sniff glue.Grandmother María cooks plantains, spaghetti, and fresheggs. Now and then, she kills a chicken and prepares it for him.In return, when she is sick, Enrique rubs medicine on her back.He brings water to her in bed. Two or three times a week, Enriquelugs buckets filled with drinking water, one on each shoulder,from the water truck at the bottom of the hill up to hisgrandmother’s house.Every year on Mother’s Day, he makes a heart-shaped cardat school and presses it into her hand. “I love you very much,Grandma,” he writes. But she is not his mother. Enrique longs to hear Lourdes’svoice. Once he tries to call her collect from a public telephonein his neighborhood. He can’t get the call to go through. Hisonly way of talking to her is at the home of his mother’s cousinMaría Edelmira Sánchez Mejía, one of the few family memberswho has a telephone. His mother seldom calls. One yearshe does not call at all.“I thought you had died, girl!” María Edelmira says, whenshe finally does call.Better to send money, Lourdes replies, than burn it up onthe phone. But there is another reason she hasn’t called: her lifein the United States is nothing like the television images she sawin Honduras.Lourdes shares an apartment bedroom with three otherwomen. She sleeps on the floor. A boyfriend from Honduras,Santos, joins her in Long Beach. Lourdes is hopeful. She’s noticedthat her good friend Alma saves much faster now that shehas moved in with a Mexican boyfriend. The boyfriend paysAlma’s rent and bills. Alma can shop for her two girls in Hondurasat nice stores such as JCPenney and Sears. She’s saving tobuild a house in Honduras.Santos, who once worked with Lourdes’s stepfather as abricklayer, is such a speedy worker that in Honduras his nicknamewas El Veloz. With Santos here, Lourdes tells herself, shewill save enough to bring her children within two years. If not,she will take her savings and return to Honduras to build a littlehouse and corner grocery store.Lourdes unintentionally gets pregnant. She strugglesthrough the difficult pregnancy, working in a refrigerated fishfactory, packing and weighing salmon and catfish all day. Herwater breaks at five one summer morning. Lourdes’s boyfriend,who likes to get drunk, goes to a bar to celebrate. He asks a femalebar buddy to take Lourdes to the public hospital. Lourdes’stemperature shoots up to 105 degrees. She becomesdelirious. The bar buddy wipes sweat dripping from Lourdes’sbrow. “Bring my mother. Bring my mother,” Lourdes moans.Lourdes has trouble breathing. A nurse slips an oxygen maskover her face. She gives birth to a girl, Diana.After two days, Lourdes must leave the hospital. She is stillsick and weak. The hospital will hold her baby one more day.Santos has never shown up at the hospital. He isn’t answeringtheir home telephone. His drinking buddy has taken Lourdes’sclothes back to her apartment. Lourdes leaves the hospitalwearing a blue paper disposable robe. She doesn’t even have apair of underwear. She sits in her apartment kitchen and sobs,longing for her mother, her sister, anyone familiar.Santos returns the next morning, after a three-day drinkingbinge. “Ya vino? Has it arrived?” He passes out before Lourdescan answer. Lourdes goes, alone, to get Diana from the hospital.Santos loses his job making airplane parts. Lourdes falls ona pallet and hurts her shoulder. She complains to her employerabout the pain. Two months after Diana’s birth, she is fired. Shegets a job at a pizzeria and bar. Santos doesn’t want her to workthere. One night, Santos is drunk and jealous that Lourdes hasgiven a male co-worker a ride home. He punches Lourdes in thechest, knocking her to the ground. The next morning, there iscoagulated blood under the skin on her breast. “I won’t put upwith this,” Lourdes tells herself.When Diana is one year old, Santos decides to visit Honduras.He promises to choose wise investments there and multiplythe several thousand dollars the couple has scrimped tosave. Instead, Santos spends the money on a long drinkingbinge with a fifteen-year-old girl on his arm. He doesn’t callLourdes again.By the time Santos is gone for two months, Lourdes can nolonger make car and apartment payments. She rents a garage—really a converted single carport. The owners have thrown upsome walls, put in a door, and installed a toilet. There is nokitchen. It costs $300 a month.Lourdes and Diana, now two years old, share a mattress onthe concrete floor. The roof leaks, the garage floods, and slugsinch up the mattress and into bed. She can’t buy milk or diapersor take her daughter to the doctor when she gets sick. Sometimesthey live on emergency welfare.Unemployed, unable to send money to her children inHonduras, Lourdes takes the one job available: work as a ficheraat a Long Beach bar called El Mar Azul Bar #1. It has two pooltables, a long bar with vinyl stools, and a red-and-blue neonfaçade. Lourdes’s job is to sit at the bar, chat with patrons, andencourage them to keep buying grossly overpriced drinks forher. Her first day is filled with shame. She imagines that herbrothers are sitting at the bar, judging her. What if someone sheknows walks into the bar, recognizes her, and word somehowgets back to Lourdes’s mother in Honduras? Lourdes sits in thedarkest corner of the bar and begins to cry. “What am I doinghere?” she asks herself. “Is this going to be my life?” For ninemonths, she spends night after night patiently listening todrunken men talk about their problems, how they miss theirwives and children left behind in Mexico.A friend helps Lourdes get work cleaning oil refinery officesand houses by day and ringing up gasoline and cigarette sales ata gas station at night. Lourdes drops her daughter off at schoolat 7 A.M., cleans all day, picks Diana up at 5 P.M., drops her at ababysitter, then goes back to work until 2 A.M. She fetchesDiana and collapses into bed. She has four hours to sleep.Some of the people whose houses she cleans are kind. Onewoman in Redondo Beach always cooks Lourdes lunch andleaves it on the stove for her. Another woman offers, “Anythingyou want to eat, there is the fridge.” Lourdes tells both, “Godbless you.”Others seem to revel in her humiliation. One woman inposh Palos Verdes demands that she scrub her living room andkitchen floors on her knees instead of with a mop. It exacerbatesher arthritis. She walks like an old lady some days. Thecleaning liquids cause her skin to slough off her knees, whichsometimes bleed. The woman never offers Lourdes a glass ofwater.There are good months, though, when she can earn $1,000to $1,200 cleaning offices and homes. She takes extra jobs, oneat a candy factory for $2.25 an hour. Besides the cash for Enrique,every month she sends $50 each to her mother andBelky.Those are her happiest moments, when she can wiremoney. Her greatest dread is when there is no work and shecan’t. That and random gang shootings. “La muerte nunca te avisacuando viene,” Lourdes says. “Death never announces when it isgoing to come.” A small park near her apartment is a ganghangout. When Lourdes returns home in the middle of thenight, gangsters come up and ask for money. She always handsover three dollars, sometimes five. What would happen to herchildren if she died?The money Lourdes sends is no substitute for her presence.Belky, now nine, is furious about the new baby. Their mothermight lose interest in her and Enrique, and the baby will makeit harder to wire money and save so she can bring them north.“How can she have more children now?” Belky asks.For Enrique, each telephone call grows more strained. Becausehe lives across town, he is not often lucky enough to be atMaría Edelmira’s house when his mother phones. When he is,their talk is clipped and anxious. Quietly, however, one of theseconversations plants the seed of an idea. Unwittingly, Lourdessows it herself.“When are you coming home?” Enrique asks. She avoidsan answer. Instead, she promises to send for him very soon.It had never occurred to him: If she will not come home,then maybe he can go to her. Neither he nor his mother realizesit, but this kernel of an idea will take root. From now on, wheneverEnrique speaks to her, he ends by saying, “I want to bewith you.”“Come home,” Lourdes’s own mother begs her on the telephone.“It may only be beans, but you always have food here.”Pride forbids it. How can she justify leaving her children if shereturns empty-handed? Four blocks from her mother’s place isa white house with purple trim. It takes up half a block behindblack iron gates. The house belongs to a woman whose childrenwent to Washington, D.C., and sent her the money to build it.Lourdes cannot afford such a house for her mother, much lessherself.But she develops a plan. She will become a resident andbring her children to the United States legally. Three times, shehires storefront immigration counselors who promise help. Shepays them a total of $3,850. But the counselors never deliver.One is a supposed attorney near downtown Los Angeles.Another is a blind man who says he once worked at the INS.Lourdes’s friends say he’s helped them get work papers. Awoman in Long Beach, whose house she cleans, agrees to sponsorher residency. The blind man dies of diabetes. Soon after,Lourdes gets a letter from the INS. Petition denied.She must try again. A chance to get her papers comes fromsomeone Lourdes trusts. Dominga is an older woman withwhom Lourdes shares an apartment. Dominga has becomeLourdes’s surrogate mother. She loans Lourdes money whenshe runs short. She gives her advice on how to save so she canbring her children north. When Lourdes comes home late, sheleaves her tamales or soup on the table, under the black velvetpicture of the Last Supper.Dominga is at the Los Angeles INS office. She’s there to tryto help a son arrested in an immigration raid. A woman walksup to her in the hallway. My name, she tells Dominga, is GloriaPatel. I am a lawyer. I have friends inside the INS who can helpyour son become legal. In fact, I work for someone inside theINS. She hands Dominga her business card. IMMIGRATIONCONSULTANT. LEGAL PROFESSIONAL SERVICES. It has a drawingof the Statue of Liberty. Residency costs $3,000 per person upfront, $5,000 total. Find five or six interested immigrants, thewoman tells Dominga, and I’ll throw in your son’s residencypapers for free.“I found a woman, a great attorney!” Dominga tells Lourdes.“She can make us legal in one month.” At most, threemonths. Dominga convinces other immigrants in her apartmentcomplex to sign up. Initially, the recruits are skeptical.Some accompany Dominga to Patel’s office. It is a suite in anice building that also houses the Guatemalan Consulate. Thewaiting room is full. Two men loudly discuss how Patel hasbeen successful in legalizing their family members. Patel showsDominga papers—proof, she says, that her son’s legalizationprocess is already under way.They leave the office grateful that Patel has agreed to slashher fee to $3,500 and require only $1,000 per person as a firstinstallment. Lourdes gives Patel what she has: $800.Soon Patel demands final payments from everyone to keepgoing. Lourdes balks. Should she be sending this money to herchildren in Honduras instead? She talks to Patel on the phone.She claims to be Salvadoran but sounds Colombian.Patel is a smooth talker. “How are you going to lose out onthis amazing opportunity? Almost no one has this opportunity!And for this incredible price.”“It’s that there are a lot of thieves here. And I don’t earnmuch.”“Who said I’m going to rob you?”Lourdes prays. God, all these years, I have asked you for only onething: to be with my children again. She hands over another $700.Others pay the entire $3,500.Patel promises to send everyone’s legalization papers in themail. A week after mailing in the last payments, several migrantsgo back to her office to see how things are going. The officeis shuttered. Gloria Patel is gone. Others in the building sayshe had rented space for one month. The papers the migrantswere shown were filled-out applications, nothing more.Lourdes berates herself for not dating an American whoasked her out long ago. She could have married him, maybeeven had her children here by now . . .Lourdes wants to give her son and daughter some hope.“I’ll be back next Christmas,” she tells Enrique.Enrique fantasizes about Lourdes’s expected homecomingin December. In his mind, she arrives at the door with a box ofNike shoes for him. “Stay,” he pleads. “Live with me. Work here.When I’m older, I can help you work and make money.”Christmas arrives, and he waits by the door. She does notcome. Every year, she promises. Each year, he is disappointed.Confusion finally grows into anger. “I need her. I miss her,” hetells his sister. “I want to be with my mother. I see so many childrenwith mothers. I want that.”One day, he asks his grandmother, “How did my mom getto the United States?” Years later, Enrique will remember hisgrandmother’s reply—and how another seed was planted:“Maybe,” María says, “she went on the trains.”“What are the trains like?”“They are very, very dangerous,” his grandmother says.“Many people die on the trains.”When Enrique is twelve, Lourdes tells him yet again thatshe will come home.“Sí,” he replies. “Va, pues. Sure. Sure.”Enrique senses a truth: Very few mothers ever return. Hetells her that he doesn’t think she is coming back. To himself, hesays, “It’s all one big lie.”The calls grow tense. “Come home,” he demands. “Whydo you want to be there?”“It’s all gone to help raise you.”Lourdes has nightmares about going back, even to visit,without residency documents. In the dreams, she hugs her children,then realizes she has to return to the United States so theycan eat well and study. The plates on the table are empty. Butshe has no money for a smuggler. She tries to go back on herown. The path becomes a labyrinth. She runs through zigzaggingcorridors. She always ends up back at the starting point.Each time, she awakens in a sweat.Another nightmare replays an incident when Belky was twoyears old. Lourdes has potty-trained her daughter. But Belkykeeps pooping in her pants. “Puerca! You pig!” Lourdes scoldsher daughter. Once, Lourdes snaps. She kicks Belky in the bottom.The toddler falls and hits her face on the corner of a door.Her lip splits open. Lourdes can’t reach out and console herdaughter. Each time, she awakens with Belky’s screams ringingin her ears.All along, Enrique’s mother has written very little; she isbarely literate and embarrassed by it. Now her letters stop.Every time Enrique sees Belky, he asks, “When is our momcoming? When will she send for us?”Lourdes does consider hiring a smuggler to bring the childrenbut fears the danger. The coyotes, as they are called, areoften alcoholics or drug addicts. Usually, a chain of smugglersis used to make the trip. Children are passed from one strangerto another. Sometimes the smugglers abandon their charges.Lourdes is continually reminded of the risks. One of herbest friends in Long Beach pays for a smuggler to bring her sisterfrom El Salvador. During her journey, the sister calls LongBeach to give regular updates on her progress through Mexico.The calls abruptly stop.Two months later, the family hears from a man who wasamong the group headed north. The smugglers put twentyfourmigrants into an overloaded boat in Mexico, he says. Ittipped over. All but four drowned. Some bodies were swept outto sea. Others were buried along the beach, including the missingsister. He leads the family to a Mexican beach. There theyunearth the sister’s decomposed body. She is still wearing herhigh school graduation ring.Another friend is panic-stricken when her three-year-oldson is caught by Border Patrol agents as a smuggler tries tocross him into the United States. For a week, Lourdes’s frienddoesn’t know what’s become of her toddler.Lourdes learns that many smugglers ditch children at thefirst sign of trouble. Government-run foster homes in Mexicoget migrant children whom authorities find abandoned in airportsand bus stations and on the streets. Children as young asthree, bewildered, desperate, populate these foster homes.Víctor Flores, four years old, maybe five, was abandonedon a bus by a female smuggler. He carries no identification, notelephone number. He ends up at Casa Pamar, a foster home inTapachula, Mexico, just north of the Guatemalan border. Itbroadcasts their pictures on Central American television sofamily members might rescue them.The boy gives his name to Sara Isela Hernández Herrera,a coordinator at the home, but says he does not know how oldhe is or where he is from. He says his mother has gone to theUnited States. He holds Hernández’s hand with all his mightand will not leave her side. He asks for hugs. Within hours, hebegins calling her Mama.When she leaves work every afternoon, he pleads in a tinyvoice for her to stay—or at least to take him with her. She giveshim a jar of strawberry marmalade and strokes his hair. “I havea family,” he says, sadly. “They are far away.”Francisco Gaspar, twelve, from Concepción Huixtla inGuatemala, is terrified. He sits in a hallway at a Mexican immigrationholding tank in Tapachula. With a corner of his CharlieBrown T-shirt, he dabs at tears running down his chin. He iswaiting to be deported. His smuggler left him behind at Tepic,in the western coastal state of Nayarit. “He didn’t see that Ihadn’t gotten on the train,” Francisco says between sobs. Hisshort legs had kept him from scrambling aboard. Immigrationagents caught him and bused him to Tapachula.Francisco left Guatemala after his parents died. He pulls atiny scrap of paper from a pants pocket with the telephonenumber of his uncle Marcos in Florida. “I was going to theUnited States to harvest chiles,” he says. “Please help me!Please help me!”Clutching a handmade cross of plastic beads on a stringaround his neck, he leaves his chair and moves frantically fromone stranger to another in the hallway. His tiny chest heaves.His face contorts in agony. He is crying so hard that he strugglesfor breath. He asks each of the other migrants to help himget back to his smuggler in Tepic. He touches their hands.“Please take me back to Tepic! Please! Please!”For Lourdes, the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend, Santos,hits closest to home. When Diana is four years old, her fatherreturns to Long Beach. Soon after, Santos is snared in anINS raid of day laborers waiting for work on a street cornerand deported. Lourdes hears he has again left Hondurasheaded for the United States. He never arrives. Not even hismother in Honduras knows what has happened to him. Eventually,Lourdes concludes that he has died in Mexico ordrowned in the Rio Grande.“Do I want to have them with me so badly,” she asks herselfof her children, “that I’m willing to risk their losing their lives?”Besides, she does not want Enrique to come to California.There are too many gangs, drugs, and crimes.In any event, she has not saved enough. The cheapest coyote,immigrant advocates say, charges $3,000 per child. Femalecoyotes want up to $6,000. A top smuggler will bring a child bycommercial flight for $10,000. She must save enough to bringboth children at once. If not, the one left in Honduras will thinkshe loves him or her less.Enrique despairs. He will simply have to do it himself. Hewill go find her. He will ride the trains. “I want to come,” hetells her.Don’t even joke about it, she says. It is too dangerous. Bepatient.R E B E L L I O NNow Enrique’s anger boils over. He refuses to make hisMother’s Day card at school. He begins hitting other kids. Atrecess, he lifts schoolgirls’ skirts. When a teacher tries to makehim behave by smacking him with a large ruler, Enrique grabsthe end of the ruler and refuses to let go, making the teachercry.He stands on top of the teacher’s desk and bellows, “Whois Enrique?”“You!” the class replies.Three times, he is suspended. Twice he repeats a grade. ButEnrique never abandons his promise to study. Unlike half thechildren from his neighborhood, he completes elementaryschool. There is a small ceremony. A teacher hugs him andmutters, “Thank God, Enrique’s out of here.”He stands proud in a blue gown and mortarboard. But nobodyfrom his mother’s family comes to the graduation.Now he is fourteen, a teenager. He spends more time on thestreets of Carrizal, which is controlled by the Poison gang andis quickly becoming one of Tegucigalpa’s toughest neighborhoods.His grandmother tells him to come home early. But heplays soccer until midnight. He refuses to sell spices. It is embarrassingwhen girls see him peddle fruit cups or when theyhear someone call him “the tamale man.” Sometimes hisgrandmother pulls out a belt at night when Enrique is naked inbed and therefore unable to quickly escape her punishment byrunning outside. “Ahora vamos a areglar las cuentas. Now we aregoing to settle the score,” she says. She keeps count, inflictingone lash for each time Enrique has misbehaved.Enrique has no parent to protect him on the streets of Carrizal.He makes up for it by cultivating a tougher image. Whenhe walks alongside his grandmother, he hides his Bible underhis shirt so no one will know they are headed to church.Soon, he stops going to church at all.“Don’t hang out with bad boys,” Grandmother María says.“You can’t pick my friends!” Enrique retorts. She is not hismother, he tells her, and she has no right to tell him what to do.He stays out all night.His grandmother waits up for him, crying. “Why are youdoing this to me?” she asks. “Don’t you love me? I am going tosend you away.”“Send me! No one loves me.”But she says she does love him. She only wants him to workand to be honorable, so that he can hold his head up high.He replies that he will do what he wants. Enrique has become her youngest child. “Please bury me,” she says. “Stay with me. If you do, all this is yours.” She prays that she can hold on to him until his mother sends for him. Buther own children say Enrique has to go: she is seventy, and hewill bury her, all right, by sending her to the grave.Sadly, she writes to Lourdes: You must find him anotherhome.To Enrique, it is another rejection. First his mother, then hisfather, and now his grandmother.Lourdes arranges for her eldest brother, Marco AntonioZablah, to take him in. Marco will help Enrique, just as hehelped Lourdes when she was Enrique’s age. Marco once tookin Lourdes to help ease the burden on their mother, who wasstruggling to feed so many children.Her gifts arrive steadily. She sends Enrique an orange poloshirt, a pair of blue pants, a radio cassette player. She is proudthat her money pays Belky’s tuition at a private high school andeventually a college, to study accounting. In a country wherenearly half live on $1 or less a day, kids from poor neighborhoodsalmost never go to college.Money from Lourdes helps Enrique, too, and he realizes it.If she were here, he knows where he might well be: scavengingin the trash dump across town. Lourdes knows it, too; as a girl,she herself worked the dump. Enrique knows children as youngas six or seven whose single mothers have stayed at home andwho have had to root through the waste in order to eat.Truck after truck rumbles onto the hilltop. Dozens of adultsand children fight for position. Each truck dumps its load.Feverishly, the scavengers reach up into the sliding ooze topluck out bits of plastic, wood, and tin. The trash squishes beneaththeir feet, moistened by loads from hospitals, full ofblood and placentas. Occasionally a child, with hands blackenedby garbage, picks up a piece of stale bread and eats it. Asthe youngsters sort through the stinking stew, thousands ofsleek, black buzzards soar in a dark, swirling cloud and defecateon the people below.Enrique sees other children who must work hard jobs. Ablock from where Lourdes grew up, children gather on a largepile of sawdust left by a lumber mill. Barefoot atop the peachcoloredmound, their faces smeared with dirt, they quicklyscoop the sawdust into rusty tin cans and dump it into big whiteplastic bags. They lug the bags half a mile up a hill. There, theysell the sawdust to families, who use it as kindling or to dry mudaround their houses. An eleven-year-old boy has been haulingsawdust for three years, three trips up the hill each day. Theearnings buy clothes, shoes, and paper for school.Others in the neighborhood go door-to-door, offering toburn household trash for change. One afternoon, three children, ages eight to ten, line up in front of their mother, who loads them down with logs of wood to deliver. “Give me three!” one boy says. She lays a rag and then several pieces of wood atop his right shoulder.In one neighborhood near where Enrique’s mother grewup, fifty-two children arrive at kindergarten each morning.Forty-four arrive barefoot. An aide reaches into a basket andplaces a pair of shoes into each one’s hands. At 4 P.M., beforethey leave, the children must return the shoes to the basket. Ifthey take the shoes home, their mothers will sell them for food.Black rats and a pig root around in a ravine where the childrenplay.At dinnertime, the mothers count out three tortillas foreach child. If there are no tortillas, they try to fill their children’sbellies with a glass of water with a teaspoon of sugarmixed in.A year after Enrique goes to live with his uncle, Lourdescalls—this time from North Carolina. “California is too hard,”she says. “There are too many immigrants.” Employers paypoorly and treat them badly. Even with two jobs, she couldn’tsave. She has followed a female friend to North Carolina andstarted over again. It is her only hope of bettering her lot andseeing her children again. She sold everything in California—her old Ford, a chest of drawers, a television, the bed she shareswith her daughter. It netted $800 for the move.Here people are less hostile. She can leave her car, even herhouse, unlocked. Work is plentiful. She quickly lands a job as awaitress at a Mexican restaurant. She finds a room to rent in atrailer home for just $150 a month—half of what the smallgarage cost her in Los Angeles. She starts to save. Maybe if sheamasses $4,000, her brother Marco will help her invest it inHonduras. Maybe she’ll be able to go home. Lourdes gets abetter job on an assembly line for $9.05 an hour—$13.50 whenshe works overtime.Going home would resolve a problem that has weighedheavily on Lourdes: Diana’s delayed baptism. Lourdes has heldoff, hoping to baptize her daughter in Honduras with Hondurangodparents. A baptism would lift Lourdes’s constant concernthat Diana’s unexpected death will send her daughter topurgatory.Lourdes has met someone, a house painter from Honduras,and they are moving in together. He, too, has two children inHonduras. He is kind and gentle, a quiet man with good manners.He gives Lourdes advice. He helps ease her loneliness. Hetakes Lourdes and her daughter to the park on Sundays. For awhile, when Lourdes works two restaurant jobs, he picks her upwhen her second shift ends at 11 P.M., so they can share a fewmoments together. They call each other “honey.” They fall inlove.Enrique misses Lourdes enormously. But Uncle Marco andhis girlfriend treat him well. Marco is a money changer on theHonduran border. It has been lucrative work, augmented by agroup that for years has been in constant need of his services:U.S.-funded Nicaraguan contras across the border. Marco’s family,including a son, lives in a five-bedroom house in a middleclassneighborhood of Tegucigalpa. Uncle Marco gives Enriquea daily allowance, buys him clothes, and sends him to a privatemilitary school in the evenings.By day, Enrique runs errands for his uncle, washes his fivecars, follows him everywhere. His uncle pays as much attentionto him as he does his own son, if not more. Often, Marco playsbilliards with Enrique. They watch movies together. Enriquesees New York City’s spectacular skyline, Las Vegas’s shimmering lights, Disneyland’s magic castle. Negrito, Marco calls Enriquefondly, because of his dark skin. Marco and Enriquestand the same way, a little bowlegged, with the hips tucked forward.Although he is in his teens, Enrique is small, just shy offive feet, even when he straightens up from a slight stoop. Hehas a big smile and perfect teeth.His uncle trusts him, even to make bank deposits. He tellsEnrique, “I want you to work with me forever.” Enrique sensesthat Uncle Marco loves him, and he values his advice.One week, as his uncle’s security guard returns from tradingHonduran lempiras, robbers drag the guard off a bus andkill him. The guard has a son twenty-three years old, and theslaying impels the young man to go to the United States. Hecomes back before crossing the Rio Grande and tells Enriqueabout riding on trains, leaping off rolling freight cars, anddodging la migra, Mexican immigration agents.Because of the security guard’s murder, Marco swears thathe will never change money again. A few months later, though,he gets a call. For a large commission, would he exchange$50,000 in lempiras on the border with El Salvador? UncleMarco promises that this will be the last time.Enrique wants to go with him, but his uncle says he is tooyoung. He takes Victor, one of his own brothers, instead. Robbersriddle their car with bullets. Enrique’s uncles careen offthe road. The thieves shoot Uncle Marco three times in thechest and once in the leg. They shoot Victor in the face. Bothdie. Now Uncle Marco is gone. In nine years, Lourdes has saved $700 toward bringing her children to the United States. Instead, she uses it to help pay forher brothers’ funerals.Lourdes goes into a tailspin. Marco had visited her once,shortly after she arrived in Long Beach. She had not seen Victor since leaving Honduras. If the dead can appear to the living,Lourdes beseeches God through tears, allow Victor toshow himself so she can say good-bye. “Mira, hermanito, I knowyou are dead. But I want to see you one more time. Come tome. I promise I won’t be afraid of you,” Lourdes says.Lourdes angrily swears off Honduras. How could she everlive in such a lawless place? People there are killed like dogs.There are no repercussions. The only way she’ll go back now,she tells herself, is by force, if she is deported. Soon after herbrothers’ deaths, the restaurant where Lourdes works is raidedby immigration agents. Every worker is caught up in the sweep.Lourdes is the only one spared. It is her day off.Lourdes decides to wait no longer. With financial help fromher boyfriend, she baptizes seven-year-old Diana. The girl’sgodparents are a trustworthy Mexican house painter and hiswife. Lourdes dresses Diana in a white floor-length dress andtiara. A priest sprinkles her daughter with holy water. Lourdesfeels that one worry, at least, has been lifted.Still, her resolve to stay in the United States brings a newnightmare. One morning at four, she hears her mother’s voice.It is loud and clear. Her mother utters her name three times:Lourdes. Lourdes. Lourdes. “Huh?” Lourdes, half awake, bolts upin bed, screaming. This must be an omen that her mother hasjust died. She is inconsolable. Will she ever see her motheragain?Back in Honduras, within days of the two brothers’ deaths,Uncle Marco’s girlfriend sells Enrique’s television, stereo, andNintendo game—all gifts from Marco. Without telling himwhy, she says, “I don’t want you here anymore.” She puts hisbed out on the street.A D D I C T I O NEnrique, now fifteen, gathers his clothing and goes to his maternalgrandmother. “Can I stay here?” he asks.This had been his first home, the small stucco house wherehe and Lourdes lived until Lourdes stepped off the front porchand left. His second home was the wooden shack where he andhis father lived with his father’s mother, until his father found anew wife and left. His third home was the comfortable housewhere he lived with his uncle Marco.Now he is back where he began. Seven people live here already:his grandmother, Águeda Amalia Valladares; two divorcedaunts; and four young cousins. They are poor. Gone areMarco’s contributions, which helped keep the household financiallyafloat. Águeda has a new expense: she must raise the youngchild left by her dead son Victor. The boy’s mother left him as ababy to go to the United States and hasn’t shown any interestsince. “We need money just for food,” says his grandmother, whosuffers from cataracts. Nonetheless, she takes Enrique in.She and the others are consumed by the slayings of the twouncles; they pay little attention to Enrique. He grows quiet, introverted.He does not return to school. At first, he shares thefront bedroom with an aunt, Mirian, twenty-six. One day sheawakens at 2 A.M. Enrique is sobbing quietly in his bed,cradling a picture of Uncle Marco in his arms. Enrique cries offand on for six months. His uncle loved him; without his uncle,he is lost.Grandmother Águeda quickly sours on Enrique. She growsangry when he comes home late, knocking on her door, rousingthe household. About a month later, Aunt Mirian wakes upagain in the middle of the night. This time she smells acetoneand hears the rustle of plastic. Through the dimness, she seesEnrique in his bed, puffing on a bag. He is sniffing glue.Enrique is banished to a tiny stone building seven feet behindthe house but a world away. It was once a cook shack,where his grandmother prepared food on an open fire. Its wallsand ceiling are charred black. It has no electricity. The woodendoor pries only partway open. It is dank inside. The single windowhas no glass, just bars. A few feet beyond is his privy—ahole with a wooden shanty over it. The stone hut becomes his home. Now Enrique can do whatever he wants. If he is out all night, no one cares. But tohim, it feels like another rejection.At his uncle’s funeral, he notices a shy girl with cascadingcurls of brown hair. She lives next door with her aunt. She hasan inviting smile, a warm manner. At first, María Isabel, seventeen,can’t stand Enrique. She notices how the teenager, whocomes from his uncle Marco’s wealthier neighborhood, isneatly dressed and immaculately clean, and wears his hair long.He seems arrogant. “Me cae mal. I don’t like him,” she tells afriend. Enrique is sure she has assumed that his nice clothes andhis seriousness mean he’s stuck-up. He persists. He whistlessoftly as she walks by, hoping to start a conversation. Monthafter month, Enrique asks the same question: “Would you bemy girlfriend?”“I’ll think about it.”The more she rejects him, the more he wants her. He lovesher girlish giggle, how she cries easily. He hates it when she flirtswith others.He buys her roses. He gives her a shiny black plaque with adrawing of a boy and girl looking tenderly at each other. Itreads, “The person I love is the center of my life and of myheart. The person I love IS YOU.” He gives her lotions, a stuffedteddy bear, chocolates. He walks her home after school fromnight classes two blocks away. He takes her to visit his paternalgrandmother across town. Slowly, María Isabel warms to him.The third time Enrique asks if she will be his girlfriend, shesays yes.For Enrique, María Isabel isn’t just a way to stem the lonelinesshe’s felt since his mother left him. They understand eachother, they connect. María Isabel has been separated from herparents. She, too, has had to shuffle from home to home.When she was seven, María Isabel followed her mother,Eva, across Honduras to a borrowed hut on a Tegucigalpamountainside. Like Enrique’s mother, Eva was leaving an unfaithfulhusband.The hut was twelve by fifteen feet. It had one small woodenwindow and dirt floors. There was no bathroom. They relievedthemselves and showered outdoors or at the neighbor’s. Therewas no electricity. They cooked outside using firewood. Theyhauled buckets of water up from a relative’s home two blocksdown the hill. They ate beans and tortillas. Eva, asthmatic,struggled to keep the family fed.Nine people slept in the hut. They crowded onto two bedsand a slim mattress jammed each night into the aisle betweenthe beds. To fit, everyone slept head to foot. María Isabelshared one of the beds with three other women.When she was ten, María Isabel ran to catch a deliverytruck. “Firewood!” she yelled out to a neighbor, ÁngelaEmérita Nuñez, offering to get some for her.After that, each morning María Isabel asked if Ángela hada chore for her. Ángela liked the sweet, loving girl with coils ofhair who always smiled. She admired the fact that she was ahard worker and a fighter, a girl who thrived when her owntwin died a month after birth. “Mira,” María Isabel says, “yo porpereza no me muero del hambre. I will never die out of laziness.”María Isabel fed and bathed Ángela’s daughter, helped maketortillas and mop the red-and-gray tile floors. María Isabeloften ate at Ángela’s. Eventually, María Isabel spent manynights a week at Ángela’s roomier house, where she had toshare a bed with only one other person, Ángela’s daughter.María Isabel graduated from the sixth grade. Her motherproudly hung María Isabel’s graduation certificate on the wallof the hut. A good student, she hadn’t even asked her motherabout going on to junior high. “How would she speak of that?We had no chance to send a child to school that long,” says Eva,who never went to school a day and began selling bread from abasket perched on her head when she was twelve.At sixteen, a fight forced María Isabel to move again. Thespat was with an older cousin, who thought María Isabel wasshowing interest in her boyfriend. Eva scolded her daughter.María Isabel decided to move across town with her aunt Gloria,who lived next door to Enrique’s maternal grandmother.María Isabel would help Gloria with a small food store she ranout of the front room of her house. To Eva, her daughter’s departurewas a relief. The family was eating, but not well. Evawas thankful that Gloria had lightened her load.Gloria’s house is modest. The windows have no panes, justwooden shutters. But to María Isabel, Gloria’s two-bedroomhome is wonderful. She and Gloria’s daughter have a bedroomto themselves. Besides, Gloria is more easygoing about lettingMaría Isabel go out at night to an occasional dance or party, orto the annual county fair. Eva wouldn’t hear of such a thing,fearful the neighbors would gossip about her daughter’s morals.A cousin promises to take María Isabel to a talk about birthcontrol. María Isabel wants to prevent a pregnancy. Enriquedesperately wants to get María Isabel pregnant. If they have achild together, surely María Isabel won’t abandon him. Somany people have abandoned him.Near where Enrique lives is a neighborhood called El Infiernito,Little Hell. Some homes there are teepees, stitched togetherfrom rags. It is controlled by a street gang, the MaraSalvatrucha. Some members were U.S. residents, living in LosAngeles until 1996, when a federal law began requiring judgesto deport them if they committed serious crimes. Now they areactive throughout much of Central America and Mexico. Herein El Infiernito, they carry chimbas, guns fashioned from plumbingpipes, and they drink charamila, diluted rubbing alcohol.They ride the buses, robbing passengers. Sometimes they assaultpeople as they are leaving church after Mass.Enrique and a friend, José del Carmen Bustamante, sixteen,venture into El Infiernito to buy marijuana. It is dangerous.On one occasion, José, a timid, quiet teenager, is threatenedby a man who wraps a chain around his neck. The boys neverlinger. They take their joints partway up a hill to a billiard hall,where they sit outside smoking and listening to the music thatdrifts through the open doors.With them are two other friends. Both have tried to ridefreight trains to el Norte. One is known as El Gato, the Cat. Hetalks about migra agents shooting over his head and how easy itis to be robbed by bandits. In Enrique’s marijuana haze, trainriding sounds like an adventure. He and José resolve to try itsoon.Some nights, at ten or so, they climb a steep, winding pathto the top of another hill. Hidden beside a wall scrawled withgraffiti, they inhale glue late into the night. One day María Isabelturns a street corner and bumps into him. She is overwhelmed.He smells like an open can of paint.“What’s that?” she asks, reeling away from the fumes. “Areyou on drugs?”“No!” Enrique says.Many sniffers openly carry their glue in baby food jars.They pop the lids and press their mouths to the small openings.Enrique tries to hide his habit. He dabs a bit of glue into a plasticbag and stuffs it into a pocket. Alone, he opens the end overhis mouth and inhales, pressing the bottom of the bag towardhis face, pushing the fumes into his lungs.Belky, Enrique’s sister, notices cloudy yellow fingerprints onMaría Isabel’s jeans: glue, a remnant of Enrique’s embrace.María Isabel sees him change. His mouth is sweaty andsticky. He is jumpy and nervous. His eyes grow red. Sometimesthey are glassy, half closed. Other times he looks drunk. If sheasks a question, the response is delayed. His temper is quick.On a high, he grows quiet, sleepy, and distant. When he comesdown, he becomes hysterical and insulting.Drogo, one of his aunts calls him. Drug addict.Enrique stares silently. “No one understands me,” he tellsBelky when she tries to keep him from going out.His grandmother points to a neighbor with pale, scaly skinwho has sniffed glue for a decade. The man can no longer standup. He drags himself backward on the ground, using his forearms.“Look! That’s how you’re going to end up,” his grandmothertells Enrique.Enrique fears that he will become like the hundreds ofglue-sniffing children he sees downtown.Some sleep by trash bins. A gray-bearded priest bringsthem sweet warm milk. He ladles it out of a purple bucket intobig bowls. On some days, two dozen of them line up behind hisvan. Many look half asleep. Some can barely stand. The acridsmell of the glue fills the air. They shuffle forward on blackenedfeet, sliding the lids off their glue jars to inhale. Then they pullthe steaming bowls up to their filthy lips. If the priest tries totake away their glue jars, they cry. Older children beat or sexuallyabuse the younger ones. In six years, the priest has seentwenty-six die from drugs.Sometimes Enrique hallucinates that someone is chasinghim. He imagines gnomes and fixates on ants. He sees a cartoonlikeWinnie-the-Pooh soaring in front of him. He walks,but he cannot feel the ground. Sometimes his legs will not respond.Houses move. Occasionally, the floor falls.Once he almost throws himself off the hill where he and hisfriend sniff glue. For two particularly bad weeks, he doesn’t recognizefamily members. His hands tremble. He coughs blackphlegm. No one tells Enrique’s mother. Why worry her? Lourdeshas enough troubles. She is three months behind in school paymentsfor Belky, and the school is threatening not to let her takefinal exams.A N E D UCATIONEnrique marks his sixteenth birthday. All he wants is hismother. One Sunday, he and his friend José put train riding tothe test. They leave for el Norte.At first, no one notices. They take buses across Guatemalato the Mexican border. “I have a mom in the United States,”Enrique tells a guard.“Go home,” the man replies.They slip past the guard and make their way twelve milesinto Mexico to Tapachula. There they approach a freight trainnear the depot. But before they can reach the tracks, police stopthem. The officers rob them, the boys say later, but then letthem go—José first, Enrique afterward.They find each other and another train. Now, for the firsttime, Enrique clambers aboard. The train crawls out of theTapachula station. From here on, he thinks, nothing bad canhappen.They know nothing about riding the rails. José is terrified.Enrique, who is braver, jumps from car to car on the slowmovingtrain. He slips and falls—away from the tracks, luckily—and lands on a backpack padded with a shirt and an extrapair of pants.He scrambles aboard again. But their odyssey comes to ahumiliating halt. Near Tierra Blanca, a small town in Veracruz,authorities snatch them from the top of a freight car. The officerstake them to a cell filled with MS gangsters, then deportthem. Enrique is bruised and limping, and he misses María Isabel.They find coconuts to sell for bus fare and go home.A D E C I S I O NEnrique sinks deeper into drugs. By mid-December, he oweshis marijuana supplier 6,000 lempiras, about $400. He has only1,000 lempiras. He promises the rest by midweek but cannotkeep his word. The following weekend, he encounters thedealer on the street.“I’m going to kill you,” the dealer tells Enrique. “You lied tome.”“Calm down,” Enrique says, trying not to show any fear.“I’ll give you your money.”“If you don’t pay up,” the supplier vows, “I’ll kill your sister.”The dealer mistakenly thinks that Enrique’s cousin TaniaNinoska Turcios, eighteen, is his sister. Both girls are finishinghigh school, and most of the family is away at a Nicaraguanhotel celebrating their graduation.Enrique pries open the back door to the house where hisuncle Carlos Orlando Turcios Ramos and aunt Rosa Amalialive. He hesitates. How can he do this to his own family? Threetimes, he walks up to the door, opens it, closes it, and leaves.Each time, he takes another deep hit of glue. He knows thedealer who threatened him has spent time in jail and owns a.57-caliber gun.“It’s the only way out,” he tells himself finally, his mindspinning.Finally, he enters the house, picks open the lock to a bedroomdoor, then jimmies the back of his aunt’s armoire with aknife. He stuffs twenty-five pieces of her jewelry into a plasticbag and hides it under a rock near the local lumberyard.At 10 P.M., the family returns to find the bedroom ransacked.Neighbors say the dog did not bark.“It must have been Enrique,” Aunt Rosa Amalia says. Shecalls the police. Uncle Carlos and several officers go to findhim.“What’s up?” he asks. He has come down off his high.“Why did you do this? Why?” Aunt Rosa Amalia yells.“It wasn’t me.” As soon as he says it, he flushes with shameand guilt. The police handcuff him. In their patrol car, hetrembles and begins to cry. “I was drugged. I didn’t want to doit.” He tells the officers that a dealer wanting money hadthreatened to kill Tania.He leads police to the bag of jewelry.“Do you want us to lock him up?” the police ask.Uncle Carlos thinks of Lourdes. They cannot do this to her.Instead, he orders Tania to stay indoors indefinitely, for herown safety.But the robbery finally convinces Uncle Carlos that Enriqueneeds help. He finds him a $15-a-week job at a tire store.He eats lunch with him every day—chicken and homemadesoup. He tells the family they must show him their love.During the next month, January 2000, Enrique tries to quitdrugs. He cuts back, but then he gives in. Every night, he comeshome later. María Isabel begs him not to go up the hill wherehe sniffs glue. He promises not to but does anyway. He looks athimself in disgust. He is dressing like a slob—his life is unraveling.He is lucid enough to tell Belky that he knows what he hasto do: he has to go find his mother.Aunt Ana Lucía agrees. Ana Lucía is wound tight. She andEnrique have clashed for months. Ana Lucía is the only breadwinnerin the household. Even with his job at the tire store, Enriqueis an economic drain. Worse, he is sullying the only thingher family owns: its good name.They speak bitter words that both, along with Enrique’sgrandmother Águeda, will recall months later.“Where are you coming from, you old bum?” Ana Lucíaasks as Enrique walks in the door. “Coming home for food,huh?”“Be quiet!” he says. “I’m not asking anything of you.”“You’re a lazy bum! A drug addict! No one wants youhere.” All the neighbors can hear. “This isn’t your house. Go toyour mother!”“I don’t live with you. I live alone.”“You eat here.”Over and over, in a low voice, Enrique says, half pleading,“You better be quiet.” Finally, he snaps. He kicks Ana Lucíatwice, squarely in the buttocks. She shrieks.His grandmother runs out of the house. She grabs a stickand threatens to club him if he touches Ana Lucía again. Enriqueturns on his heel. “No one cares about me!” he says. Hestomps away. Ana Lucía threatens to throw his clothes out ontothe street. Now even his grandmother wishes he would go tothe United States. He is hurting the family—and himself. Shesays, “He’ll be better off there.”GOOD-BYEMaría Isabel finds him sitting on a rock at a street corner, weeping,rejected again. She tries to comfort him. He is high on glue.He tells her he sees a wall of fire. His mother has just passedthrough it. She is lying on the other side, and she is dying. Heapproaches the fire to save her, but someone walks toward himthrough the flames and shoots him. He falls, then rises again,unhurt. His mother dies. “¿Por qué me dejó?” he cries out. “Whydid she leave me?”Even Enrique’s sister and grandmother have urged MaríaIsabel to leave Enrique, to find someone better. “What do yousee in him? Don’t you see he uses drugs?” people ask her. Heruncle is also wary of the drug-addicted teenager. He and Enrique both work at the same mechanic’s shop, but the uncle never offers him a lift in his car to their job.María Isabel can’t leave him, despite his deep flaws. He ismacho and stubborn. When they fight, he gives her the silenttreatment. She has to break the ice. He is her third boyfriendbut her first love. Enrique also provides a refuge from her ownproblems. Her aunt Gloria’s son is an alcoholic. He throwsthings. He steals things. There are a lot of fights.María Isabel loses herself in Enrique. At night, they sit onsome big rocks outside his grandmother’s home, where theyhave a bit of privacy, and talk. Enrique talks about his mother,his life with his grandmother María and his uncle Marco.“Why don’t you leave your vices?” María Isabel asks. “It’shard,” he answers quietly. When they walk by his drug haunts,she holds his hand tighter, hoping it will help.Enrique feels shame for what he has done to his family andwhat he is doing to María Isabel, who might be pregnant.María Isabel pleads with him to stay. She won’t abandon him.She tells Enrique she will move into the stone hut with him. ButEnrique fears he will end up on the streets or dead. Only hismother can help him. She is his salvation. “If you had knownmy mom, you would know she’s a good person,” he says to hisfriend José. “I love her.”Enrique has to find her.Each Central American neighborhood has a smuggler. InEnrique’s neighborhood, it’s a man who lives at the top of ahill. For $5,000, he will take anyone to los Estados. But Enriquecan’t imagine that kind of money.He sells the few things he owns: his bed, a gift from hismother; his leather jacket, a gift from his dead uncle; his rusticarmoire, where he hangs his clothes. He crosses town to saygood-bye to Grandmother María. Trudging up the hill to herhouse, he encounters his father. “I’m leaving,” he says. “I’mgoing to make it to the U.S.” He asks him for money.His father gives him enough for a soda and wishes him luck.“Grandma, I’m leaving,” Enrique says. “I’m going to findmy mom.”Don’t go, she pleads. She promises to build him a one-roomhouse in the corner of her cramped lot. But he has made up hismind.She gives him 100 lempiras, about $7—all the money shehas.“I’m leaving already, sis,” he tells Belky the next morning.She feels her stomach tighten. They have lived apart mostof their lives, but he is the only one who understands her loneliness.Quietly, she fixes a special meal: tortillas, a pork cutlet,rice, fried beans with a sprinkling of cheese. “Don’t leave,” shesays, tears welling up in her eyes.“I have to.”It is hard for him, too. Every time he has talked to hismother, she has warned him not to come—it’s too dangerous.But if somehow he gets to the U.S. border, he will call her.Being so close, she’ll have to welcome him. “If I call her fromthere,” he says to José, “how can she not accept me?”He makes himself one promise: “I’m going to reach theUnited States, even if it takes one year.” Only after a year oftrying would he give up and go back.Quietly, Enrique, the slight kid with a boyish grin, fond ofkites, spaghetti, soccer, and break dancing, who likes to play inthe mud and watch Mickey Mouse cartoons with his four-yearoldcousin, packs up his belongings: corduroy pants, a T-shirt, acap, gloves, a toothbrush, and toothpaste.For a long moment, he looks at a picture of his mother, buthe does not take it. He might lose it. He writes her telephonenumber on a scrap of paper. Just in case, he also scrawls it in inkon the inside waistband of his pants. He has $57 in his pocket.On March 2, 2000, he goes to his grandmother Águeda’shouse. He stands on the same porch that his mother disappearedfrom eleven years before. He hugs María Isabel andAunt Rosa Amalia. Then he steps off.

Editorial Reviews

"A heart-wrenching account . . . Provides a human face, both beautiful and scarred, for the undocumented--a must read."--Kirkus Reviews, Starred"This powerfully written survival story personalizes the complicated, pervasive, and heart-wrenching debates about immigration and immigrants' rights and will certainly spark discussion."--Booklist"Nazario's straightforward . . . journalistic writing style largely serves the complex, sprawling story effectively . . . .A valuable addition to young adult collections."--School Library Journal