Pulitzer Prize winner lectures on refugee stories
This year’s New Student Book Experience featured Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique’s Journey. Her lecture focused on the troubling experiences of refugee children and the challenges immigrants face when coming to the United States.
Open seats were scarce in the University Center ballroom on the evening of Sept. 23. Faculty and students crowded in the back and packed themselves into rows of black chairs, clutching copies of Enrique’s Journey. Sonia Nazario, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning story, stepped up to the podium and flashed a smile to her eager audience.
Nazario’s lecture on immigration in the U.S. was the pinnacle of a busy day at UMBC. Just hours before, she was gathered with members of the community in the conference room of the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. Attendees were in support of helping Latino families that have fled homes in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico due to violence and war taxes.
Blending English and Spanish in to the conversation, Nazario discussed how mothers are leaving to seek jobs in the U.S. to support their children back home. Eventually, these children decide to make the perilous journey in search of their mothers that left them behind. She said, “We must help these children arriving at our doors. Half of these children are refugees, fleeing for their very life.” Several community members considered the possibility of establishing special schools and reunification programs for the refugee populations.
As she hurried across campus for dinner with special guests, Nazario recounted her memories as a child in Argentina ravaged by war. Thousands of people were murdered by the military, among them were journalists. It was then that she knew what she wanted to do with her life. She said, “I was determined to become a journalist and tell the truth.”
At the age of 21, she began writing with the Wall Street Journal. She published a feature with the LA Times, which would later become Enrique’s Journey, about a young Honduran boy she met along the banks of the Rio Grande. He spent his days clinging to the tops of freight trains on a perilous journey to the United States. He had hopes of reuniting with his mother and starting fresh. Nazario said, “I’ve written about immigrants for 20 years, but there were some things I just didn’t get until I made this journey.”
Alicia Serrato, a senior psychology and linguistics major, had dinner with Nazario just before the lecture. As a child born in Mexico, Serrato has experienced separation from her parents. Today, she works as a legal assistant at a law firm that aids refugees. She said, “It’s a personal topic and now I’m doing work with these kids. I feel like I’m really helping. You come here for a better life but it’s not as easy as you think it is.”
The refugee children are facing incredible challenges upon their arrival. Many of them are forced to represent themselves in immigration courts and threatened with deportation. Nazario said, “I fear the government is sealing these children back to deadly fates. What will we do? Will we behave like a great nation or not?”