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One Door Opens, Another Closes

Enrique found his mother, but the pain didn't end as he struggled to forgive her for leaving him behind in Honduras. Then there was the terrible ache of missing his own daughter, growing up thousands of miles away.

February 19, 2006|Sonia Nazario | Sonia Nazario is a Times staff writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for the series of stories that are the foundation of her forthcoming book, "Enrique`s Journey: The Story of a Boy`s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother."

Tens of thousands of children travel alone from Central America and Mexico each year, many of them seeking the mothers who went to the U.S. before them. The epic journey many of these children make is part of a vast migration of women and children who are coming to and changing the United States.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning "Enrique's Journey," published as a series of stories in the Los Angeles Times in 2002, began when Enrique was 5. His mother, Lourdes, left Honduras to work in the U.S. The move allowed her to send money home to Enrique and his sister so they could eat better and go to school. Lourdes promised Enrique she would return quickly. But she struggled in America and had another child. Years passed. Without her, he became lonely, troubled and addicted to sniffing glue.

After 11 years apart, Enrique set off alone from Tegucigalpa with little more than a slip of paper bearing his mother's North Carolina telephone number. Without money, he made the dangerous and illegal trek up the length of Mexico the only way he could--clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains.

On his eighth attempt, at age 17 and after more than 12,000 miles and 122 days, Enrique joyfully arrived at his mother's doorstep, sure that her love would overcome the pain of years apart. Soon after, however, his girlfriend in Honduras called. She was pregnant with Enrique's child. On Nov. 2, 2000, she gave birth to Katerin Jasmin. In reaching his mother, Enrique had walked away from his own baby girl.

This is an adapted excerpt from writer Sonia Nazario's new book. As in The Times series, the last names of the primary characters are not used.

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Enrique knows he does not hate his mother. But with each passing day, his resentment grows. After months with her, he can no longer contain it. He tells Lourdes that she didn't care enough about her children to stay with them in Honduras. Did she think sending money could substitute for having his mother at his side? Or quell the loneliness he felt being moved from one relative to the next? "Money doesn't solve anything," he tells her.

He berates Lourdes for leaving him with a father she knew was irresponsible. Why didn't she put him with her own family, who cared for his sister Belky? Why didn't she send enough money, so that he wasn't forced to sell spices from the age of 10? Why did she send Belky so much more, to cover tuition at a private school her aunt sent her to?

He tells her he wanted to study; he just didn't want to beg his mother for the money. Enrique tells Lourdes her biggest mistake was getting pregnant a year after arriving in the United States. "You shouldn't have gotten pregnant until you knew your existing kids were OK," he says.

Why did she continually promise to return for Christmas and then never show up? Once she knew he was in trouble sniffing glue, he asks her, how could she stay away? "You left me, abandoned me," he tells her. "You forgot about me." Nothing, he tells her, was gained by their long separation.

"People come here to prosper. You have nothing here. What have you accomplished?" If she had stayed in Honduras, he would have turned out better. "I wouldn't be this way if I had had two parents."

A true mother, he tells Lourdes, isn't the person who carries you in her womb. It is someone who raises and nurtures you. "My mother is my grandmother Maria," he says. "You long ago lost the right to tell me what to do."

Then Enrique lands the most hurtful blow. He tells Lourdes he plans to leave her and return to Honduras in two years. "I'm not going to do the same as you--stay here all my life."

Lourdes expected Enrique to love her like the 5-year-old who had clung to her in Honduras. She cries herself to sleep at night. She has been a good person, a good mother. Why is God punishing her?

She must show Enrique he is terribly mistaken. "What about the money I sent you?" she says. "I have witnesses!"

Lourdes lived in poverty to send as much as possible to her children. For the first time, she tells Enrique about the struggles she endured during their years apart: "I killed myself trying to help you."

"You are what you are because you didn't want to study," Lourdes says. "It's not my fault. I wanted you to study. You preferred to be on drugs." He should thank her for giving him life, Lourdes says. That alone gives her the right to give him advice and discipline. Lourdes thinks about how her own mother couldn't provide enough food for her children, how she could hate her too.

"My mother is sacred to me. I thank her for the little she did for us," Lourdes says. Enrique is harboring "a silly resentment," she tells him. She didn't forget him. Why can't she get him to reason? He's an ungrateful brat. Lourdes predicts: "God is going to punish you." Someday, she tells him, your daughter will treat you the way you now treat me.

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