When the term civil war is spoken, it often strikes a harsh nerve, mainly because of its negative connotation in history; a civil war is generally known as a high-intensity conflict involving people of the same background. This definition is true, but a civil war can also occur inside a person’s soul, causing damaging internal turmoil and depression. In the touching true story Enrique’s Journey, the author Sonia Nazario tells the story of a poor, young boy from Honduras who sets off to the United States in search of his mother. His desperate mother leaves him at an age when children are too young to truly understand the sacrifices their parents make for them. Upon her departure, the first civil war Enrique endures begins. This war is not a physical one, but instead a mental and emotional conflict which threatens to tear him apart from the inside out. Enrique is torn as to whether or not he is worth loving; should he go to America or not? Despite physical wounds, emotional turmoil is very damaging because it negatively affects a person’s outlook on life. While fighting his inner battles, the second civil war Enrique faces is between him and his fellow Latin Americans. During his journey he battles people of similar ethnic backgrounds who do all they can to rob, beat, and deport him. The greatest obstacles Enrique faces during his journey include: the emotional turmoil within him and the battle between him and those trying to end his journey.
Any child that has been abandoned by their parent will admit they still suffer from a void not easily filled. Enrique and his sister Belky face this despair when their mother, Lourdes, leaves for the U.S. in search of work that will build a better life for her family. Unfortunately, the children are unable to understand their mother’s intentions, so even as they grow older, resentment still fills their hearts. Before his journey north, Enrique is plagued with an addiction to sniffing glue, a habit he picks up to fill the growing void within his heart. His grandmother grows fed up with his addiction and makes him live in a small hut behind the family’s home. “Enrique is banished to a tiny stone building seven feet behind the house, but a world away…to him, it feels like another rejection” (32). Once his mother leaves him, he sees everything as a denial of love; he grows up telling his family that “no one loves him and he’ll do what he wants” (25). Much to their surprise, he follows through with his threats and leaves for el Norte to find his distant mother.
After facing emotional hardships because of his mother’s departure, Enrique’s steadfast love for his mother eventually propels him north to los Estados Unidos. The war within himself causes him to sometimes think of turning back to Honduras; however, this feeling of emptiness and despair is what pushes him to leave in the first place. In a victorious fashion, Enrique overcomes these battles from within and keeps pushing no matter what obstacles try to hold him back; his desolation is like a drug, forcinghim to be fearless. “Bandits will be out to rob him, street gangs might kill him, but he will take those risks because he needs to find his mother” (60). Enrique will do anything to fill his void, even risking death as he pushes into the unknown. The mental and emotional clash within him is one of the most difficult problems he faces throughout the journey because it threatens to slow him down; thankfully, he overcomes this issue by transforming it into fearless inspiration.
Accompanying his mental battles, the fight between Enrique and his fellow Latin Americans is his greatest challenge as he journeys north; this clash is a civil war because it involves people from similar backgrounds even though they are separated by different national identities. Enrique faces extreme violent opposition from the people trying to stop his journey, who include: la migra, bandits, and street gangs. La migra are immigration authorities, whose job is to protect the Mexican border from illegal Central Americans. These agents are very vicious and often rob and beat the migrants before placing them aboard buses headed for Guatemala. “These buses make as many as eight runs a day, deporting more than 100,000 unhappy passengers every year” (50). Sadly, each bus is called El Bus de Lagrimas, or the Bus of Tears; the migrants try so hard, only to be sent back to their countries broken hearted and empty handed.
Besides worrying about la migra agents, Enrique must worry about attacks from bandits and street gangs. Bandits are usually groups of police officers and criminals who terrorize and abuse the migrants in various ways. From raping, robbing, or beating the migrants, the bandits are a nightmare come true. Enrique comes into contact with these bandits first hand during one of his many attempts to travel north by riding the trains.
They slam him facedown…the club smacks his face…hands paw through his pants pockets…another blow finds the left side of his face. It shatters three teeth. They rattle like broken glass in his mouth. The men pummel him for what seems like ten minutes. The robbery has turned into a blood sport…Enrique thinks of his mother. ‘God, don’t let me die without seeing her again,’ he says…he stumbles, and then regains his footing (54).
The last line describes how Enrique overcomes this horrendous attack and keeps pushing forward. “He stumbles, and then regains his footing;” he constantly faces the danger of the bandits, but he continuously gets back up again. His struggles back home in Honduras and his drive to succeed, transform his spirit into that of a verdadero guerrero. Amongst the danger of la migra and the bandits, Enrique still faces death at the hands of the street gangs; the most prominent and dangerous of these gangs is the MS, or Mara Salvatrucha. This gang contains members who are deported from the United States because of convicted criminal offenses. Enrique learns quickly that it is better for him to ally and make friends with members of the gang so that he may obtain protection from attack; “they will provide protection, even in the darkest corners…without these gangsters, Enrique would never venture here” (64).
The fact that Enrique has to fear his fellow Latin Americans is sad and disheartening. These violent bullies tear down the migrants who look just like them; even though they have differences, there is only one race which is the human race. The migrants deserve to be treated as humans and not as illegal animals. This human injustice is the second civil war Enrique faces. In his short life, he sees people of the same background fighting and pulling each other down in the name of greed. Citizens of Mexico openly show disgust toward Central Americans because they come from less developed nations; some, not all, refuse to help them in any way. Many Central Americans receive blatant, brutal treatment because they simply stick out in Mexican culture and society. “Rapes are part of the general denigration and humiliation of Central Americans in Mexico, where the migrants are seen as inferior because they come from less developed countries…the targets can be men or women” (98). This denigration and belittling ties in with the violence committed by la migra, bandits, and street gangs; who cares about the migrants when they are not even real people? Some caring Mexicans are the exception, and make it their life duty to help and protect migrants despite their own poor circumstances They say things like, “I want to help my brother…We are all human” (115-19). But even these nice gestures are the minority. The good Samaritans usually receive harsh warnings from police trying to catch the migrants, “It is a crime to help Central Americans” (117). That preceding quote sums up the entire civil war Enrique faces. Based on his ethnic status as a Central American, it is a crime to help him, even though the Central Americans and Mexicans both come from the collision of cultures. The constant pull between the Latin American people causes a staggering divide, which helps wreck the lives of migrants like Enrique trying to reach el Norte.
When looking at Enrique’s Journey on a surface level, one clearly sees the physical obstacles threatening to stop him; however, it is easy to miss the poignant battles plaguing him in conjunction with the underlying themes causing the emotional and physical pain. Both the emotional and physical trials in his life are categorized as silent, but meaningful wars. The emotional war within Enrique begins when his mother walks off the front porch and leaves him on January 19, 1989. “His mother never returns, and that decides Enrique’s fate. As a teenager he will set out for the United States on his own search for her” (5). His mother’s leaving creates a void within him, which he tries to fill initially with drugs and teenage rebellion. This rebellious phase and emotional turmoil threatens to prevent him from leaving Honduras to find his mother. The emotional pull inside him is one of the troubles he faces along the journey because it is the reason he decides to risk danger. He propels forward thinking and dreaming of his mother and her love, which he needs desperately to fill his inner void. Enrique’s quest for love and acceptance from his mother forms almost into an obsession with finding her, which allows him to push forward; while also overtaking his mind negatively. Despite the mental, civil battle within him, Enrique also fights a physical battle daily at the hands of his fellow Latin Americans. This battle is the toughest for him to fight because it directly interferes with his well being and safety. The emotional battle is rough, but Enrique proves he can overcome that one; the physical battle is usually out of his hands. In the face of all these struggles, Enrique manages to overcome the encounters within himself and around him that terrorize his journey to find the love of his mother. His perseverance and strength is truly a testament to the survival instincts of the human race when put through hell; Enrique literally fights through two forms of hell to find what he seeks the most, love and acceptance. The toughest barriers Enrique faces during his journey encompass the following: the fight within himself to find acceptance and the hatred he battles from fellow Latin Americans. Through all of this adversity he perseveres. To him, finding his mother “becomes the quest for the Holy Grail,” and nothing that meaningful is torn apart so easily by the casualties of war (7).