Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Opens Convocation Series
LAKELAND (Sept. 2, 2009) — Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sonia Nazario encouraged Florida Southern students at the College's opening Convocation to keep an open mind when they meet immigrants and to seek creative solutions to stem the tide of undocumented immigrants to the U.S.
As a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Nazario made a harrowing trip from Honduras through Mexico atop dangerous freight trains and to the United States to recreate the path that a teenage boy took in search of his mother. "Enriques Journey," first published in the Los Angeles Times and then as a book, is the Colleges "common reading" for first-year students. The series in the Times won two Pulitzers, for feature writing and feature photography.
At Convocation, Nazario told students about the story behind the book. She got the idea after a conversation with her housekeeper, Carmen. Carmen confided that she had left four children in Guatemala 12 years earlier when she came to the U.S. in search of work. "Reporters are taught to be empathetic, to put themselves in others shoes. But that morning, I was judgmental," Nazario said.
"There are nearly 1 million undocumented immigrants in Florida alone," Nazario said. "Many of the women who clean our houses and offices, who care for our nation's children, are like Carmen."
Nazario said she could not understand the desperation that would drive a mother to leave her children, not knowing when or if she would see them again. Compounding the tragedy is that thousands of children travel alone to the U.S. each year in search of their mothers. They encounter "gangs on top of the trains, bandits alongside the rails, and crooked cops in every town."
She told heart-wrenching tales of mothers who fed their babies sugar water to quiet their hungry stomachs; of children who lost arms and legs when they fell from the trains; and of extremely poor people who live along the rails in Mexico throwing what little food they had to the children on top of the trains.
"For three decades, we've been locked into the same tired old rhetoric about immigration," Nazario said. "I think, I hope, I know that your generation will be more open-minded and less judgmental than mine."
Nazario said she thinks one solution is to create jobs in the countries that most immigrants come from through microloans for start-up businesses and more favorable trade policies.