From Enrique's Journey, describe the living or working situation for many Central Americans as well as Mexicans. Along these lines, why does the author associate finding their mothers in El Norte...

From Enrique's Journey, describe the living or working situation for many Central Americans as well as Mexicans. Along these lines, why does the author associate finding their mothers in El Norte like the "quest for the Holy Grail?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Nazario depicts a set of living and working conditions for immigrants from the Spanish speaking world that defines the essence of challenge.  Nazario's detailing of the living and working conditions that immigrants experience focuses upon economic and social challenge.  For many of them, their living and working situations resemble struggle and destitution.  Enrique realizes this upon his entry into America: "But most won't give Central Americans food, money or jobs.  So he will work by himself. He'll wash cars."  The jobs that are open to many immigrants in the narrative are low paying and do not feature much in way of upward mobility.  They are jobs that exist "in the shadows," for fear of bringing attention to their own predicament.  The living conditions are much the same, where little in way of comfort is evident.  The struggle is a real one for Spanish speaking immigrants, and is reflective of having to settle for so very little in a fundamental pursuit of hope.  For example, Nazario points out that "82 percent of nannies and one in four housecleaners are women with children," representing the type of working situation that immigrants from the Spanish speaking world experience. It is a telling statement that Maria Isabel says that immigrants to America simply wish to find  “jobs that pay okay."  The living conditions and working conditions that immigrants seem to desire fits this detail.  What they end up finding is struggle and difficulty in the mere desire to find something "okay."

The pursuit of hope, something that initially drives Lourdes to undertake the painful reality of leaving her family, is something of a Holy Grail.  It is a pursuit steeped in an ideal, amidst a world that might not necessarily honor it.  Like the pursuit of the Holy Grail, it is an almost impossible reality because of the conditions it is set against.  In much the same light, when families are divided through the lure of this Holy Grail, a new one emerges in terms of unification:

Many, including Enrique, begin to idealize their mothers. In their absence, these mothers become larger than life. Although the women struggle to pay rent and eat in the United States, in the imaginations of their children back home they become deliverance itself, the answer to every problem. Finding them becomes the quest for the Holy Grail.

For children of parents who leave to pursue a better life, being able to reunify that which was once whole is an embodiment of the Holy Grail: "In recent decades, the increase in divorce and family disintegration in Latin America has left many single mothers without the means to feed and raise their children.” Nazario suggests that the quest to find a better life, one with greater social and economic security, are the "Holy Grail" for parents.  It is also suggested that the quest to reunite with parents becomes the "Holy Grail" for their children.

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