In the prologue to her nonfiction story about the human costs of the enormous flow of illegal immigrants, especially children seeking their mothers, to the United States, Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario introduces the reader to the scale of the problem and to the dangers involved in researching her subject. In the course of conducting that research, Nazario encountered many of the children enduring untold hardship and physical danger so that they could be reunited with their mothers who had emigrated to the economic colossus to the north to earn the money necessary to support their families back home in Central America. These children come from desperately poor communities with little or no hope of a better future. The standard of living enjoyed by most Americans, even the more economically destitute, remains well above that of millions of people from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and elsewhere. The incentive of providing a better life for their children has motivated untold numbers of women from these and other countries to seek out employment opportunities in the United States – opportunities that primarily involve jobs that most Americans refuse to perform. Americans, Nazario’s tale implies, have long grown numb to the difficulties faced by millions south of their border, and have taken for granted the standard of living that being an American entails. It is in this context that the author, in the section of her prologue titled “Train-Top Lessons,” mentions that “invaluable gift”:
“The migrants I spent time with also gave me an invaluable gift. They reminded me of the value of what I have. They taught me that people are willing to die in their quest to obtain it.”
Americans widely acknowledge the price our young men and women pay to protect our freedoms. The honors bestowed upon our military men and women – in stark contrast to the Vietnam era – is testament to that recognition. Less apparent to the average American, however, is the price others will pay for the opportunity to partake in the American way-of-life. That is the meaning of Nazario’s statement about the gift the migrants gave her.