Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario told an audience at NCC about the issue of perilous refugee migration.
This year’s Cohen Lecture speaker is well acquainted with this topic. During her childhood Nazario lived in both Argentina and America. She grew up during Argentina’s so-called “Dirty War,” living in constant fear of being kidnapped, raped, or tortured to death by a corrupt military. The modifier “constant” is not hyperbolic—this was a fear experienced every day.
Nazario experienced a transformative moment during this period of her life. Standing next to a pool of blood, her mother told her it was the blood of reporters who had told the truth. Staring into the gore is what kindled her passion for journalism.
“I saw the power of words that day. I saw the power of storytelling,” Nazario said. “I wanted to expose the truth.”
In the face of initial struggles at Williams College in Kansas, Nazario graduated despite possessing the reading and writing experience of her peers. She confesses, “I found a slew of obstacles growing up that fueled that toughness I had in my DNA.”
She became the youngest reporter hired at the Wall Street Journal, but wanted to write about social issues afflicting women, children, and Latinos. Nazario found an opportunity for humanistic journalism due to a massive influx of migration into America from 1990 to 2010.
Nazario is mindful of migration issues around the globe, but is particularly concerned with one. “There is a serious problem going on right now with people in Central America fleeing in very dangerous conditions,” Nazario said.
Most of the refugees are fleeing by riding the sides and tops of trains through Mexico to the United States, “a deadly route to take.”
According to Nazario, the danger derives from “the bandits and corrupt cops that wait for potential refugees near the trains, waiting to rape and beat them.”
The majority of the refugees are not men. “More than half are women and children, who are mostly 11 years old or younger.”
She told the story of Enrique, a 12-year-old boy who after “8 attempts, 122 days, and 12,000 total miles” completed the journey. Before arriving, he was “beaten, bloodied, and thrown off the top of the train by gangsters.”
To bring light to the issue Nazario decided to set out on the journey through Mexico herself.
“It was a 1,600 mile, three month-long, seven-train journey filled with armed gangsters, bandits, crooks, tree branches, and shaky train rides.”
Despite having protection, it was “still incredibly deadly and dangerous,” she said.
While the pilgrimage may be full of peril, Nazario says, “Staying behind in their homeland is even more dangerous than embarking on the journey.”
Home life is turbulent in most nations of Central America. “Gangsters control the schools and murder children, and there is a war tax you must pay in order for your kids to go to school.”
“The fact that our borders are so strict doesn’t help the problem at all,” she said. “The [U.S.] government deports these refugees and they’re killed right when they return home; it‘s seriously time for change.” Nazario points out that three of the top five highest homicide rates per country are in Central America.
Regardless of the atrocities occurring in these countries, there is still a glimmer of humanity: people along the train route would throw bundles of food and water to aid the brave refugees.
Nazario also spoke to an elderly woman on her travels who said, “If I had one tortilla, I will give half away. I know God will bring me more.”
More information about Nazario, and her book, “Enrique’s Journey,” can be found at enriquesjourney.com.
Christian Jackson and Andrew Remaly both contributed to this article.