With Enrique's story, I felt it was important to show what is pushing people out of their countries and what children are willing to do to make this journey to America, especially during this time of the greatest hostility toward immigrants since the Great Depression. Enrique is deeply flawed, and I think that fact helps those opposed to immigration accept his story as truth. But also I think people connect with the story because of the way in which it is told—in the first person. I always hope to educate people about the biggest issues of our time in a compelling, engaging way. I want to grab them by the throat and take them on a ride, take them inside a world they might not otherwise see, and educate them about that world. This kind of immersive, non-fiction storytelling not only engages readers, but also brings about change. Stories that help us better understand our reality spur us to want to improve our world.
What were some of the ethical dilemmas you faced as a writer and reporter while researching and telling Enrique's story?
I lived in near constant danger of being beaten, raped, or robbed. All along the way, I encountered gangsters, bandits, and corrupt police officers. Despite everything, the hardest part was having migrants ask me, each day, for help—money or food. Since I was there as a journalist, unless a migrant I encountered was in imminent danger, I had to tell them I couldn't help. That was by far the hardest part of this journey.
Reporters often witness subjects in distress when they report stories. Whether the suffering is due to a civil war, an environmental disaster, poverty, or crime, a journalist’s job is to stay on the sidelines and report what he or she sees. We are not supposed to change reality and then report on the reality we have altered; that is considered dishonest to readers.
You've traveled the US to tell this story, and heard from many people who have been inspired to action after reading this book. Can you share some of those stories, or do you have any tips for students or educators who want to stand up and take action?
The story Enrique—of one boy—has gotten students to act and try to improve conditions. They have built schools in Mexico and Central America, water systems, homes for single mothers. A high school in California raised $9,000 selling cookies and used the money to provide a microloan to women in Guatemala so she could expand her coffee growing business and hire more workers so fewer women would have to leave for the north. In classrooms, schools, and communities young people are having conversations around an immigration solution focused on addressing the exodus at the source—a solution that would help create change in countries where violence, corruption, and bad governance are pushing people to leave. Students have confirmed my unshakable belief that with knowledge, people can change perspective and act to make things better.
You can find more ways to help on my website.
What changes in readers or in the world do you hope the book will continue to contribute to?
I hope the book opens readers' eyes to the living history of Honduras and the evolving story of all immigrants from Central America. I hope readers become educated and involved in politics so there are more people arguing for increased US financial support for Central America and better treatment of unaccompanied minors being held in immigration detention centers. I hope that readers who have anti-immigrant ideas at least become more open and tolerant of their immigrant neighbors and co-workers.