tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS November 12, 2016 4:00pm-4:31pm PST
>> hinojosa: every year, thousands of children from latin america attempt to reach the united states to reunite with their parents. they face gangs, corrupt police, and mercenary human smugglers, and these kids do it all alone. pulitzer prize-winning journalist sonia nazario brings us their stories. i'm maria hinojosa, this is one on one. sonia nazario, welcome to our program. >> it's great to be here. >> hinojosa: you wrote an amazing book called enrique's journey, and this documented the journey of one young boy from honduras who spent 122 days leaving honduras to come and
find his mother in the united states, and he did it all alone. and you spent five years essentially recreating his story and reporting this book. and i have to tell you that the reporting in this book is extraordinary. >> thank you. >> hinojosa: i mean, you actually... you meet this little boy when he's 15 years old on the u.s./mexico border, and what makes you decide to say, "i'm going to tell the story of enrique"? >> well, i wanted to tell more broadly the story of these millions of women who have come to the united states from mexico and central america. you know, around the country, we know these women. they clean our homes, they clean our offices, they take care of our children. among latinos, they are women in our families. they've come here because they face this horrible choice of, "do i stay in my country, not be able to feed my kids more than once a twice a day, not see them study past the third grade, or do i pull myself away from them
and come north so that i can offer them a better life and hope of something better than this grinding misery that they grew up in. >> hinojosa: and you actually say that in this particular case-- the one particular story of enrique-- you actually say that his mom, lourdes, left for the united states out of love. >> i think a lot of these women leave out of love, because a lot of them say, you know... so many of them tell the same story. that at night, they have to fill this big glass with water and put in a little teaspoon of sugar or a little dollop of tortilla dough, because their children are crying at night with hunger, and they have nothing to give them. and so out of love, to be able to feed them, to be able to have their children study, they make this decision that you wouldn't wish on any parent-- of having to leave their children so that their kids can grow up and have a better life. >> hinojosa: and what happens then-- and what i love about your book-- is that you talk so much about kind of the emotional drama that happens when there is
a separation of a family that's coming to the united states, or parts of a family that's coming to the united states. you know, we don't kind of see that. most people just see these women who are working, cleaning, et cetera as just kind of this mass-- often very invisible-- but there's no understanding that there is deep emotion involved in the decisions that they've made about their lives. >> it's terrible for these women. i mean, enrique-- the boy that i write this story through; really, i'm looking at these women who come and then the children who follow them years later and come to the u.s. in search of their mothers-- but his mother lourdes, she grows up really, you know, seeing a handful of photographs of her children. she misses their birthday, she misses christmas day with her children, she misses her daughter's quinceanera, she misses all these milestones, and at the same time, she's taking care of other people's children. she... at times when she comes,
she's taking care of a little girl in beverly hills as a nanny, and she leaves what is a very good job because it's emotional torture for her to take care of this little girl who's so close in age to the boy, enrique, that she's left behind. so it's very difficult and gut wrenching, what these women go through. they leave thinking, "i'm going to be gone one or two years, max," but these separations, because life in the u.s. is so much tougher than they thought it was going to be... i mean, i know this as a child of immigrants, when you talk you back to your home country, you talk about all the good stuff: "i'm making minimum wage, i've got a car, no one in my..." >> hinojosa: "i've got a roof over my head." >> "i've got a roof over my head." what you don't talk about is, "i'm working three jobs and i'm sleeping four or five hours a night, and i'm just... i'm maybe living..." >> hinojosa: and "i'm lonely." >> "i'm lonely; i'm living in a converted garage; i'm trying to pay my bills here, send money to my children, and save $8,000 that you have to pay the smuggler to bring each child north from central america."
so these separations stretch into five or ten years or even more. in the case of enrique, the boy i write about, 11 years he doesn't see his mom. she leaves... he... she leaves when he's five years old... >> hinojosa: and doesn't even say, "goodbye." but the thing that i love about the prologue that you wrote for the book, which is now... well, it won a pulitzer and it's been on the best seller list, and it's required reading for how many colleges freshman year? >> so far, 25 universities and many, many high schools around the country. >> hinojosa: but you start the book with a conversation that you're having with somebody who works in your home. >> yes. >> hinojosa: and i was thinking, "how many women in this country maybe have these women working for them in one capacity, or at least see them around-- whether they're cleaning offices later at night-- but never actually talk? >> well, the wonderful thing about the book is that after people read it, they start to have conversations with women... >> hinojosa: really, you've heard this? >> oh, yes; often times. and for me, it was a
conversation one morning in my kitchen in los angeles. i had a woman, carmen, who would come, she would clean my home a couple of times a month, and she would bring her young son. and i asked her that morning, "carmen, are you planning on having any more kids?" and she was normally just really chatty and happy, and i remember that morning she just started sobbing, and she explained to me that she had four children she had left behind in guatemala in central america. she was a single mom; her husband had left her for another woman, and that most nights she could not... she could feed then once or twice a day. and that morning, she told me that at night, their stomachs would growl with hunger, and she would gently coax them... roll them over in bed at night and tell them, "sleep face down so your stomach doesn't growl so much." >> hinojosa: oh, my god. it's like... it's just... it's like you can feel the tears just coming... if a mom has to say that to these kids. >> and she had not seen these children, she told me that morning, in 12 years. and i remember asking myself,
"what kind of desperation drives a mom to leave her children and go 2,000 miles north, and she doesn't know when or if she's ever going to see these kids again." >> hinojosa: but i'm sure that there are people who are watching who are saying, "they're bad moms," and, "they're bad moms; they should not leave those children, and the fact that they leave those children says that there's something wrong with them." >> and to be truthful, i was judgmental that morning. i said to myself-- and she could hear it in my tone-- "what kind of mother leaves her children?" but when i went back and retraced these women and these children's journeys, and i started in a place like honduras-- and enrique, the boy that i write about, his neighborhood-- the mothers who stay, their children end up working in this dump that's in the middle of the capitol on top of this mountain, and these trucks rumble up to the top, and women and kids fight for position on either side of these trucks. >> hinojosa: let's just remember what we're talking about here. this is garbage. >> this is garbage, and...
>> hinojosa: it's another moment in your book that i just love, because again, as a reporter, the level of detail that you bring into the reporting here. you're with the kids. we kind of see you're describing them as they're kind of walking through the stuff oozing, and if they find a piece of food, they'll eat it. >> they pull it out, and these kids were standing-- because some of these truckloads were coming from a nearby hospital so i don't have to describe what they were standing in-- it was this stinking soup. and above us, there was this swirling black cloud of vultures that were defecating on the people below. this... i've worked for 25 years as a reporter. i've never been in a place that was such an assault on the senses that i could not breathe, and here were these six and seven year old children, working in this place. and so when you see that, and you see children having to drop out at the third grade to help their mothers work just to survive, then you really become a lot less judgmental about why people like carmen leave. >> hinojosa: so people have a hard time visualizing this,
because honestly, until i saw it myself, it's hard to believe that you have dozens upon dozens of people riding on top of trains. >> not only dozens, you have... when i was on top of the trains, 100. the train conductors describe... >> hinojosa: how long were the trains? >> they're 40 or 50 cars. the conductors would describe 300, 400, even 600 people on top of one freight train. they said it looks like a beehive covered with human beings, just to give you a visual image. really... it really brings home the notion of how many people are coming to this country in this way, and they're coming in this country without permission. >> hinojosa: and having to, essentially, ride the trains through mexico because it's free. >> it's free. >> hinojosa: i mean, it's the one way that you can actually get from... once you get to the border of mexico to the north, if you don't have the money to pay for a bus, you ride a train.
>> that's right. and these children that i was writing about, who are coming in this desperate search to find their mothers, often they have no money so the only way they can go is gripping onto the tops and sides of these freight trains that travel up the length of mexico. >> hinojosa: how young was the youngest child who you saw riding these trains? >> i rode with a 12 year old boy who was coming to find his mother in san diego. the youngest the conductors had seen was a seven year old boy. >> hinojosa: oh, my god. >> so i always tell parents in this country, "you wouldn't imagine your child," you know, "walking to school alone at seven or at even 12, and here are these children who, in their desperation and their yearning to be with their moms again, they're crossing four countries a lot of that time... alone, gripping onto the top of a freight train. so it's like a modern-day odyssey that these children go on. >> hinojosa: and they're coming from where? el salvador? >> nicaragua, guatemala, a lot... the majority from honduras who are on the trains, because of all the economic
troubles in honduras of late. >> hinojosa: and the interesting thing is that people often in this country think just of mexico as a country that is sending migrants to the united states. in fact, in these stories that you're telling, these are central american immigrants who are crossing through mexico, and they are not welcome in mexico. >> that's right. >> hinojosa: i mean, these... you have mexicans who are living in southern mexico who look at these migrants from central america and saying, "we don't want them here." >> and in fact, for many latinos who read the book, this has been really the surprise that the mexicans treat these immigrants worse than the americans are treating them! >> hinojosa: they're brutal; the police are brutal... >> they fear them. they're robbed by... there's about a dozen police agencies that target these migrants on top of the train and rob them, and sometimes rape the girls and deport them south. mexico is deporting between 100,000 and 200,000 migrants each year, and really, it's kind of a tit for tat, where they say, "well, we'll hold the line and keep these central americans away from the united states; you treat the mexicans better."
they're saying this to the united states. >> hinojosa: okay, sonia, so... i mean, the notion that you would come home and say to your husband, "hey, i've decided that i'm going to go ride the trains," you know, "south to tell this story." i mean, i've been around the block a little bit, but the notion that you would actually say, "i'm going to do this trip," you were terrified? >> i was terrified at times, but i wanted people to really understand what this journey was like for this boy who leaves after 11 years of not seeing his mother and sets off to go find her with this little scrap of paper with her telephone number on it. and when you see these kids on the trains, oftentimes that's the only thing they have, wrapped in a bit of plastic. they pull it out of the sole of their shoe or the waistband of their jeans where they hide it. and so i met enrique in northern mexico. he had made it that far. he was on his eighth attempt to get through the country. >> hinojosa: there's a section in the book where you basically
say, "first attempt, second attempt, third attempt," and each attempt, we're not talking like, you just cross for a day and then you get back. you're talking about him having made days and days of progress only to get deported by... or hassled or sent... i mean, this is... how... how do they find the wherewithal to do it? i mean, isn't he starving? how does... he doesn't have any money. >> it's just incredible determination. a determination that, i think, americans can't understand, but... >> hinojosa: but many americans are angry about that. you know, they're just like, "we understand the determination, we understand that there are sad children looking for their moms, but we can't have this." >> and in the book, i say that there... you know, i think in the immigration debate, there are these very polarized views, with people screaming on either side of the fence, and i really take more of a middle of the road view. i think it's an issue with a lot of shades of gray; that there are winners and losers in terms of the migrants that are coming
to this country without permission, and so i really do see it as a very complicated issue. but... and so i talk some about that, but my first process was to kind of put people on top of those trains and really show them what this journey is like. and for that... so i spent time with enrique-- a couple of weeks-- in nuevo laredo the in northern mexico. he told me everything he had been through, and i went to honduras where he started, and i did the journey step-by-step, just as he had done it a few weeks before. so i ended up traveling 1,600 miles, and about half of that on top of seven freight trains up the length of mexico. >> hinojosa: now, you are... you're not a small woman. >> no. >> hinojosa: ...so the notion of you riding on top of a train... i mean, what were you... were you holding onto something? and what happens like, when you have to go to the bathroom or you want to eat? i mean, trains don't stop every two hours, right? so... >> no, often they don't stop for 16 or 18 hours... >> hinojosa: are you kidding? >> ...and you learn how long you can go without going to the restroom, but... >> hinojosa: so you actually would be on a train for 16 or 18
hours? >> with no water, no food. in the south, the trains are scorching hot. it's 105 degrees. you can't touch the train, it's so hot. >> hinojosa: so what were you doing? >> well, i was just trying to survive the experience, and i was just trying to see all the nuances and the details of what really is a whole world on top of these freight trains. i wanted readers to feel like they were sitting on top of this train alongside this boy that i was writing about, and really experiencing the cold and the heat and the hunger, and really the joyous moments. and there are many joyous moments along the way. >> hinojosa: okay, well, let's talk about some. >> so i wanted to really show that. but i should say, it took me three months, and... to do the journey the first time. i did it twice. and i had many near misses, and i did come back. i had post-traumatic stress, and i had to go into therapy because i had these nightmares every night that this gangster on top of the train was running after me, trying to rape me. and so i had to really deal with
that. >> hinojosa: so you actually... you were able to have enough distance to realize that you were suffering from post-traumatic shock. >> i had a little bit of that, yes. >> hinojosa: and how much therapy did you have to do? >> about six months of therapy to make those nightmares stop, because i had instances... there are gangsters that control the tops of the trains. this is their turf; they prowl from car to car-- usually ten or 20 of these guys, armed with machetes, knives, wooden bats, sometimes even guns-- and surround migrants and tell them, "your money or your life," and strip them of whatever coins they have, sometimes throw people down to the churning wheels below. you face these bandits alongside the rails, so there... these corrupt cops. the migrants, because they're crossing mexico illegally-- the central americans-- they have to get on and off the trains as they're moving, which is very dangerous, and i'd seen people lose arms and legs to the trains, which is very common. they call it "el tren de la muerte," the train of death. just to give you one example of something that happened to me, i
had spent weeks in immigration detention centers talking to kids in the u.s. "tell me everything bad that can happen everywhere along the way, so hopefully i can avoid it." no one had mentioned these branches that enveloped the tops of the trains in chiapas, in the south of mexico. and it was my first train night, it's pitch dark, and there are maybe 100 migrants on the train, and they're calling back a warning from those nearest the locomotive: "rama," branch. but this train is incredibly loud, and i'm holding on with both hands, because the train bucks like this from side to side, and if you don't hold on, you're not going to make it. this huge branch hit me square in the face, and it sent me sprawling back almost off the car. i grabbed onto the rail on side... >> hinojosa: oh, my god. >> ...and pulled myself back up. and the next day when this train stopped, the two teenagers behind me, they said another teen, he had been swiped off by the same branch. and they didn't know if he's dead or alive, because as these trains move forward, they produce this sucking wind underneath so it pulls you into the wheels. so that was one of many
experiences that i had. >> hinojosa: and several... several near misses of places where horrible things could have happened to you, and unfortunately did happen to other women. but for a second here, let's focus on the acts of kindness. and it so happens that i was in one of the towns where the train passes, and sometimes, you know, the families that i met would say, "well, you know, if we see them and they're very hungry, we'll help them." but what are some of these moments where you're saying, "there is a community here; there is a sense of trying to protect these children or the women." what are some of these random acts of kindness? >> well, there are some... >> hinojosa: uplift us, please! >> there are these wonderful heroes along the way, but particularly in the south central state of veracruz. chiapas, the southernmost state, really, it's the heart of darkness. most of these kids are robbed or beaten several times before they get out of the first of 13 states they have to cross. but in veracruz, where there's a curve in the tracks or for some
reason that train has to slow down, ten, 20, even 30 people rush out of their homes with bundles of food in their arms, and they wave and they smile, and they shout out to these migrants on top of the train. they throw bread, they throw tortillas, they throw whatever fruit is in season-- oranges, pineapples. when i was on the train, they were lobbing bananas up to me. if they don't have any food, they throw bottles of tap water. if they don't have that, they come out and they say a silent prayer for these migrants as they pass by. these mexicans who live on the rails, you know, they make $1.00 or $2.00 a day. they're very poor; they can barely feed their own kids, but they're giving to total strangers from other countries who they're never going to see again, and they say... they told me they did this because it's the christian thing to do. this is the right thing to do; this is what jesus would do if he were in their shoes. and a lot of them has seen the
suffering up close of these migrants. when i was on the train, i was with kids who hadn't eaten in one or two days, and they would cry with gratefulness for receiving this. and i think one of the best parts of this journey for me, i met this woman in veracruz. she claimed to be over 100 years old-- maria-- and she said that during the mexican revolution she had been so hungry that she would eat the bark of a plantain tree in her front yard. and her hands were narled with age, but she would force them to make these little bags with tortillas, a little salsa, a little beans. >> hinojosa: oh, god, you're kidding. >> and when she heard that whistle of the train, she would hand them to her 70 year old daughter who ran down this rocky slope and would hurl these bags up to these migrants on top of the train. maria told me, "if i have one tortilla, i will give half away because i know god will bring me more." >> hinojosa: oh, my gosh. >> it's really amazing to see how people live their faith. >> hinojosa: but it also... the fact that you were a reporter,
you know that at the end of the day or whatever journey-- assuming that you made it-- you could get to a hotel. >> that's right. >> hinojosa: but you... when you were on those trains, you never offered to the migrants. you never said, "i have some water; here, i'll share it with you." you, in fact, stayed completely true, let's just say, in terms of the ethics of journalists, to not become involved whatsoever. and that has to have been really difficult. to see children hungry, wanting a phone to call their mom, and you making the decision that, "i'm not even going to tell this kid that i've got a cell phone in my pocket and i could call his mom right now." >> well... and i think of all the things i went through, that was the most difficult, because every day, 20 or 30 people would come up to me-- migrants, including children-- and ask for my help. and as a journalist, i think it's important to explain to the public why we don't help unless someone is in imminent danger, and then you help them, but you
then can't use anything after that for your story. but as a journalist, you're trying to report reality, and if you help someone and then report about it, you've changed reality. so that's dishonest-- it's thought to be a dishonest way to go about our profession. >> hinojosa: did that partly also influence the fact that you needed to do a little bit of therapy? the fact that you... >> oh, absolutely. i think that... >> hinojosa: ...you could have helped, and you just didn't. >> well, i did help when i felt, in a few instances, that people were in imminent danger. for example, there was a girl i interviewed who had been gang-raped along a river in oaxaca in mexico, and she was in jail and i was interviewing her in her jail cell, and across the way... >> hinojosa: why was she... she was in... >> she was about to be deported. >> hinojosa: but she had been gang raped... >> yes. >> hinojosa: ...and she's in jail. >> she's in jail and she'but shd the two who had gang raped her, and they were in the cell across the way from her. >> hinojosa: oh, my god. >> and they were screaming over it to her and me, "when we all get deported, our gang controls that town on the other side of
the border in guatemala. we're going to finish you off." >> hinojosa: oh, my god! >> and so i made sure with the authorities that she was not deported to that town. i felt her life was in imminent danger. and so there were many cases like that where i did intervene, but when people were miserable but not in imminent danger i watched that play out, because when you're on the front lines and you see those things happen, it's often the most powerful way to convey that story to the american public, and i think that that's a very important thing to do. this has really sparked in many universities around the country different conversations about immigrants and immigration, and i think... and that's what i would explain to migrants. "i can't help you, but this is why i think it's important to tell your story." >> hinojosa: so when you were working on the... when you were working on this book you were based at the l.a. times. you're now writing books full time. congratulations. >> thank you. >> hinojosa: but this notion of writing a book, getting that kind of time from your bosses at
a newspaper to do this kind of research... >> two years. >> hinojosa: okay. could it happen now? >> no. >> hinojosa: we do not... you do not believe that we have the state of american journalism that basically will say to an investigative reporter, "go and do your work; we need to hear this story." >> i think the problem is that as readers have moved to the internet, the ads there pay a tenth of what they pay in print newspapers, and so there isn't the revenue of money to pay for a large staff of reporters who can go out there and tell stories deeply. there's still some of that, and we're seeing some nonprofits arise that are hiring reporters to do that, but it's a much smaller number that was available before. and so people have told me this story-- it won two pulitzer prizes for feature writing and for photography-- would not run in the l.a. times today. the l.a. times has seen its staff cut from about 1,400 to about 600 in editorial, and when you get down into those numbers, you just can't cut someone loose for two years to tell kind of an
epic story like this. >> hinojosa: i know everybody wants to know, so please update us. what is the status of enrique? how's he doing? how's his mom? give us the update. >> well, enrique finally reaches his mother after eight attempts, 122 days, 12,000 miles. there's a brief honeymoon, and then the resentment comes out, and he has a period where he's very tough on his mom. and then he has a period where he's doing better. he works as a painter in florida now. he's near his mom. he goes to her every morning; she gives him a big hug and gives him his morning cup of coffee, and they really love each other a lot. but when he was a child and without his mother, because of that loneliness and that ache, he got into drugs, and he has lapsed off and on back into those bad habits. so it's been up and down, really. >> hinojosa: like the story of most migrants, right? >> yes. >> hinojosa: sonia nazario, thank you for telling enrique's story, and all of the other unnamed children. thank you for being here with us today. >> thank you, maria.
- [voiceover] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy. and by klru's producers circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community. - i'm evan smith. she's a grammy award winning singer-songwriter whose latest album, a collaboration with fellow grammy award winner steve earle is called, appropriately enough, colvin and earle. she's shawn colvin. this is overheard. (piano music)