This episode of Access Utah is part of the “Democracy and the Informed Citizen” Initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils in partnership with the Pulitzer Prizes Board for a collaboration between UPR, Utah Humanities, and The Salt Lake City Library. The initiative seeks to deepen the public’s knowledge and appreciation of the vital connections between democracy, the humanities, journalism, and an informed citizenry. The initiative is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Sonia Nazario is author of the book “Enrique’s Journey,” based on her Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series. The book recounts the quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers. “Enrique’s Journey” is now required reading at hundreds of high schools and colleges across the country.
Nazario was born to Argentinian parents in the United States, but after her father died she moved with her mother to Argentina. She says “I’ve always felt like I didn’t quite belong in either place. Because of that, I’ve always wanted to tell the immigrant story.” Nazario was inspired to become a journalist after experiencing the repression of the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, which “disappeared” thousands of people. She notes that “the goal of the military was to keep society ignorant and that meant going after the educators, the journalists and others.”
Nazario says of the thousands who have fled the violence in their homelands in Central America and attempted to journey to the United States in recent years: “They are often tortured and held for ransom. The survivors tell of being enslaved working in marijuana fields or forced into prostitution. Many are killed — sometimes they have organs harvested — in what’s become an invisible, silent slaughter. … [Migrants] have become prey to an exploding number of criminals and the police who rob, rape, beat and kill them.”
In 2014, as a national crisis erupted over the detention of unaccompanied immigrant children at the border, Nazario returned to Honduras to report on the situation for The New York Times and later testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. She devoted months to raising awareness of the situation and recruiting attorneys to provide pro-bono representation of the unaccompanied minors. Nazario received numerous awards for that humanitarian work, including the 2016 American Heritage Award from the American Immigration Council and the 2016 National Peacemaker Award from the Houston Peace & Justice Center.
Sonia Nazario is a graduate of Williams College and has a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She has honorary doctorates from Mount St. Mary’s College and Whittier College. She began her career at the Wall Street Journal, and later joined the Los Angeles Times. She serves on the board of Kids In Need of Defense, a non-profit launched by Microsoft and Angelina Jolie to provide pro-bono attorneys to unaccompanied immigrant children.
Sonia Nazario was in Utah recently to give a presentation for the Tanner Center for Human Rights Forum, and Center for Research on Migration & Refugee Integration Annual Research Symposium 2018: Human Rights: Young Migrants and Refugees, at the University of Utah.