Tens of thousands of children travel alone from Central America and Mexico each year, many of them seeking the mothers who went to the U.S. before them. The epic journey many of these children make is part of a vast migration of women and children who are coming to and changing the United States.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning "Enrique's Journey," published as a series of stories in the Los Angeles Times in 2002, began when Enrique was 5. His mother, Lourdes, left Honduras to work in the U.S. The move allowed her to send money home to Enrique and his sister so they could eat better and go to school. Lourdes promised Enrique she would return quickly. But she struggled in America and had another child. Years passed. Without her, he became lonely, troubled and addicted to sniffing glue.
After 11 years apart, Enrique set off alone from Tegucigalpa with little more than a slip of paper bearing his mother's North Carolina telephone number. Without money, he made the dangerous and illegal trek up the length of Mexico the only way he could—clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains.
On his eighth attempt, at age 17 and after more than 12,000 miles and 122 days, Enrique joyfully arrived at his mother's doorstep, sure that her love would overcome the pain of years apart. Soon after, however, his girlfriend in Honduras called. She was pregnant with Enrique's child. On Nov. 2, 2000, she gave birth to Katerin Jasmín. In reaching his mother, Enrique had walked away from his own baby girl.
This is an adapted excerpt from writer Sonia Nazario's new book. As in The Times series, the last names of the primary characters are not used.
Enrique knows he does not hate his mother. But with each passing day, his resentment grows. After months with her, he can no longer contain it. He tells Lourdes that she didn't care enough about her children to stay with them in Honduras. Did she think sending money could substitute for having his mother at his side? Or quell the loneliness he felt being moved from one relative to the next? "Money doesn't solve anything," he tells her.
He berates Lourdes for leaving him with a father she knew was irresponsible. Why didn't she put him with her own family, who cared for his sister Belky? Why didn't she send enough money, so that he wasn't forced to sell spices from the age of 10? Why did she send Belky so much more, to cover tuition at a private school her aunt sent her to?
He tells her he wanted to study; he just didn't want to beg his mother for the money. Enrique tells Lourdes her biggest mistake was getting pregnant a year after arriving in the United States. "You shouldn't have gotten pregnant until you knew your existing kids were OK," he says.
Why did she continually promise to return for Christmas and then never show up? Once she knew he was in trouble sniffing glue, he asks her, how could she stay away? "You left me, abandoned me," he tells her. "You forgot about me." Nothing, he tells her, was gained by their long separation.
"People come here to prosper. You have nothing here. What have you accomplished?" If she had stayed in Honduras, he would have turned out better. "I wouldn't be this way if I had had two parents."
A true mother, he tells Lourdes, isn't the person who carries you in her womb. It is someone who raises and nurtures you. "My mother is my grandmother María," he says. "You long ago lost the right to tell me what to do."
Then Enrique lands the most hurtful blow. He tells Lourdes he plans to leave her and return to Honduras in two years. "I'm not going to do the same as you—stay here all my life."
Lourdes expected Enrique to love her like the 5-year-old who had clung to her in Honduras. She cries herself to sleep at night. She has been a good person, a good mother. Why is God punishing her?
She must show Enrique he is terribly mistaken. "What about the money I sent you?" she says. "I have witnesses!"
Lourdes lived in poverty to send as much as possible to her children. For the first time, she tells Enrique about the struggles she endured during their years apart: "I killed myself trying to help you."
"You are what you are because you didn't want to study," Lourdes says. "It's not my fault. I wanted you to study. You preferred to be on drugs." He should thank her for giving him life, Lourdes says. That alone gives her the right to give him advice and discipline. Lourdes thinks about how her own mother couldn't provide enough food for her children, how she could hate her too.
"My mother is sacred to me. I thank her for the little she did for us," Lourdes says. Enrique is harboring "a silly resentment," she tells him. She didn't forget him. Why can't she get him to reason? He's an ungrateful brat. Lourdes predicts: "God is going to punish you." Someday, she tells him, your daughter will treat you the way you now treat me.
Enrique drinks more and more beer. Their fights are often sparked by Lourdes' advice: Don't drink and drive. Control your vices. Be more frugal. You can't spend $1,000 as if it were $10.
"Mira, hijo. Look, son," she begins.
Enrique cuts her off. "All you do is yap, yap, yap! You keep sticking your nose into things that are none of your business!" he tells her. She treats him as if he were still the young child she left behind. Didn't he fend for himself growing up? Didn't he hop freight trains across Mexico? "Shut up. Leave me in peace!" he yells. Friends worry. They hear hatred in his voice.
Enrique loves to contradict his mother, to set her off, even when he knows that she is right. He talks over her. He leaves beer cans on the front lawn. He tells Lourdes he's going out, then refuses to tell her where.
Enrique makes Lourdes mad—and guilty. She cooks his dinners. She packs his lunch. She washes his clothes. She drops off his car and insurance payments. She lends Enrique $20 here and there—more if he needs it. Would he have turned out different, she asks herself repeatedly, if she hadn't left him?
For Enrique, alcohol is an escape from the fights. Almost all of the men on his paint crew, depressed to be away from home, are big drinkers. In the United States, beer is cheap, unlike in Honduras. Enrique sucks down 10 beers on weeknights, often with friends in front of the house. He goes to bed at midnight or 1 a.m., getting up at 6 a.m. for work. On Saturday, the drinking begins at 4 p.m. Enrique and a housemate can down 48 beers together. Sometimes they head to work without sleeping.
Enrique is breaking his promise to leave his addictions behind once he crossed into the United States. But he feels abnormal if he isn't high. At least he's not sniffing glue. Going out to drink gets him out of the trailer, where nine people live and Enrique must sleep on the living room sofa. It also gets him away from Lourdes.
On Thursday through Sunday nights, he goes to a local bar. Sometimes, Enrique and his friends splurge at a topless bar. Twenty dollars buys an invitation to a smaller room, where a dancer brushes her breasts against the men's faces. A lap dance is more. Enrique usually spends $150 each visit. One night he invites his friends to this bar, and he pays for everything. He blows $300.
When he has money for drinks and marijuana, Enrique is calm and quiet. Otherwise, he gets testy. Sometimes he doesn't have enough money to send his daughter or pay Lourdes his share of the bills. Four months after Enrique arrives in the United States, his work hours get cut. He decides to accompany a painter on his crew to find temporary jobs in South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. Even on the road, living out of motel rooms, he telephones his girlfriend, María Isabel, in Honduras each Sunday.
When she answers, she is so overcome with emotion that she cannot speak. Enrique talks for one or two hours. María Isabel cries and cries.
"María Isabel, say something, anything," Enrique pleads.
"I miss you. I love you. Don't forget me," she says.
He sends her $100 or more each month. He vows he will be back in Honduras within two years.
Eventually, María Isabel tells him of some of the problems she, too, is having. Enrique's family constantly criticizes her. María Isabel lives next door to Enrique's grandmother, sister and three aunts at her Aunt Gloria's house. When she was eight months' pregnant, one of Enrique's uncles insinuated that the baby didn't belong to Enrique.
HondurasThe criticism of María Isabel by Enrique's family builds. Gloria's grandchildren play next door. They return and repeat everything they've overheard Enrique's family say about María Isabel.
Jasmín, they say, is dirty and ill cared for. The girl loves to play in the mud behind Gloria's house. María Isabel changes her clothes several times a day. Still, in Gloria's disheveled home, where the back door is left open to the muddy yard, her efforts are futile.
Enrique's sister says Jasmín is barefoot, badly dressed, her hair uncombed. She is skinny and pale and often has a cough. Why, Enrique's family asks, did María Isabel stop breast-feeding her after six months?
María Isabel cooks, cleans, does errands and makes purchases for Gloria's store. She walks one of Gloria's grandchildren to kindergarten. She helps care for the four children in the house while Gloria tends to customers. Belky understands María Isabel's dilemma. She, too, has always lived as a guest in someone else's home, feeling pressure to make herself useful.
Still, concerned about Jasmín, Belky hounds María Isabel: "Why is the girl all dirty? You need to take better care of her." Sometimes María Isabel doesn't respond. Other times, she bristles: "No, I take care of my girl." Should she have to explain that her breasts stopped giving milk? If the women next door are so concerned about Enrique's interests, why did some of them treat him like a dog, she wonders, when he lived in their home?
The women next door have another reproach: María Isabel is misspending the money, $100 to $150 a month, that Enrique sends his daughter.
María Isabel spends most of the money on Jasmín. She also gives $15 a month to Gloria. She buys Gloria fruit, milk and chicken. She gives Gloria's daughters pocket change. She sends $10 across town to her mother to help her buy heart and asthma medicine. To the women next door, María Isabel is showering money on her family that belongs to Enrique's child.
Enrique's Aunt Mirian vigilantly watches when María Isabel goes shopping, whom she goes with, how many bags they have when they return. Mirian, a hairstylist, hears that María Isabel has bought hair dye for herself and Gloria's daughters. Mirian is livid; she is so broke that she can barely buy used clothes for her three children.
When she visits Gloria's house, she sees a can of Jasmín's powdered milk spilled on the floor. Gloria's grandchildren are racing around with fistfuls of white powder in their hands. Another day, Mirian scolds María Isabel for paying $150 for a chest of drawers to store Jasmín's clothes. "You were a fool to buy such an expensive piece of furniture."
María Isabel seethes. She says nothing. She is grateful for what Enrique sends. Still, most of the money pays for diapers, clothes, medicine and food for his daughter. Powdered milk alone costs $20 a month. María Isabel has spent most of her life deprived of decent clothing. Can't she buy a dress or splurge $2.50 to get her hair dyed? She cannot live with her Aunt Gloria, who is in financial distress, without helping.
Mirian, a single mother, is desperate for money. As each of her three children begins elementary school, Mirian's costs rise. They need books, supplies and $1.50 a day for lunch at school.
"Enrique doesn't send me a dime!" she moans. She remembers changing Enrique's diapers, and how later, when he was a teen, she looked out for him. Now, when she is in dire need, Enrique's money flows to the girl next door.
When Jasmín turns 8 months old, Mirian mails Enrique a letter: Your daughter isn't being well cared for, she writes. María Isabel is misspending your money. Enrique asks Mirian to keep an eye on Jasmín. On the phone, he also chides María Isabel: "If you don't take good care of that girl, I will come to Honduras and take her away from you!"
María Isabel's voice stiffens. "No one takes my daughter away from me."
Gloria is fed up with the digs at María Isabel, how Enrique's family tries to control her. After one clash, Gloria curses and tells Enrique's family to mind their own business. Then she offers up Jasmín. "Here she is. Take her! You can raise her. Let Enrique send money to you," she says. "If the dollars are causing you to make all these allegations, keep the damn dollars!"
For months, the families don't speak. But Gloria's grandchildren hear the women next door say they think María Isabel is having an affair. María Isabel is enraged; they are sullying one of the few things she has—her honor.
Enrique has a short lull in work; he stops sending money. María Isabel finds a job sanding chairs at a small furniture factory for $35 a week.
United StatesEnrique calls María Isabel less often—every two weeks, then every month. He tells her he wants to bring her to the United States in a year.
But he hasn't saved any money for a smuggler. It has been 22 months since Enrique left Honduras. He has never returned to his low: sniffing glue. Now, a few days before Christmas, beer and marijuana are no longer enough. He ends the workday by pouring a little paint thinner into an empty Pepsi can. He brings it home. The thinner doesn't give him as good a high as Honduran glue, but it's handy.
During the holidays, his family and others who share the trailer move into a newer three-bedroom duplex. It has a big kitchen and a living room. Still, the home is crowded. There is little room for Enrique to hide his growing habit. Twice in two weeks Lourdes has seen her son hold a smelly handkerchief over his nose. She never steps inside Enrique's bedroom. One morning, concerned that he hasn't gotten up for work, she walks in. She smells something funny, like paint.
"What are you using?" she demands.
For a few days, Enrique stays cooped up in his bedroom, listening to reggaetón music. One night, he decides to go out. He walks through the living room toward the front door.
He is hiding something under his arm. "What do you have there? Show me," Lourdes says from the living room sofa.
"None of your business."
Enrique tries to brush past her. Lourdes jumps up and grabs Enrique by the shirt. She smells paint thinner. She has asked friends some questions. Now she knows what the smell means. Enrique shakes himself loose.
Lourdes' words tumble out. She doesn't care that her boyfriend and three of his relatives are in the living room, listening. "You're broken, ruined. A drug addict! Why did you even come here? To finish screwing yourself up?"
"You're a disgrace. Get your act together! Instead of seeing you this way, I wish God would take you from me!" Lourdes says. If you keep sniffing thinner, Lourdes tells him, you have to move out. She must think of her American-born daughter she is raising.
Enrique peels out of the gravel driveway in his car.
Lourdes is despondent. She worries that he will kill himself driving recklessly. For the first time in her life, Lourdes feels as though she wants to die. Maybe if she were gone, she tells herself, Enrique would know what it's truly like not to have a mother. That night, Enrique realizes that his body cannot withstand the thinner. Each time he inhales it, the left side of his head, where he took a beating on top of a train, aches badly. His left eyelid, which still droops slightly from the assault, pulses and twitches. He has excruciating pain when he turns his head.
He stops sniffing. He's not doing it because his mother wants him to. He is doing it for himself. He focuses on his old habit, drinking.
HondurasLife in Gloria's house has turned tense. María Isabel had moved in because it was less crowded than her mother's hut. Now 12 people crowd Gloria's two-bedroom place. Gloria's store has gone bust. The only one in the house with a job is Gloria's husband, who makes $125 a month. Her salary plus what Enrique sends isn't enough for María Isabel to support two households, Gloria's and her mother's.
She has to get away from Enrique's sister and aunts. Slowly, she has come to hate them. "I can't take it anymore," she tells Gloria.
She'll return to her mother's primitive hut, she decides. She arranges for Enrique to send money for his daughter directly to her instead of through his family. She does not tell Enrique's family where she can be reached.
María Isabel's mother, Eva, lives in a hut perched on a mountainside. The road up to Eva's is so steep that many cars can't get up it. A narrow mud and clay trail zigzags upward. María Isabel must use the roots of a large rubber tree to step up to her mother's tiny wooden hut. Nine people sleep inside. There has been one improvement since she left six years before: A relative built a small cinder-block house next door. It has a bathroom, which María Isabel's family can use. María Isabel's family, among the poorest in the neighborhood, eats twice a day. All that has kept disaster away has been María Isabel's oldest sister, who sends money from Texas, where she lives. Still, María Isabel's life gets better.
Six days a week at 11 a.m., María Isabel sets out for her new job at a children's clothing store at the Mall Multiplaza downtown.
She gets home at 10 p.m. The job pays $120 a month. Jasmín, now 1 , puts on weight. Both María's Isabel's mother and her younger sister care for her while María Isabel works. Jasmín plays with her six dolls, giving them baths in an outdoor concrete trough the family uses to hold water. She brushes the dolls' hair. She chases her grandmother's black-and-white chicks, making them scurry across the kitchen floor. When Jasmín gets hungry, Eva scrambles her eggs with black beans. She changes her whenever she gets dirty. Each day, the girl reminds María Isabel more and more of her father. Like Enrique, she stands slightly knock-kneed, her pelvis thrust out, her bottom tucked under. She has his deep, raspy voice. Like Enrique and Lourdes, she is testy, a stubborn fighter who stands her ground.
When she turns 2, María Isabel takes Jasmín to talk to her father on the telephone. Jasmín loves to accompany her mother downtown on Sundays to the Axdi-Cell Internet, where they can dial Enrique more cheaply. María Isabel knows his number by heart. She sits before the gray computer, and Jasmín stands between her legs. "Mom, pass the phone," Jasmín demands, reaching for the computer headset. "I love you, Enrique," she says. Then: "When are you coming here?" Jasmín returns to her grandmother's and proudly announces, "I spoke with my daddy, Enrique."
Often the things Jasmín tells her father are lines that María Isabel prods her to say. It doesn't matter, says her grandmother. "They are strangers," says Eva. "But they are blood."
United StatesWith his third New Year in the United States, Enrique makes a resolution: He can no longer wallow in what happened in the past. He must live in the present—and for the future. He's not hurting Lourdes as much as he is hurting himself. Drinking so much alcohol makes his stomach ache constantly. He wants to look better when María Isabel comes to the United States.
Most important, he has to be more responsible for Jasmín. He can't have her grow up worrying about money as he did. He wants her to study. If he doesn't change, he will repeat his mother's mistake; time will slip by, and Jasmín will grow up without him. He must save $50,000 as quickly as possible to buy a house and start a business in Honduras.
Enrique starts working seven days a week. Bit by bit, he cuts back on beer and marijuana. When friends call on his cellphone, beckoning him to party, he tells them that he's not interested anymore.
He stops playing loud music and slamming doors. When he burps, he excuses himself. He eats dinner with Lourdes. On Saturday nights, they watch the Spanish-language show "Sábado Gigante" together, as they did when he first arrived. He tells friends he'll quit beer and drugs altogether when María Isabel is at his side. He hopes to bring her next year, get married.
HondurasMaría Isabel's life has just gotten better. A relative who lives in the cinder-block house next door moves out. María Isabel and her family move in temporarily. They raze their old wood hut. María Isabel's brother begins to construct a cinder-block home of their own.
Still, the relative's home isn't a vast improvement. The tin roof is held down with large rocks. A torn sheet offers privacy in the bathroom, which has no door. Occasionally, a mouse climbs up the gray walls. But it has two small bedrooms. Now María Isabel shares a full-size bed with only her mother, sister and Jasmín. In the hallway, which doubles as a living room and kitchen, Eva celebrates how far they've come. She proudly hangs four elementary school diplomas her children have earned, including María Isabel's.
María Isabel's relationship with Enrique is coming unglued. Enrique used to send her money monthly. But in the year and a half since María Isabel has returned to live with her mother, Enrique has wired money only four times, usually between $150 and $180.
Enrique is struggling financially. Fixed costs eat up more than half of the $2,400 to $2,600 a month he makes. He's had to pay two police tickets for speeding and driving with an open can of beer. Sometimes, when work is slow, Lourdes has to loan him money for his truck payment.
María Isabel knows none of this. She wonders if Enrique sends his daughter less money because he is spending it on another girlfriend. Aunt Gloria warns María Isabel: I know you adore Enrique, but don't grow old waiting for him. If he doesn't send for you or return to Honduras soon, find someone else before you lose your looks.
María Isabel has heard that Enrique drinks too much beer. Now that he is far away, all she has is his word that he is clean. Right after Enrique left, she felt desperate to be with him again. Over time, she has matured, changed. Now her life revolves around her daughter.
"I love him," she says, "but not like before."
Equally troubling: Enrique calls less frequently. When she first moved back to Eva's, María Isabel and Enrique spoke every other week. Now they go two months without speaking. Enrique no longer talks of returning to Honduras. He tells her he likes the comforts of the United States. He hints that he wants her to come north soon. Yet the more attached María Isabel becomes to Jasmín, the more she resists leaving her.
United StatesLourdes' apartment is more crowded than ever. Enrique, fastidiously neat, doesn't like how dirty the place gets with so many people. He yearns for privacy. He wants a room away from his mother and their constant fights.
He moves out and rents a bedroom in a trailer he shares with two Mexican couples. They have four young children. Inside his bedroom, Enrique tapes two pictures of his daughter to his armoire mirror, one of her in a blue-and-white dress, another in a red-and-white dress. Two more framed pictures of her are on the shelf by his bed.
He didn't like school. He worries: Will she be the same?
Enrique loves sweets; whenever he buys some, he thinks of buying candy for Jasmín. Nearly every day he sees things she might like. He tells himself he would buy them for her if she were there. He talks about her constantly to his friends. His happiest moments are when María Isabel puts Jasmín on the line. "Te quiero, papi," Jasmín says. "I love you, Daddy." He knows María Isabel prompts Jasmín to say nice things to him. He doesn't care. In the end, she'll understand what's what.
"I'm your daddy. Do you love your daddy?" Enrique asks.
"Yes, I love you."
She asks for things. "Papi, I want a piñata! One with candy inside!"
"I think she'll love me when she sees me," he tells himself.
HondurasNow that Jasmín is 3, she and her mother are inseparable. At night, they sleep in the same bed. In the morning, before work, María Isabel bathes her daughter with buckets of water and plaits her hair into two braids. When María Isabel heads to work, Jasmín is in tears. "Mami! Mami!" she cries.
Barefoot, she scrambles down the ravine after her mother. Her grandmother dashes after her and grabs her. "Ya vuelvo. I'll be right back," María Isabel calls up the hill as she walks away.
At night, when María Isabel climbs back up the hill, Jasmín runs to her. She sits on her lap, her hands draped around her mother's neck. They rub noses. They play patty-cake. María Isabel asks Jasmín to count to 10. With each number, she hoists her girl up in the air, then down. "Oh, you're getting so heavy!" Jasmín grabs her mother's hair, her ears. She squeals with delight.
María Isabel climbs into bed with her daughter. Jasmín holds a bottle of milk with her left hand. With the right hand, she rubs her mother's belly. It is a ritual. She cannot fall asleep without stroking her mother's belly. Slowly, as she sucks on the milk, Jasmín loses her grip on the bottle. Her eyes flutter. María Isabel rolls her over and rubs Jasmín's back until the girl falls asleep.
She can no longer imagine leaving her daughter. She has to tell Enrique.
At most, she might leave Jasmín when she is old enough to understand what is happening. "She would have to be at least 5 years old for me to leave her. Then, at least, I could try to explain it to her," María Isabel tells her family. Not a day before, she says firmly.
It is the same age Enrique was when his mother left.
Some of her friends tell her she is a fool not to follow Enrique to the United States. She is young, but women over the age of 28 are no longer considered for many jobs in Honduras, something made clear in employment ads.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused many Honduran businesses to go under. Unemployment and subemployment combined now affect 43% of Hondurans. Government jobs go to people with good connections. Most of María Isabel's neighbors have no work. They survive because someone in the family has gone north and sends money. The children of single mothers suffer most.
When María Isabel sees couples with their children, it saddens her. Jasmín, she knows, needs her father. Jasmín has taken to calling the only man in Eva's house, her 27-year-old uncle Miguel, papi. With Enrique, Jasmín has to be coached to talk. With Miguel, words of affection come naturally.
Enrique senses that his daughter regards someone else as her father. Late in the year, as Christmas approaches, he promises to come visit.
María Isabel sees even more reasons to stay in Honduras with her daughter. Newspapers carry a stream of accounts of people injured or killed during the trek north. María Isabel's sister Irma tried to make it to the United States but ran out of money in Mexico and had to turn back. So did one of her brothers. María Isabel asks one of her sisters about her trip. She tells her she was often hungry. María Isabel asks if she was raped. The sister doesn't answer.
She'd have to live illegally in the United States, always fearful of being caught and deported. She would be treated as inferior. Her mother emphasizes that the United States is a cold place, where neighbors barely know one another. She doesn't want to miss all the important moments in Jasmín's life. Soon, when she turns 4, Jasmín will attend her first day of kindergarten. María Isabel has heard how mothers who leave lose the love of their children.
María Isabel devises a plan to stay. If she doesn't have more children and she works hard, she can give her daughter a shot at a good education. "I'm not leaving without Jasmín," she tells Gloria.
United StatesAfter another fight, and for the third time since he arrived, Enrique accuses Lourdes of abandoning him in Honduras. He chastises her for not wanting to return to Honduras. Lourdes believes that Enrique's comments reveal a fear: If he goes back to Central America, his mother will not follow him. They will once again live apart.
Lourdes' boyfriend tries to soothe the sadness he sees in her.
"Mira, honey," he says, "tome la distancia. Look, honey, put some distance between you." You're both equally stubborn. Neither of you likes to be told that you are wrong. You have to control your anger when Enrique baits you.
If Enrique does something she doesn't like, Lourdes ignores it. She still cooks his dinner but no longer serves him his food or does his laundry.
With the new year, Lourdes, her boyfriend and their relatives decide to leave North Carolina, where jobs are scarce. They move to Florida, where a cousin of Lourdes' boyfriend gets everyone painting jobs. Eight people cram into a small two-bedroom apartment. Enrique sleeps on the living room sofa. He hates it. He misses his friends in North Carolina. He has to get up before dawn to be painting by 6:30 a.m.
As Enrique mulls leaving, he becomes more loving with his mother. He hugs and kisses her often. At last he decides to go back to North Carolina.
Lourdes and her boyfriend can finally afford their own apartment. She'd like to open a paint store with him someday, maybe buy a double-wide trailer. Mostly she prays for an amnesty for immigrants so she can become legal and bring her daughter Belky to the United States.
"I ask God to give me this before I die." She begins to sob. "Is that so much to ask of God? I don't ask God for riches. Or other things."
Enrique focuses on working, on saving money, on cutting down even more on drinking and drugs. He'll need $5,000 for a smuggler to bring his girlfriend north. He gently tries to persuade María Isabel to commit to the move. "María Isabel, you know I am very good to you. I give you everything," he tells her on the telephone. He loves her. He misses her serene, calm nature, how she would cry and giggle, how simple she is. He misses holding her hand.
He resolves to call her and ask point-blank: Are you coming or not?
He knows María Isabel has been stalling, that she is anxious about leaving Jasmín. Yet the sooner María Isabel comes, the easier it will be for both of them to save money and return to Honduras. The sooner he will see his daughter. He is resolved to be with her by the time she is 5, 6 at the latest.
If not, Jasmín won't embrace him as her father. He'll go back to Honduras when she is 6, even if it is for a brief visit and he has to make his way back through Mexico illegally again. "I need to see her. To be with her."
As time passes, Enrique sees other things with equal clarity. He knows now that his mother will never apologize for leaving him. He tries to put the love he has always felt for Lourdes above his resentment. For the first time, he gives his mother a gift: $100 for her birthday.
Enrique and Lourdes start to call each other two or three times a week to talk. Enrique has long called his mother señora. Now, he says, "Ma." With each call, he is more loving.
"Tan bonita mi mami, la quiero mucho. My beautiful mother, I love you so much," he says.
Lourdes teases, "Mentiroso viejo! You old liar!"
He even makes plans to move back to Florida from North Carolina. He does not want to live apart from his mother anymore. Lourdes is sure that God is answering one of her prayers: that Enrique straighten up, stop drinking and no longer feel so bitter toward her. "It's like a miracle," she says. It's as if all the hurt he felt inside had to come out and now he is ready to move on. She feels the same warmth and love from Enrique as when he first arrived on her doorstep in North Carolina. "He always wanted to be with me," she says.
The Girl Left BehindIt is spring 2004. Enrique has been gone for four years. Enrique and María Isabel have not spoken for four months, since last Christmas. He finally has enough money to pay for her smuggler. Enrique calls his sister Belky. Go find María Isabel, he tells her. María Isabel dials from the Internet store.
"Why don't you call me?" he asks. She says that she doesn't have anything to talk about.
"Are you ready to come?" he asks.
María Isabel tells herself he is joking. Even if he's serious, she can't leave for at least another year, until Jasmín is 5. She promised.
You must make a decision, Enrique says. Now. If not, he will remake his life, find someone else.
"I don't want to leave," she tells him.
Enrique cajoles. I've changed, he tells her. I drink, but just a little now. I don't use glue. She doesn't budge.
If you come, he tells her, it will be the best thing for Jasmín. Together, we'll provide her a better life. We'll both be able to return to her sooner.
Now she is listening. "I'll think about it."
Her answer fills Enrique with hope. He starts calling María Isabel constantly. I need you, he says. You're the mother of my child. You're the only one I want to marry.
Day and night, María Isabel turns it over in her mind. If she stays and marries, her husband would never treat Jasmín as if she were his own.
María Isabel decides: In the long run, leaving will help Jasmín. Eventually, she will be with her real mother and father, everyone together. She strikes a deal with Enrique: Jasmín will live with Belky but spend weekends with her mother. "I will do it for my daughter," she says.
Word reaches María Isabel a few days later: A smuggler will call next week. She must be ready.
María Isabel hauls all of Jasmín's clothing and dolls to the cinder-block hut where Belky lives behind her grandmother's home. She waits next door at Gloria's for the smuggler to call Rosa Amalia, Enrique's aunt. She hugs her daughter over and over. She cries and cries.
Jasmín asks, "Why are you crying so much, mami?" María Isabel tells Jasmín her arm hurts. She tells her a cavity in her mouth aches.
"Don't cry, mami," Jasmín says. Saddened by her mother's tears, Jasmín cries too.
"Why are you crying?" Rosa Amalia asks.
"Because my mami cries all the time."
María Isabel hasn't told her daughter that she is leaving. She can't. Still, Jasmín is smart.
A neighbor asks María Isabel, "Are you leaving already?"
Jasmín asks, "Where is my mother going?"
She asks her mother why she has moved all her clothes from her grandmother Eva's to Belky's hut across town. Why, she asks, has María Isabel packed a white backpack with her own clothes?
"I'm going out. I'll be right back."
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going downtown."
"Are you coming back?"
Sometimes when Jasmín asks her mother if she is coming back, María Isabel is silent.
She doesn't like lying to Jasmín. But María Isabel is sure her daughter is too young at 3 to understand the truth. She can't handle a scene, demands by Jasmín to take her with her. This is easier, better, María Isabel tells herself.
Wednesday. The smuggler calls at 1 p.m. María Isabel must be at Tegucigalpa's bus station at 3:30.
María Isabel heads to Belky's hut with Jasmín. She gives her a last bottle of milk. Next door, at Aunt Gloria's, María Isabel hugs her mother and sister. Jasmín follows her to Enrique's grandmother's so that Enrique's aunt, Rosa Amalia, can take Jasmín back to Belky's hut, hoping to prevent a scene. Jasmín will have none of it. She has overheard some of the goodbyes, and that Rosa Amalia is driving María Isabel to the bus terminal.
"I'm coming! I'm coming to drop off my mother," she tells Rosa Amalia, who relents.
Jasmín runs to the car and gets in. At the bus terminal, Rosa Amalia won't let Jasmín out of the car. Only passengers are allowed beyond the waiting room. María Isabel is relieved. She tells herself that it is all right, that Jasmín doesn't really understand what is happening. María Isabel does not say goodbye to her daughter. She does not hug her. She gets out of the car and walks briskly into the bus terminal. She does not look back. She never tells her she is going to the United States.
Rosa Amalia lifts Jasmín onto the hood of her car. As the bus pulls out of the terminal, she tells the girl to say goodbye. Jasmín waves with both hands and calls out, "Adiós, mami. Adiós, mami. Adiós, mami. Adiós, mami."
This adapted excerpt is from "Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother," which will be published Feb. 21. Copyright 2006 by Sonia Nazario. Published by arrangement with Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc.
Sonia Nazario is a Times staff writer who won a Pulitzer Prize for the series of stories that are the foundation of her forthcoming book, "Enrique`s Journey: The Story of a Boy`s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother."