Immigration was the topic at hand for Sonia Nazario, 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner for feature writing, during her time speaking at Auburn on Tuesday evening.
Nazario has spent the last 30 years as an investigative journalist propelling herself into the forefront of prominent social issues. When her father passed early in her life, her mother sought comfort and moved the family back to Argentina.
At this time in Nazario’s life, around 1974 to 1983, Argentina was in the midst of the “dirty war,” where militias ran rampant and 30,000 people disappeared.
“I lived in fear every day,” Nazario said. “One day walking down the street I saw a puddle of blood on the sidewalk.”
When Sonia asked her mother why the military had killed two journalists, her mother said it was because they were trying to tell the truth about what was going on there.
The state of chaos Argentina was experiencing pulled on Nazario’s heartstrings, noting this lit a fire inside her that would never die.
In that instant, Nazario said she knew she wanted to be a journalist.
Nazario graduated from Williams College and received a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of California Berkeley.
At 21 years old, Nazario was hired by the Wall Street Journal as its youngest writer yet. Nazario later returned to California where she joined the Los Angeles Times.
She spoke about the tens of thousands of children ages 5 to 12 trekking north to flee the most dangerous countries in the world, in search of their mothers who have sought work in the United States. Countries including El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have substantial murder rates, second to war-torn Syria.
“Children understand that the danger of traveling north outweighs the danger of dying if they stay,” Nazario said. “Eighteen thousand Central American children are kidnapped, murdered for organs and raped every year by Spanish gang-bangers as they migrate north to the border in hopes of running into Border Patrol agents.”
Nazario retraced this journey from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. “Enrique’s Journey,” her Pulitzer Prize-winning series that later became a book, uncovered the truths of her experience and findings.
Nazario said she chose Enrique not because he was different, but because his story was the same.
Enrique was 5 years old when his mother left him in Honduras to find work in the states.
“The advantages I had – I was only experiencing one percent of what these children endure,” Nazario said.
Nazario’s mission was to portray these hardships in a way that resonated. Upon coming out as an activist, Nazario insisted on stirring the pot in order to bring a saddening truth to the surface.
She pointed out immigration as an ‘umbrella’ term. She said discovering the root cause behind why so many choose to migrate is the cure.
Nazario remains involved in immigration reform.
Nazario’s efforts include building evidence-based violence prevention programs in Honduras, leading an effort to provide young children with lawyers in immigration court and joining the board of Kids in Need of Defense, a nonprofit that provides legal aid to unaccompanied immigrant children.
“Most migrants don’t want to be here. The solutions are there, not here,” Nazario said.