Reporter profiles for Covering Violence: A Guide to Ethical Reporting about Victims and Trauma, by Roger Simpson and Bill Coté. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
“One of the things I do as a reporter is empathize” explains Sonia Nazario of the Los Angeles Times. “It helps me to get inside their heads.” For her Pulitzer-prize winning series “Enrique’s Journey”, her empathy went beyond sensitive questions, careful listening and sharing control. In order to write about the dangerous journey made by thousands of Central American children desperate to enter the U.S. in order to reunite with their mothers, she joined them.
The years of work behind “Enrique’s Journey” reads like an adventure-story: three-and-a-half weeks riding the tops of rail cars from Honduras through Mexico to the Rio Grande, interviewing those who risk their lives to reach the U.S. and those who help and harm them, observing and learning about the hardships, the violence, the setbacks and small successes. . . .
“Enrique’s Journey” has been highly praised as fly-on-the-wall journalism at its best. How Nazario translated the experience into words is no less daunting. The empathy she brought to the story and sharpened during the assignment carried over to her writing, bringing readers with her into the slums of Tegucigalpa, on to the train, jumping from car to car. Holding on.
She begins inside the head of Enrique’s mother, Lourdes, and writes in the present tense: “The boy does not understand.” How does a mother leave her children? Only the clearest, simplest words can attempt an answer, words even 5-year-old Enrique should be able to understand, though he never will.
Inside Lourdes’s head, Nazario details what life will be if Lourdes does not leave Honduras: no money for school, barely enough for food. The description of children scavenging in the trash dump is unforgettable. Nazario contrasts this with what a job in the U.S. will provide them. “It is for them she is leaving.”