In Sonia Nazario’s description of what draws Lourdes to take the treacherous journey north from Honduras to the U.S., she writes: “On television, she saw New York City’s spectacular skyline, Las Vegas’s shimmering lights, Disneyland’s magic castle.” (4) 25 pages later Lourdes’ son Enrique misses his mother and is also strongly attracted to the U.S. Nazario similarly expresses that “Enrique sees New York City’s spectacular skyline, Las Vegas’s shimmering lights, Disneyland’s magic castle.” (28-9). Little do Lourdes and Enrique know that Latinos make up almost 30% of New York City’s population. There is almost three times the number of Puerto Ricans in New York City than in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital. Additionally, there are about as many Dominicans in New York City as in Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic and home to almost 1 million people. New York is a dramatically Hispanic city.
Las Vegas, with its “shimmering lights” is Spanish for “the meadows” and was once part of the nation of Mexico. Founded by a courageous wanderer of the borderlands, Antonio Armijo was a trader and explorer that pioneered routes throughout what we know now as the southwestern U.S. In 1829, at only 25 years of age, Armijo led 60 men and a pack of over 100 mules across the dry and mountainous Southwest for 1,200 miles. Like many immigrants today, he covered large geographical distances, he suffered hunger and thirst, and because of his hard-work and ingenuity he ended up improving local economies throughout the region.
Disneyland and its “Magic castles” are located in Orange County, California, a region home to more than 600,000 people born in Central America. In the mid 1700’s Spanish missionaries explored the area and founded two Catholic Missions. By 1821 Southern California was territory of the new Mexican nation, independent from Spain. Mexican ranches spread across Orange County and created an agricultural legacy that is still strong today. In the late 1940’s Orange County became a center for Chicano political organization as Fred Ross, the future mentor of Cesar Chavez, organized rallies for Hispanic worker’s rights near the future site of Disneyland.
In a sense Hispanic immigrants are returning to something that belonged to their Spanish, Mexican, and Native American predecessors well before the skyline, shimmering lights and magic castles that adorn those places today. Enrique’s Journey, then, is a return of sorts to a country whose lands were explored by the Latino and indigenous inhabitants that share a similar ethnic background with that of Lourdes’ and Enrique’s Honduras well before Anglo colonizers settled the West.