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The book Enrique’s Journey written by Sonia Nazario, focuses on the long journey a Honduran boy must make in order to reunite with his mother in the USA after many years of separation. This paper looks at the book from a sociological perspective. The various social problems present in the book will be identified and explained, also sociological theories appropriate to the context of the book will be applied. Furthermore, this paper will also look at gender, race, and culture, to analyze how some social problems are more severe in certain minority/oppressed groups of society. At the end of the paper, possible solutions to some of these problems will be discussed. These solutions will then be assessed in terms of their individual effectiveness by looking at the strengths, weaknesses, and ethicalness.
There are many different social problems present in the book. The social problems that the book seems to put most emphasis on are poverty, education, racism, addiction and illegal immigration. The narrative of the book mainly follows Enrique’s and his mother. Enrique’s mother decides when Enrique is young to migrate to the USA for a little while to be able to send money back home as Honduras does not offer many opportunities for her as it is. Though Enrique enjoys the materialistic aspect of having fancier items due to his mother sending money every month, he starts to really miss his mother. This grows into a huge yearning to see his mother over the years, and finally in his late teens he decides to attempt the trip by riding the tops of trains all through Mexico illegally. After many failed attempts, he finally makes it, however the reunion with his mother is not what he expected, as they barely know one another after so many years of separation. Poverty is one of the ultimate factors that led to Enrique’s mother to migrate. Throughout the book prior to Enrique migrating, his mother would often put a lot of emphasis on how important it is for him to finish his education. Racism is encountered a few different times throughout the book, such as how some of the Mexicans in Chiapas treats Central American migrants, but also present when Enrique is in the USA, specifically how gangs will target undocumented migrants as they are more reluctant of going to the police. Enrique develops an addiction while still in Honduras to glue, as well as cannabis, most likely an attempt of him trying to cope with his huge yearning to reunite with his mother. Illegal immigration comes into play throughout the entire book, essentially focusing on the horrific situations migrants have to go through to get into the USA illegally, as legally they would most likely not be admitted.
Poverty is very outspread, especially in Latin America. In 2008 it was estimated that roughly 180 million people live in poverty, while some 70.4 million people live in extreme poverty. Most National governments have been unable to address the rising levels of absolute poverty or the rising income disparity, both of which have increased particularly since the 1970’s. The economic crisis of 1980’s in Latin America which prompted for the structural adjustment programs in the 1990’s aimed at helping people out of poverty actually put more people into poverty. Furthermore, many of the governments in 1990’s actually tried to decentralize public services by stopping funding or reallocating public services without having the resources to do so, which lead to a further decline in the trust of the governments in general. Though measures have been put into place to help the poor, they have not proven to be successful. Women from all the countries in Latin America are generally at a higher rate of living in poverty than their male counterpart. With that in mind, it is no wonder why it was Enrique’s mother who decided to migrate, assuming poverty affected her harder than perhaps Enrique’s father.
In terms of education, there is a big disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and how that affects the completion rate of secondary school which is evident in many parts of the world. Specific to Latin America, it has been shown that the richest 20 % of the population has an average completion rate for secondary school of 83 % while the poorest 20% of the population has a completion rate of 25 %. This makes great sense in terms of why Enrique’s mother stresses to Enrique that it is important for him to finish school in order to stand a change in society, and potentially break the cycle of generational poverty.
As far as racism towards illegal immigrants go, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what causes white people to dislike illegal immigrants, however there are many potential and known causes. A study of the racialization of Latin immigrants showed that the news media outlets studied in the study has since 2003 focused on two main themes regarding illegal Latin immigration: that of criminality of Latin immigrants, and that of the discriminatory treatment they receive. Furthermore, it was noted that negative comments about Latin immigrants tended to surround only perceived criminal tendencies. News coverage surrounding gang activity also tended to point out that undocumented Latinos are criminals simply by being in the USA. It is interesting to note however that illegal entry to the USA is actually not a criminal offense, rather an administrative one. Social constructs, mainly the media, over time has constructed this illusion that illegal immigrants are criminals, as the USA has not always viewed illegal entry as a criminal offense.
Illegal immigration is a rather new trend. Prior to 1920’s, passports were not common, but the League of Nations by President Wilson, called for this. Over time, this has made it so people from disadvantaged backgrounds often lack the funds, or means of obtaining a valid legal visa, hence why they are pushed to simply risking it illegally as that is their only option due to lack of resources. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants are often treated worse in society, perhaps as secondary citizens, and with no reforms changing the issue of illegal immigration, the rate of undocumented immigrants is likely to increase further which will widen the societal status between actual citizens and the undocumented citizens.
Though this book deals with a multitude of social issues and problems, from a sociological perspective, the most prominent theory is the conflict theory. Broadly speaking, the conflict is between the poor and rich. One could argue that the rich elites in Honduras, as well as the rest of the world, are a barrier to opportunity for Enrique’s mother as they are the ones who have created economic systems that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, leaving Enrique’s mother with little choice but to migrate, unless she wants to keep on struggling and barely making it. Furthermore, it should be noted that this conflict is also present when considering education, as poor people generally tend to graduate at a much lower rate than those from more financially stable families. The conflict theory can also be used to describe the issue of racism towards illegal immigrants. The conflict is mainly between illegal immigrants who migrate for a variety of reasons, and prejudiced white people residing legally in the USA, perhaps partially brainwashed by media propaganda. Lastly, in terms of illegal immigration, the conflict theory can also be applied here, as it is a conflict between government regulations and tendencies and disadvantageous migrants from Central America.
While many solutions exist, and have been implemented, some do more harm than good, while others do less harm and more good. Towards the end of the book, the author notes that one of the single most effective method of changing the issue of illegal immigration would be to improve conditions in the countries migrants originate from, to such an extent that they would not want to leave. Hondurans have noted things that could make that happen, which includes for the USA to promote more democratic countries in hope that will lead to less corruption and help lessens the income disparity between the rich and the poor. Also, the adaption of a family planning system like Mexico’s which was successful in reducing number of children per family from 6.8 in 1970 to 2.2 in 2012. Furthermore, if the USA was to focus more on trading with Latin American countries such as supporting textile industry in Honduras which mainly employs women, that could bring about a positive change as well. The USA could also increase their donation pledge to Latin American countries. Hondurans could support NGO’s such as the ones that help encourage new small businesses that create jobs as well as help increase education availability. There simply needs to be jobs for everyone that pay well in order for this strategy to be effective. Using sociological imagination I certainly believe the approach outlined by the author is the best as well, that being said, perhaps it would be hard to find people willing to fund such a system as they are in essence investing outside of the USA, without too much of an economic gain for the USA, and over the years this could be a huge expense for taxpayers. I believe that reforming the whole immigration system, to make it easier for Latin Americans to get a visa and work, as well as bringing their families with them is another great solution. Some would only work for a few years to save up, then perhaps return and build a home and continue their lives in their mothership, whereas others would decide to stay, perhaps because they like it better, or maybe they have been able to reunite with some lost family members who migrated a long time ago. This would not only give more opportunities for Latin Americans but would also help the USA economically by increasing the labor force which in turn could foster more economic growth. Under this solution, there would also be way less expenses to patrolling the borders, as people would enter the country legally at specific border crossings, rather than through the river.
The strength of the author’s approach would certainly be that it would somewhat completely eliminate the problem of illegal immigration, as Honduras would be able to employ all of its citizens and provide a decent living that way making it so that people don’t live in poverty. A weakness is definitely how much this program would cost, and perhaps domestic opposition from racists and other groups who tend to dislike foreigners and therefore would dislike paying tax dollars to a different country. Overall it would be very effective, however just not very practical. Ethically speaking, I believe it is the right thing do to, considering the US’s history of policing some Latin American countries and taking advantage of their resources for economic gain while pushing the native population into poverty. To test the author’s approach, a program like this could be run over a 5- or 10-year period in one country, such as Honduras. Then economic indicators such as unemployment and poverty as well as illegal immigration rates for that specific country could be compared from the beginning of the program till the end to decide if the program was effective. The approach I suggested could also be very effective. The strength here would be that illegal immigration would be of the past, and that all immigrants would a legal status as the new visa laws would make every Latin American eligible, contingent on no major crime offenses in their home country which would be checked out when an applicant applies. The weakness would be that it would potentially bring in a huge influx of people, perhaps overcrowding some areas, and making racists and other xenophobic individuals angry and bitter of having to deal with yet a greater amount of foreigners than what they were used to under the illegal immigration system. Ethically speaking, I do believe this approach is right as well, considering it acknowledges that we are all human and deserve certain rights of dignity, instead of being looked upon as a secondary citizen who can be paid less and treated worse for the sole reason of not having been born on US soil, or perhaps because their skin color is too tan for some of the racist individuals out there. With this approach, I also believe the best way to test it out would be to try a 5-year trial period, then at the end compare statistics of illegal immigration to decide if the visa program made a difference in how people are coming to the country.
While solutions to the issue of illegal immigration can be simply, the reality is that it is far too complex to deal with in a simple matter hence why it is imperative that the issue be dealt with using sociolegal imagination. The USA has a long history of suppressing certain minorities in society, such as African Americans, Hispanics, etc. Due to that history, a lot of white people are born into environments where their white parents perhaps still hold that old colonial view that people of color are secondary, and therefore simply due to exposure of one’s parents, the children are automatically subjected to this way of thinking, and most likely that means that the children will grow up having the same view as their parents, in most cases, essentially passing on the generational hate towards different-looking people. The media clearly plays a huge role too in this hate, by mainly focusing on potential negative aspects of migrants, when in reality there are just guessing based on their ethnicity. In order for people like Enrique to have a safe pathway to reunite with his mother, major reforms need to happen that will provide a legal pathway for a visa that is inexpensive, and also relatively simple. In order for that to happen, society as a whole needs to be reformed by fully eradicating these social constructs that migrants are criminals, or secondary citizens due to their skin color. While the other approach of making Honduras capable of employing its citizens and paying them a good living is a great idea too. To further promote the historical context of the population of this country, that is of it being a mixing pot for different nationalities worldwide, the best way is for the USA to adapt more lenient immigration laws that help migrants.
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