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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

A journey through South America

Award-winning author and long-time journalist Sonia Nazario speaks to City College about immigration hardships of South America and her life in Argentina as a child. Photo By Evan E. Duran | [email protected]

National best-selling author and journalist Sonia Nazario reflected on her life as a journalist as well as covering the lives of child immigrants on their journey through South America in a lecture at City College Sept. 15.

The journalist said that she has dedicated much of her career to telling the stories of the poor and undocumented South American immigrants. Nazario has spent more than 20 years as a reporter, currently working for the Los Angeles Times.

Nazario’s parents left their home country of Argentina to come to the U.S, and “like most immigrants, my parents came to America for the opportunity,” she said.

However, after the family moved to Kansas, Nazario’s father died of a heart attack when Nazario was 13 years old.

Shortly after his death, her mother took Nazario and her siblings back to Argentina.

However, when they returned to Argentina, it was the beginning of the Dirty War. Approximately 30,000 people were killed, according to Nazario.

“I lived in total fear at the age of 14 and 15,” said Nazario. “The military kidnapped people and killed them. It didn’t take much to get picked up. You could have a beard. You could be a professor.”

At age 14, Nazario decided that she wanted to become a journalist to tell the truth about what was going on in Argentina.

“Knowledge was considered so dangerous by the military that they were willing to kill people to keep them from becoming informed,” said Nazario. “I think that at that moment, I really saw the power of words and the power of storytelling.”

After her family returned to the United States Nazario said she was more determined to tell stories that mattered, but she had no idea how to do so.
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She said she worked busing tables, went to school and got good grades. Though she didn’t have a counselor encouraging her to go to college, her boyfriend at the time did. Nazario and her boyfriend were accepted into Williams College in Massachusetts, ranked No. 1 in the country for liberal arts in world reporting.

“To say that I felt overwhelmed was an understatement,” said Nazario. “I had gone to a bad public high school in Kansas. I had not written a paper that was longer than three pages, and quite honestly I hadn’t read many books.”

According to Nazario, she was one of five Latinos on a campus of 2,000 students and was determined to do well in school. She graduated in 1982 with honors from Williams College.

Shortly after, at the age of 21, she was hired by The Wall Street Journal. Though it was a business paper, Nazario said she wrote about social injustices facing women, children, the poor and Latinos.

Nazario said she became an expert at “fly on the wall reporting,” the act of watching the action of something play out.

“It had a certain power and immediacy to a story that you couldn’t get any other way.”

One of her most powerful stories, Nazario said, arose from a conversation with her housekeeper, Carmen, who had to leave four of her five children with their grandmother in their native Honduras so Carmen could go north and find work, which she did in Los Angeles.

Nazario decided to pursue a story about the dangerous journey from Honduras, off the migrant route and into the homes of dozens of women like Carmen.

Traveling through South America, Nazario spent a couple of weeks with Enrique, a 15-year-old migrant abandoned by his mother, and traveled 1,600 miles with him half the time on top of freight trains in Mexico.

“Though a million people come to the United States legally or become a permanent residents each year,” said Nazario.“Nearly 300,000 people enter the U.S. without permission each year, despite the poor economy.”

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