A fluent Spanish speaker of Jewish ancestry whose personal history includes living in Argentina during the so-called dirty war, Nazario spent decades reporting and writing about social issues for U.S. newspapers.
She is best known for Enrique's Journey, her story of a Honduran boy’s struggle to find his mother in the U.S. Published as a series in the Los Angeles Times, Enrique's Journey won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2003. It was turned into a book by Random House that became a national bestseller, a freshman read at 100 universities, and required reading at hundreds of high schools across the country. A young adult version of Enrique's Journey was published in 2013 aimed at middle schoolers.
When a national crisis erupted in 2014 over the detention of unaccompanied immigrant children at the border, Nazario returned to Honduras to report an article in The New York Times that detailed the violence causing the exodus and argued that it is a refugee crisis, not an immigration crisis. After the piece was published, she addressed the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the U.N. General Assembly, and gave many interviews to national media, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, NBC's Meet the Press, Anderson Cooper 360, and Al Punto with Jorge Ramos.
She has also spent the past decade recruiting attorneys to provide pro-bono asylum representation to unaccompanied minors. In 2015, her humanitarian efforts led to her selection as the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award recipient by the Advocates for Human Rights, the Champion of Children by First Focus and a Golden Door award winner by HIAS Pennsylvania. In 2016 the American Immigration Council gave her the American Heritage Award and the Houston Peace & Justice Center honored her with their National Peacemaker Award. In 2018, she was given the Spirit of HOPE [Hispanas Organized for Political Equality] Award.
Nazario, who grew up in Kansas and in Argentina, has written extensively from Latin America and about Latinos in the United States. She has been named among the most influential Latinos by Hispanic Business Magazine and a “trendsetter” by Hispanic Magazine. In 2012 Columbia Journalism Review named Nazario among “40 women who changed the media business in the past 40.” In 2020, Parade Magazine named Nazario one of “50+ Most Influential Latin-American Women in History.”
She is a graduate of Williams College and has a master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of California, Berkeley. She has honorary doctorates from Mount St. Mary’s College and Whittier College. She began her career at the Wall Street Journal, and later joined the Los Angeles Times.
Enrique’s Journey won more than a dozen awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, the George Polk Award for International Reporting, the Grand Prize of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists Guillermo Martinez-Márquez Award for Overall Excellence.
In 1998, Ms. Nazario was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series on children of drug addicted parents. And in 1994, she won a George Polk Award for Local Reporting for a series about hunger among schoolchildren in California.
She serves on the advisory boards of several non-profits: the University of North Texas Mayborn Literary Non-fiction Writer's Conference, ReNews, which explores the impacts of socio-cultural issues on journalism and Catch the Next, which works to double the number of Latinos enrolling in college. She also is on the board of Kids In Need of Defense, launched by Microsoft and Angelina Jolie to provide pro-bono attorneys to unaccompanied immigrant children. She is now at work on her second book and is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times.
- Becoming an Advocate for Immigrants
Sonia Nazario decided to become a journalist after seeing the blood of two journalists on the sidewalk near her home in Argentina. The journalists had been murdered by the ruling military dictatorship for trying to tell the truth about what was going on. Nazario was 14 years old. As a young journalist, Nazario wrote about social and social justice issues but was taught to keep her opinions in check. But with immigrant children, some things she witnessed cried out for advocacy. Some things seemed clear cut and simply wrong. Nazario saw children as young as seven years old forced to go before immigration judges to argue their own asylum cases, where the consequences could be life or death, without the help of a lawyer. Readers pushed her into activism as well. They didn’t want to just hear about the problem. If Nazario had studied and written about immigration for 30 years, what were the solutions? Ones both sides could get behind? They didn’t understand when Nazario told them, as many journalists do: here’s the problem, you figure out the solution, you get involved to fix it! In an era where readers face a barrage of information, sometimes journalists must step up and simply say what's what. Nazario has covered immigration for decades as a reporter, and had come to know this issue deeply. She knows who benefits and who is harmed by unlawful migration. She knows what works to curtail migration and which approaches are bogus. Nazario's prescriptions are pragmatic and evoke both praise and offense from both sides of this thorny issue. After writing many narrative stories and a book about immigrants, immigration had transformed from a topic of interest to a compelling understanding of one of the most polarizing issues of our time.
Using powerful photographs, Nazario walks us through that understanding, and shows why she believes others should now step up and fight for child migrants, too.
- From Trauma to Resiliency: Struggles & Strengths in Students' Journey to College
Latino students now make up 43% of California’s community college students and many of these individuals undertake astonishing journeys to and through our institutions. What can we learn from the experiences of immigrant and first generation Latino students in particular? How can this learning inform our understanding of and support for all community college students? Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique’s Journey, will discuss the obstacles and long odds many immigrant and first-generation Latino students face before even stepping onto a community college campus. These students bring tremendous assets—and significant challenges—to California’s Community College system. Their experiences and needs have fueled a great debate about how to serve them best. Are equity deans, guided pathways, or programs like the Puente Project working to improve the success of these learners? What do students who toil in one or two jobs, who take three buses to get to class, really need to thrive, and how can educators—you—build a system that works for them? How can California become the leader in supporting these students and making their experiences in college meaningful—and showing others the way forward? Nazario will explore these questions in her discussion of the challenge and opportunity of helping students move from trauma to resilience.
- Making Ethical Choices
As a journalist, Sonia Nazario often feels like a "fly on the wall,” watching difficult situations play out without being able to take action herself. Because of this, the stories she has written over the years have frequently been featured as case studies in half a dozen textbooks on journalism and ethics. This presentation is an exploration of the ethical dilemmas a journalist faces, in which Nazario shares her experiences making ethical choices. She accompanies her speech with a PowerPoint of photographs.
- In Praise of Ganas (Persistence)
Yes, passion and risk taking can get you far. But to Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Sonia Nazario, persistence has been the key to her success. This presentation is an ideal convocation or commencement speech in praise of ganas—Spanish for persistence.
- Enrique’s Journey: How to Fix Immigration in a Humane Way
The U.S. has cut the number of refugees it accepts to virtually zero – a reversal of the moral reckoning this country had after WWII, when it turned away a ship with 900 Jews fleeing the holocaust. After that incident the U.S. vowed: never again. It became the leader in the modern-day movement to help people fleeing harm. In her talk, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario will discuss who is now coming to the U.S., the journey they make, and how the U.S. can both welcome the stranger and curtail unlawful migration by implementing three solutions rarely discussed in the heated immigration debate.
Using award-winning photographs, Sonia Nazario takes you inside the journey made by millions of immigrant women who have come to the U.S. as single mothers in recent years, and the world of the children they have left behind in their home countries in Central America. She discusses the modern-day odyssey many child migrants—some as young as seven, all of them traveling alone—make many years later riding on top of freight trains through Mexico in their quest to reunify with their mothers in the United States. Many today are also fleeing some of the most dangerous countries on earth in central America. Nazario, who spent three months riding on top of these trains to tell the story of one child migrant named Enrique, shares her story in the context of determination.
As the child of immigrants, she discusses the power of determination in her own life—in overcoming the death of her father at age 13, living through parts of the Dirty War in Argentina, where her own sister was tortured by a military dictatorship, and overcoming major travails in college in the U.S. to ultimately become the youngest person hired at the Wall Street Journal and one of a handful of Latinos to win the Pulitzer Prize. Unlike many who speak on this topic, Nazario sees immigration as an issue with many shades of gray--with winners and losers. She discusses how traditional approaches to the issue of immigration—pushed by politicians both on the left and the right—haven’t worked, and offers novel solutions to one of America’s biggest and thorniest issues.
- Unequal Justice: Immigrant Children & US Courts
Last year, about 30,000 children entered the United States illegally and alone from Mexico and Central America. This year, the number is expected to grow by 70%. These children were caught by US Border Patrol and ordered to go to immigration court to see if they would be allowed to stay in the US legally or would be deported. Like all immigrants who come to the US unlawfully, children are not entitled to a public defender. So more than half of them—children as young as two years old—go to court alone. They are expected to argue their case for asylum or other relief to stay in the US with no legal advocate by their side. Many of these children have legitimate fears of being harmed if they are deported to their home countries.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario will discuss:
What is this nation’s responsibility to provide legal help to the children? Do children who have broken the law coming to the US illegally deserve government legal help
The increasing violence and other factors pushing a surging number of these children to leave their home countries—Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico—and travel to the US alone, often gripping on the tops of freight trains to make this modern-day odyssey to reach the US. They face bandits, gangsters, corrupt cops, and the added dangers of getting on and off moving freight trains. Many lose their lives in their quest.
Nazario discusses these issues in a personal way, having spent three months riding on top of freight trains through Mexico to report her national bestselling book, Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother. Some are coming to reunite with family members, but many are fleeing harm in their home countries. She shows how after so many traumas in their home countries and on their journeys north, immigrant children face another blow: the American judicial system.
Nazario provides a provocative look at whether our nation’s immigration courts deal fairly with perhaps one of the most vulnerable populations amongst us: children who come to the US illegally and alone.