Over the years, journalist Sonia Nazario has resisted taking a public position on illegal immigration, the defining topic of her career.
Lately, though, having exited daily journalism for book writing, she is "gingerly walking toward" sharing more of her own thoughts on the issue, she said.
Madison audiences will get to delve into the topic with Nazario this week when she visits the city for several days as part of Go Big Read, UW-Madison's common-reading program. Nazario's 2006 book, "Enrique's Journey," is this year's pick.
The non-fiction book recounts a 16-year-old Honduran boy's attempts to reach the U.S. to find his mother, who left when he was 5 years old to earn money to support Enrique and his sister back home. The book expands on articles Nazario wrote for the Los Angeles Times, for which she won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize.
As she reveals more of her own views on illegal immigration, Nazario said she is discovering the ability to frustrate both the political left and right. She is neither a proponent of opening up U.S. borders or for walling off the country.
"I view this as an issue with a lot of shades of gray," said Nazario, 51, who lives in the Los Angeles area. "What I've learned is that most immigrants would rather stay at home, with all of the things they know and love. Ideally, our goal should be to find ways to keep more families together (in their home countries), because the kinds of journeys I write about inflict great trauma."
Nazario's reporting, while lauded by many, elicits disdain from some in the anti-immigration movement. Joe Guzzardi, a senior writing fellow with Californians for Population Stabilization, has called it "tedious, predictable pap" and "more sob stuff from Big Media."
Nazario responds, "Some people say I've humanized immigrants. If so, guilty as charged. I believe we should attempt to know and understand our new neighbors before deciding whether to hate them."
This is the third year for Go Big Read. The program provides books free to first-year students who want to participate and to students in courses that are using the book.
About 7,500 books have been distributed, said Sarah McDaniel, the program's manager. Seventy-four courses on campus are using the book this fall, she said.
In addition, Dane County libraries are circulating nearly 500 copies of the book, many bookstores are providing deep discounts, and some area high schools have gotten involved.
Nazario will be paid $12,500 for her campus visit, which includes a large public lecture Thursday and several smaller events, all free of charge, over two days, McDaniel said. The books and Nazario's appearance are being paid for through gifts, McDaniel said.
Forty-six universities or colleges have picked "Enrique's Journey" for their common-reading programs, with UW-Madison the largest, Nazario said. Her trip here will be special for that reason and others, she said.
Nazario was born in Madison in 1960. Her parents immigrated here legally from Argentina the year before so her father could do post-doctoral work in biochemistry and molecular biology at UW-Madison.
Although her family left Madison in 1961, Nazario has been back occasionally. Her brother, Paul, is a senior systems programmer at UW-Madison.
Nazario left the Los Angeles Times in 2008 and is working on a book about "five big social issues seen through the eyes of five women taking on those issues," she said. She travels about three months a year talking about "Enrique's Journey."
She has kept in close touch with Enrique, now 27, and his mother, Lourdes, and recently spent a night at their home in Florida.
"There's good news and bad news about how they're doing," she said. "Recessions have always been bad for immigrants, and this recession has been no exception."
She promises a full update while in Madison.