Sonia Nazario’s desire to be a journalist started when other journalists’ lives ended.
After her father died, her family moved from Kansas to Argentina during the country’s Dirty War, when the Argentine military dictatorship tortured and killed tens of thousands of suspected dissindents. One day, a young Nazario came across a pool of blood on the sidewalk. She learned that two journalists were killed for writing about what was going on in their country.
And in that moment, she knew she had to be a journalist.
“I witnessed the power of words that day,” Nazario told Syracuse University community members in Hendricks Chapel on Wednesday night. Her lecture was the final installment of the University Lecture series.
Despite all the hardships that she faced in her life, her dream came true. When Nazario was hired by The Wall Street Journal after graduating from Williams College, she became the youngest writer ever hired by the paper.
Then in 2022, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her six-part series “Enrique’s Journey.” The story follows a young boy, Enrique, on his journey to the United States to find his mother, who had left when Enrique was 5 years old.
She spent the first part of her lecture talking about her time with Enrique. She was able to tell the story of Enrique’s eight attempts to get to the U.S. by going through the journey herself, step-by-step. Nazario said she felt it was necessary to do this because of her philosophy on journalism.
“I viewed my goal as I want to grab you by the throat and take you on a ride inside worlds you wouldn’t otherwise see,” she said.
The Mexican government sent letters to locals to treat her nicely, but she did not receive special treatment. Nazario saw people die. She was almost arrested, almost injured by a branch while riding on top of a train and almost raped by a bandit.
At the same time, she saw people who gave food to children trying to flee as well as one woman who housed refugees that she did not know.
“I saw the worst and best of humanity on this journey,” Nazario said.
The second, and longest, part of the lecture focused on Nazario’s thoughts about the current state of immigration. She made it a point to state her opinion on the issue.
“I am not an open borders gal,” Nazario said. “Far from it. I don’t think that all migration is good. I believe that there are winners and there are losers in terms of this.”
Nazario then posed a couple of ideas that she has about immigration to the audience. Providing microloans for immigrants and refugees, educating girls and women, introducing family planning strategies, and changing the drug reform policies in the nation are all ways that Nazario feels that can improve the immigration situation.
The final part of the lecture was a Q&A with the audience. Members of the audience asked many different questions, including what Nazario would say to President Donald Trump if he had been at the lecture.
“You should ask the Chinese, who built the mother of all walls, and it did not keep out many people who tried to invade China, including the Mongols,” Nazario said.
She proposed that President Trump use that money to help the most dangerous places in Central America and making them safer.
Overall, members of the audience enjoyed hearing Nazario’s lecture. Ian Liebling, a biology senior, said he thought the journalist was very passionate about her work.
“She was very convincing, non-combative with her words and really encouraged people to understand this issue that I had no idea existed before,” he said.
Beaux Wongwaisayawan, a international relations and sociology senior, agreed with her friend.
“She really captured the audience,” Wongwaisayawan said. “She made it easy for you to see refuges as humans as well, and be able to educate yourself as well.”