Framework

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In the vast migration that is changing the U.S., a Honduran boy rides a freight train through Mexico. Each year thousands of Central Americans stow away for 1,500 miles on the tops and sides of trains. Some are parents desperate to escape poverty. Many are children in search of a parent who left them behind long ago. Only the brave and the lucky reach their goal.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

In the vast migration that is changing the U.S., a Honduran boy rides a freight train through Mexico. Each year thousands of Central Americans stow away for 1,500 miles on the tops and sides of trains. Some are parents desperate to escape poverty. Many are children in search of a parent who left them behind long ago. Only the brave and the lucky reach their goal.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Richard Alberto Funez waves a toy pistol and acts like a tough guy, to the amusement of his buddy, Alexis Joel Sanchez. In Richard's other hand is a soda can full of glue. Both 10-year-old orphans are addicted to the fumes. They roam Tegucigalpa to scavenge food and beg for money. Local outreach volunteers say many street urchins were left behind by a parent who went to the U.S.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Elio Trujillo Martinez, 13, works for tips in an outdoor market in Tegucigalpa, hauling goods in a handmade wheelbarrow. Independence comes at an early age in impoverished Honduras. Each year the country loses thousands of children who flee to the United States in search of parents who left them behind.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Some migrants cross the Suchiate River on the Guatemala-Mexico border on crude rafts like this one being hauled out on the Mexican side. Here in the state of Chiapas, undocumented Central American migrants are hunted by authorities and gangsters with equal ferocity.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Maria Marcos, 74, in Tegucigalpa, sadly recalls the day she pleaded with her 16-year-old grandson not to attempt the journey through Mexico on freight trains. But Enrique had made up his mind, ÒGrandma, I'm leaving. I'm going to find my mom.Ó She gave Enrique $7 -- all the money she had.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

At a church shelter in Tapachula, Mexico, Honduran boys talk about train routes they hope will lead to the United States.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Juan Joel DeJesus Villareal, 15, and two other Hondurans hide from authorities in a southern Mexico rail yard. He wants to ride to the U.S. border. His brother is in Miami.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Honduran teenagers jump on a moving freight train as it turns northwest from the "Y" junction at Medias Aguas, Veracruz, Mexico. This is a major migratory route for Central Americans trying to reach the U.S. border.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Clinging to the top of a speeding freight train, migrants duck under dangerously close tree branches. Honduran stowaways call the migration route through Mexico "the beast" for its life-threatening hazards.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Santo Antonio Gamay, 25, clings onto the end of a speeding boxcar, showing fatigue after 15 hours of riding a freight train. He's minutes from leaping off and attempting to outrun Mexican immigration authorities at the Tonala, Chiapas, checkpoint. The Honduran has been arrested three times there and deported to the Guatemala border. He wants to go to Toronto, Canada.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Even pauses on the trek are filled with risk as a 12-year-old makes a daredevil leap from one freight car to another. He hopes to eventually reach San Diego, where his mother is working.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Carlos Roberto Diaz Osorto, 17, lies in a hospital bed in Arriaga, Mexico, with his parents at his side. Carlos slipped beneath the wheels of a tank car that severed his left leg and crushed his right foot during his journey north from Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Santo Antonio Gamay, left, and other Honduran migrants hang off a freight car as their train approaches an immigration checkpoint in Tonala, Chiapas, Mexico.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Four Honduran migrants sprint into the jungle after jumping off a moving freight train as it approached a Mexican immigration checkpoint at Tonala, Chiapas. Authorities, with the help of resident informants, captured this group.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Groupo Beta undercover police agents grab a youth near an immigration checkpoint in Chiapas, Mexico. Along the rail line, Beta agents pursue robbers who prey upon hapless migrants.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Caught hiding in the railroad yard by the Tapachula police, David Velasquez , 13, left, and Roberto Gaytan, 17, await transport to jail. The Guatemalan youths were with a dozen Central Americans arrested in a dawn raid. Tapachula, Chiapas, is a starting point for undocumented youths traveling through Mexico by freight train. David is headed to Los Angeles, Roberto to North Carolina.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Dennis Ivan Contrares, 12, eats tortillas given to him by a woman in Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico. It is Denis' third attempt to pass through Chiapas. He is trying to find his mother in San Diego.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Juan Joel DeJesus Villareal, 15, uses his T-shirt as a filter as he drinks from a bottle of dirty water. The Honduran youngster leaped off the freight train during a momentary stop to fill the bottle in a trackside puddle.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

After a fitful night's sleep, Dennis Ivan Contrares, 12, from Honduras, wakes up atop a moving freight train in the Chiapas, Mexico countryside. Still asleep is Marlon Wilfredo Hernandez, 18, from El Salvador.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Dennis Ivan Contrares, 12, two weeks out of Honduras, has only his mother's San Diego phone number to go on. After a fitful night on the northbound Mexican freight he says his dreams are always the same: "find mama, go to school, learn English and help other children. I would help the street children because I walk the streets and they die in the streets."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Central Americans crowd the tops of freight train cars in Mexico. They will be treated as lawbreaking foreigners if caught, but cargo rail lines have become a major passageway north to the U.S. border.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

In the Chiapas, Mexico, countryside, a boy and girl race their horse alongside a freight train. The fleeting scene brought a few moments of joy to young Honduran stowaways who have learned to fear the worst from people along the rails.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

The hands of Central American migrants and those of Mexicans passing them food meet as a train passes through Fortin de las Flores, Mexico. The simple generosity of the poor residents along the tracks through Vera Cruz state is legendary among train-riding stowaways.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

As dawn breaks near Mexico City, Jorge Velasquez Felipe, 15, center, and his brother Juan Carlos, 16, right, huddle near a fire aboard a speeding freight train. Unprepared for the night ride from Veracruz through cold mountain tunnels to Mexico City, they desperately burned trash and scraps of cloth to keep warm.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

With hundreds of miles of rail travel behind them, Honduran migrants slumber by the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Migrants often stall here; U.S. Border Patrol agents across the river in Texas thwart many attempts to enter the U.S. illegally.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Ermis Galiano, 15, holds his throbbing head after an attack by local drunks. The bad luck forced Ermis and his Honduran schoolmate Edin into this culvert hideout in Nuevo Laredo, on the Mexican side of the border with Texas. Another youngster tends a warming fire inside the pipe. The boys spent three weeks riding freight trains to get here.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

After a trip on the rails through the length of Mexico, two Central American youths slip quietly into the Rio Grande. Seventy-five yards across the murky river is their long-sought dream: the United States.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Stripped to their underwear, Central Americans ease themselves into the Rio Grande River at Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, for a night time border crossing. Bags contain dry clothing and shoes.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

Enrique and his mother are reunited in North Carolina after seven years. "This is my son," she says. "It's a miracle he's here." Enrique survived three months on the rails to reach her. Experts estimate that 48,000 children from Central America and Mexico enter the U.S. each year illegally and without either of their parents.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Don Bartletti

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Enrique’s journey

Central American youths, often facing deadly danger, stow away on freight trains to travel north to the United States. This essay by Los Angeles Times staff photographer Don Bartletti chronicles the journey of Enrique, who traveled to the United States alone from Honduras as a teenager in search of his mother. The project was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.

4 Comments

  1. November 17, 2010, 5:13 pm

    This book was wonderful, I cried time to time when reading it. If it somehow helps couple of us to empathy Central Americans, I would say it is something. Also special thanks to Don Bartletti for the great photos. I used one on my facebook profile to increase awareness and I referenced his name. I hope he doesn't mind.

    By: ssbssmile@gmail.com
  2. January 16, 2012, 3:40 pm

    yes.

    By: earthlyoga
  3. September 21, 2012, 3:45 am

    How and can I purchase a print of this photo. From: Ferdinand Prins

    By: ferdiprins@gmail.com
  4. August 29, 2013, 2:37 am

    this is just like the movie "Sin Nombre"

    By: amjad@yahoo.com

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