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"Migrant children survive the horror": Javier Zamora remembers his 3,000-mile journey to the US in 'Solito'


The Salvadoran-American poet and writer Javier Zamora has been acclaimed by the public and critics with the publication of 'Solito', a volume of memoirs in which he narrates his experiences when, at the age of 9, he had to travel to the United States without his parents.

Everything seemed like a great adventure to Chepito because, at 9 years old, he had never left La Herradura, the small Salvadoran town where his days passed between games and longing for his parents who had migrated to the United States.

One fine day, in 1999, his relatives began to talk to him about the trip, a new word that would signify his destiny.

The trip was the way out, the only way for him to meet his parents again, and thus he had to undertake a journey of 3,000 miles and two months on his own in which he learned about danger and hardship, but also experienced the immense solidarity of the migrants with whom he traveled on foot, by boat and in cars.

The writer Javier Zamora in an interview with Telemundo News.

albinson linares

"The memories of those nine weeks have weighed heavily on me during the 20 years I've been in this country. Since I started writing this book, the weight has lessened," explains Javier Zamora, who is the Chepito or Javiercito who stars in


, his recent memoir book that rescues the childhood vision of the Salvadoran boy he was, a young man who had to learn to entrust his life to a group of strangers in order to be reunited with his parents.

Zamora often remembers that


's genesis arose while he felt he was "on top of the world"

, when he already had his permanent residence and was at Harvard University.

In addition, he had just published


, a brilliant collection of poems about his immigration experience.

"I'm tired of my children leaving. My love for you shatters windows with birds. Javiercito, let your shadow return, alone, or with sons, but soon. Call me Mama, not Abuelita"

, say the verses of

Abuelita says Goodbye

, a poem in which he recreates the family estrangement that migration implies.

(In Spanish: "I'm tired of my children leaving. My love for you breaks out windows with birds. Javiercito, let your shadow return, alone, or with children, but soon. Call me mom, not granny").

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However, he felt that something was missing, he experienced a feeling of oppression, of self-absorption that convinced him to go to therapy.

From the conversations he had at that time was born the impulse to write his memoirs, two decades after the long journey in which he crossed several borders in search of the American dream.

"The trauma of that 9-year-old boy is going to stay with me until I die and that was something I didn't understand, and that I understand much better now. Before writing this book, I wanted that boy to disappear, not to exist. But now that I've seen him, that I've talked to him and that I've remembered everything, I feel better," he says with a deep look. 


which is available in Spanish and English, has been acclaimed by critics and readers, who have surrendered to the aesthetic spell that Zamora displays while immersing us in his childhood.

This immersion exercise involves meeting a boy who, despite the difficulties, fights for his dreams while traversing long stretches of terrain.

The trauma of that 9-year-old boy is going to stay with me until I die and that was something I didn't understand, and now I understand much better."

javier zamora

"A child doesn't understand what immigration is, you don't understand how close to death you are. Migrant children survive the horror and it's necessary to talk about that in the immigration discussion because we are survivors. Perhaps by describing things as a child it will opens their hearts more so that they accept that we are human beings," says the author.

[Mexican writer Cristina Rivera Garza talks about femicides and her most recent book: "They keep happening because there is impunity"]

I put myself in my own 9-year-old shoes to see the world."

Javier Zamora poet and writer

An important element of this narrative journey is language.

The writer strove to delve into his child's mind, so a child is the protagonist and narrator.

The entire trip we experienced through his eyes.

"One day, the therapist said to me: 'What would happen if you talked to that 9-year-old?' So I thought 'why don't you talk like that 9-year-old?' And I started writing in that tone. and I kind of put myself in my own 9-year-old shoes to see the world," he says with a big smile.

Despite the fact that 22 years have passed since Zamora's trip, the migration of children continues to be a harsh reality.

In fiscal year 2022 alone, Customs and Border Protection recorded 152,057 encounters with unaccompanied minors at the land border in the southwestern United States.

That number represents an increase compared to the 146,925 encounters in 2021.

"A child does not understand what immigration is, one does not understand how close to death one is", Javier Zamora.Javier Zamora

"It has happened to me that migrant children from El Salvador or Mexico, who came to this country at the age of 13 or 9, have read the book and tell me: 'I have never told my story to another person because I thought it was the only one'. It's very ironic because the book is called alone, but we are not alone. This continues to happen because children and adults do not stop coming to this country as it is literally happening at this minute, "he explains. 

—One of


's successes is that, despite narrating a dangerous journey, there is always room for humor and joy.

What was the challenge of achieving that tone during the writing?

—Even if one is surviving a very horrible event, sooner or later, you have to smile.

One has to look for them, as we say in El Salvador, so as not to disassociate the moment you are living and to be able to see the future.

If you can't do that, you can't laugh, you can't live, and you die because you freeze.

And that's in the book.

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—Has this book reconciled you with your Central American heritage?

—I have one foot here and one foot there, but each time I feel better about it because I will never be 100% from there, nor 100% from here.

Before that made me sad but it is what it is, that's how things happened and you also have to accept that by being an immigrant we lose a lot but we also gain a lot.

I'm the only person in my family who can come and go, so that's a privilege.

I can observe things that my family in El Salvador does not understand about life in the United States, and I can tell things about El Salvador to my relatives who live in the United States and have not been able to return.

I am like a translator of those realities.

—How was the experience of living undocumented in the US?

—Another of my traumas is having lived without papers in this country.

After I crossed, my parents always asked me not to tell anyone that I wasn't born in the United States.

So for years I have been guilty of lying to other Latinos and telling them that I couldn't speak Spanish because I didn't want anyone to know where I came from.

He was afraid of 'la migra' who took many people he knew.

But at the age of 17, poetry gave me the courage to say that I am from El Salvador, and that I was an immigrant who did not have papers. 

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17, 202205:35

—What use is poetry in a world with as many conflicts as the current one?

—Poetry serves to dream of a better world.

When writing one can imagine a world without borders, without ecological problems, without gender, which are things that writing deals with.

You only need a pen and a page, those are the weapons that any human being has.

To change the world, we first have to dream.

—Which are your most important literary influences?

—In El Salvador, in 1935, there was a literary movement created by Claribel Alegría, Roque Dalton, Manlio Argueta who were the compromised generation.

Since then, Salvadoran writers have been committed to dreaming, to wanting to change the country with our work. 

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—Have you seen positive changes in the Latino community recently?

—We are increasingly relevant in all fields, from politics to entertainment, but I think that this is not enough.

We have to complicate the conversation.

The Latino community has a lot to learn because we are racists too.

For example, we still don't include our Afro-Latino brothers and sisters, and that's a problem we have to fix.

You have to update what it means to be Latino and understand that Latinidad is not a race, it is a mixture of everything. 

—Do you think that bilingualism is increasingly accepted in various spheres of American society?

—Yes, changes are noticeable and I see that speaking Spanish is much more frequent now.

It's good to talk in one of our languages ​​and I see a lot of progress, but at the same time, whites always fight so that this isn't a reality, so that bilingual schools don't exist.

It is important to speak Spanish, but it is also important to complicate things and recognize that Spanish is also to blame for why we do not speak Nahuatl and other indigenous languages.

We cannot forget about that.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2023-02-02

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