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'Solito': a Child’s Solo Migration

Poet Javier Zamora recounts his experience traveling from El Salvador to the United States by himself at age nine

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At nine years old, all Javier can imagine is running into his parents’ arms, snuggling in bed between them, and living under the same roof again. He cannot foresee the perilous boat trips, relentless desert treks, pointed guns, arrests and deceptions that will await him when he leaves behind his beloved aunt and grandparents in El Salvador to reunite with a mother who left four years ago to California and a father he barely remembers. 

A memoir as gripping as it is moving, Solito, the latest book by author and poet Javier Zamora, remembers his personal experience taking the 3,000-mile journey from his small town in El Salvador, through Guatemala and Mexico, and across the U.S. border.

Traveling alone amid a group of strangers and a “coyote” hired to lead them to safety, Javier ('Javiercito,' as his Abuelita Neli calls him) expects his trip to last two short weeks. But the trip turns into two life-altering months alongside fellow migrants who will come to encircle him like an unexpected family. The story provides an immediate and intimate account not only of a treacherous and near-impossible journey, but also of the miraculous kindness and love delivered at the most unexpected moments. 

Solito is Javier Zamora’s story, but it’s also the story of millions of others who had no choice but to leave home.

“I began to write this book during Donald Trump’s America, when everybody was talking about immigration," the author told The Guardian. “In 2017, when we had the Central American child crisis at the border, it seemed it was the first time Americans realized that there had been child migrants. It angered me that they didn’t realize it had been occurring for decades, and I was part of that,” he added.

Another thing that pushed him to write this book was to give a more optimistic view of immigration. According to Zamora, usually the media only focuses on the harsh facts, making readers "only look at them as a product of hardship and violence. As a survivor of trauma, I don’t only remember that," he told The Guardian. On the contrary, he can still remember positive facts, like the taste of the fish they had in Acapulco and how happy they were getting food from nuns in a shelter near the border.

“It’s moments such as these that are absent from news clippings and even other works of fiction and nonfiction about immigration,” he said.

Zamora was born in El Salvador in 1990. His father fled the country when he was one, and his mother when he was about to turn five. Both parents’ migrations were caused by the U.S.-funded Salvadoran Civil War. When he was nine, Javier migrated through Guatemala, Mexico, and the Sonoran Desert. His debut poetry collection, Unaccompanied, explores the impact of the war and immigration on his family, the same issue he now turned into a novel.  Zamora has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford and a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard and holds fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

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