In this week's Scheer Intelligence interview, as in his New York Times bestselling book, “Solito: A Memoir,” celebrated poet Javier Zamora cuts through the nasty dehumanization about undocumented immigrants with the focused memory of his perilous journey as a child refugee attempting to join his family under the most vulnerable of circumstances. With their lives overturned by the U.S.-sponsored war in El Salvador, Zamora's parents had found refuge in California, but it took eight years and the risky efforts of a paid smuggler to open the possibility for their child to join them.
Zamora tells Scheer that the story as written in his book "complicates the issue and it really makes us immigrants into actual human beings, not these flat caricatures, the politicians spew out of their mouth and sometimes the journalists also write us into. What I mean by that is that they flatten us into our trauma, only our trauma, when we are not only our traumas. I am not these nine weeks. I am far more than these nine weeks that I describe, and I allow readers to embody, for them to walk in my shoes, so to speak."
Zamora points out that of all the Salvadorans that fled during the war, less than 2% of them were granted refugee status: "We were all refugees of the war. But because of Reagan politics and because of the Cold War, if you were fleeing a 'democracy,' a democracy that the United States was financially supporting at one time more than any other country in the world, more than Israel," you were not a refugee. "At one point my country was getting more than $1.8 million a day. That's taxpayers’ money. When the U.S. was so invested in my country, you couldn't say that people that were fleeing a democracy were refugees. And so, more than 98% of Salvadorans don't have papers or were deemed undocumented, since the moment they entered this country."
Among them was first Zamora's father, then his mother, and eight years after his father left came the most dangerous journey, when the nine-year old boy left on an unnerving trip so that in many ways was typical of many "undocumented immigrants," including some in his group who he feared died in the Sonora Desert. It is in their memory that this book is dedicated. Until this book, the trauma of that experience largely produced silence.
"I want to talk about silence," Zamora tells Scheer in the podcast, "because, since the moment that I crossed the finish line, meaning the U.S.-Mexico border, and I am reunited with my parents, I chose to end the book there, because that is just the beginning of a long story of silence."
Zamora chose at age 29 to end his period of silence and write "Solito." The book, he tells Scheer, is for those who have died trying to cross the border, "and for every immigrant who has crossed, who has tried to, who is crossing right now, and who will keep trying."