Solito by Javier Zamora


Review by Elisabeth Martin Rogers

Solito is the first memoir I sat down and read cover to cover since reading Anne Frank’s Diary in middle school. Javier Zamora tells his story of migration from El Salvador to “La USA” at the tender age of 9. He is in this liminal space throughout the book because he left family in El Salvador to be with his parents in the USA. He was supposed to be gone for 2 weeks but the trip took him 2 whole months. He had no contact with either ends of his family, but made a family of his own out of the people he traveled with.

The most fascinating aspect of this book is that Zamora tells the story as if he were 9 years old again. There are things he describes with naivety, but as an adult reader, we can understand the underlying circumstances. He talks about how everyone describes “La Migra” (the migration officers) with fear and hate, and how he pictures them as comic book bad guys that he is supposed to run from at all costs. We step into his fear and discomfort when he talks about how grimey and unknown everything was. It pains me to know that he and his family tried multiple times to cross legally, but was rejected every time. This trip of his was the last ditch effort to reunite him with his parents.

 

Hygiene was a big deal in this book because hygiene is completely disregarded when taking a trip as dangerous as this. Everything is at the mercy of your coyote; where and when you sleep, what you eat, when to use the bathroom, and the path you travel. To put it into perspective, the first time he was able to shower after intense traveling was by waiting in a massive line, with 3 minutes total to shower and use the bathroom. He was expected to shut up and be fast. How many 9 year olds do you know that can remain quiet, listen, and not complain for a whole day? Now imagine that for 2 months. Zamora was as patient as a kid could be.

The adults traveling with Zamora guarded him fiercely without payment. This was a big deal because many people saw migrants as someone to take advantage of, rather than someone who needs assistance. To see genuine care and love from strangers in terrible situations gives hope for humanity after watching people steal, lie, and actively put children like Zamora in danger. 

There are other moments of kindness that you will have to read for yourself, and you may want to get some fresh tortillas because man oh man does Zamora make you want to eat a fresh tortilla with queso fresco and avocado. You will appreciate everything in your life much more after this story.