An Impossible Journey
Migrating to the United States as a child altered the course of Javier Zamora's life.
By Abigail Fagan published March 7, 2023 - last reviewed on March 7, 2023
As a child, Javier Zamora was left behind when his parents fled the civil war in El Salvador for the United States. When he was 9 years old, his parents decided it was time for him to join them. Thus began his treacherous migration. Instead of two weeks as anticipated, his journey took nine—through oceans and deserts, bribery and detention, hunger and thirst, profound abandonment and deep connection. In his book, Solito (“alone” in Spanish) Zamora travels back into his childhood mindset to share his story.
Has your perception of your childhood self shifted in adulthood?
For a long time, whenever I thought about those nine weeks, I thought of myself as this helpless, weak, pushover of a kid. But writing made me see and remember the things that this 9-year-old would do. I had forgotten what a badass this kid had to be in order to survive.
On the journey, I spent two weeks with my grandpa. Hearing how my grandpa talks about it now, I realized there was another option, another way to remember. My grandpa tried his best to get this kid ready for an impossible journey. We have this belief of a dog-like creature with goat hooves, and everybody has one that protects them. My grandpa told me I also had one. That was his protection cloak—a metaphysical or almost religious gift. Another beautiful thing he taught me was how long it’ll take for the sun to set, by positioning my hand in front of me in line with the sun.
When I came to the U.S., my parents immediately told me not to tell anybody about my journey because we were all undocumented. I had to lie, tell people I was born in the U.S., learn English as fast as possible, and lose my accent. These are all survival tactics that pushed this story farther and farther in the back of my brain. I was asked to erase the people I traveled with, who had become my second family. I was told to forget about them.
Now I’m working with a therapist who has changed my life. We’re doing the work of understanding that loneliness is one of the many layers that has shaped me. It’s not going to go away, but I can try to understand it so it doesn’t take over my life. I understand why I feel a certain way, but I shouldn’t not love myself or believe I don’t deserve love.