Poet Javier Zamora writes about his life through memories of pain and pleasure, using his own experiences to reflect on race, politics, immigration and the concept of American greatness. His primarily autobiographical writing flows with an effortless rhythm of details. Zamora will read in Finn House on Feb. 5 from his first collection of poems, Unaccompanied, as well as other published works that focus on how his migration has affected his life and family.
At the age of nine, Zamora fled El Salvador, his country of birth, and traveled alone through Central America until he arrived at the United States border. After he was abandoned by a coyote, a person who transports immigrants across the United States border, Zamora made his way into the country.
Zamora tries to represent a voice that has been so far overlooked in the United States. “I aim to be seen in a book,” he said. “To be seen as an undocumented Salvadoran kid.” Zamora’s work reflects on how refugees, like his family, ended up in the United States because of the country’s intervention in the Salvadoran Civil War. His work also criticizes the America First philosophy that has been epoused by President Donald Trump.
Zamora is specifically critical of the thinking behind Trump’s immigration policies. “[There is a problem] if you think there is no room for human beings to immigrate into the [United States] for any other reason besides the United States being great,” Zamora said. “I think the idea of greatness erases the million other reasons why people may want to come to this country. For Salvadorans, we are coming here for safety.”
Zamora began writing Unaccompanied during the Obama presidency. “Things were bad then and now they have gotten worse for undocumented immigrants,” Zamora said. As an immigrant and a refugee, he is conflicted about recent media coverage about El Salvador, such as the temporary protected status that grants El Salvadorans living in the United States temporary citizenship status.
Established in 2001, this status will be removed from El Salvadorans by 2019, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website. “I still feel that a lot of the news and the headlines are only looking at El Salvador and El Salvadorans and undocumented immigrants through a lense of victimhood,” Zamora said. Zamora is glad that El Salvador is being talked about, but is wary of how it is represented. Referring to recent comments from President Trump, Zamora said,“There is a sense of dehumanization when you enter the national stage as, for El Salvador, gangster, and it’s now the worst ‘shithole country.’ It’s weird.”
Zamora takes inspiration from many mediums. “To spark memories, I use a lot of things, ranging from books, fiction books, poetry books, movies, documentaries, different songs,” Zamora said. His poems often take many years to write, involving multiple revisions after the initial inspiration hits the page. “The ones that take longer are the more traumatic ones,” Zamora said, “the border crossing poems take really long.”
But Zamora looks to depart from the personal in his new projects: “I strive to be a writer that evolves with every book.”
Javier Zamora will be reading selected works in Cheever Room in Finn House on Monday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m.