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tv   QA Author Javier Zamora on Migrating from El Salvador to the United States...  CSPAN  February 15, 2023 6:59pm-8:00pm EST

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and so i would just tell you that the safety and security of the american people, that's the thing that's most important to me and to everybody on the dod team at about the interagency. so we're going to continue to drill until we learn as much as we can about what these objects are and whether operating in the spaces. we will always err on the side of caution, but again there's a lot to be learned going forward. >> thank you very much. ladies and gentlemen, that is all the time we have for today. this includes our presser. thank >> there are almost a new
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members in the 100 and 18th congress, and this includes first-generation americans and another -- second generation americans and a number of women in my -- minorities. he interviewed them on the ferry drive -- variety of subjects. greg glassman, aaron hausman, cindy can longer douse, caracalla, she bashevis mccormick, and eli crane. watch the new members online at we order your copy of the congressional directory for the 100 and 18th congress. it is your access to the federal government with bio and contact information for every house and senate member, important information on congressional committees, the president's cabinet, federal agencies and state governors. scan the code at the right to preorder your copy today for
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early spring delivery, it is 2995 plus shipping and handling, and every purchase supports nonprofit operations at ♪ the story they tell your new book. >> my memoir is about growing up after the civil war that lasted from 1980 until 1992. my mom leaves in 1995 and i grew
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up with my grandparents. the book is told by my nine-year-old self, and it begins weeks before april 6, 1999, which is the date that i leave and it helps my mom get here. the trip is supposed to last two weeks similar to how long my mom trip lasted and it turns into a nine week journey in which i am left with six individuals, and we become this family, i get closer to a 19-year-old man, a 28-year-old mom and a 12-year-old daughter. then we help each other survive across the desert.
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the equation my parents had to balance, and we tried to get a visa, they denied me. they tried to bring me the hair and that to not work.
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what gave them the confidence was they were using the same person that helped my mom get here. the man was with her every step of the way, literally and they expected him to do the same for me. of course, he leaves the group because we were not the only one paying him. he leaves them stranded. we never see him again. that is the reason why they agreed and factor all that in. >> they had confidence that was misplaced. >> it has been 23 years since he
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made this tremendous journey. why did you decide to write the book? >> this is a journey that was very difficult for me to remember, the details were always there, the metaphor i like to use his trauma happens in surroundsound. whenever i would see a headline or watch a movie that talked about immigration, i was put back into that surroundsound and hd movie. but when i wasn't triggered, i hid that away and essentially got to a point in 2019 when i was researching the child immigrant crisis at the border, in which i said, all these other people are talking for these children, all these politicians are talking about these children.
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i was one of those children. not in 2017, but in 1999. it is time that i stop being so afraid of facing my nine-year-old self. i began to write. from then on, it has helped me shift my point of view of not only looking at this nine-year-old kid, not only me as this weak, helpless child, but the writing of this memoir helps me look at him as a superhero and survivor who helped me live and survive what time seemed unsurvivable. susan: what was it like for your parents reading your book? javier: oh. [laughter] like i said at the end, this is a story that we talked about
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immediately after it occurred, and they cried. they have a lot of guilt of putting me through that. they did not expect it. we've only talked about it in full three times. my dad read the book, he fixed it, he helped with the spanish translation, and he cried and he apologized. my mom has not read past chapter one. i think it is difficult for her to read and relive their own trauma because i'm describing my trauma for nine weeks, but for seven weeks, my parents did not know where their one and only kid was and they could not do anything about it. that has caused their own trauma. i'm not a parent and i can't imagine what it was like for them. susan: that gives the title of the book, "solito," multiple levels of meaning, doesn't it? you were alone, they were alone, you took the journey alone, and you were lonely, so so many different interpretations of the
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word. javier: and after the fact, too. i get here in 1999. and it was not until i started writing at the age of 18 that i feel like i have to carry this trauma by myself. i feel alone. i feel like there are not other children like me. of course it's not the truth. susan: so i want to talk about the structure and process of the book. you are a professional writer, in fact a poet. an earlier treatment of this topic was a book of poetry. it is clear you bring your poet's lyricism. i picked out one short paragraph so people could get a sense of what your writing style is like. would you be able to read it for us? javier: of course. this takes place during one of the attempts. the cadejo is a mythical figure in el salvador in folklore. everybody has one.
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he's like a dog like figure that protects you. "i'm ready. avoiding cactuses is boring. avoiding barbed wire. thin, metallic him a pointy. the smell of dust. our faces in the dirt. dirt in our noses, in our mouths. no one got hurt in al capone go, wio rty told us we might go through the -- the coyote told us we might never go through this. i thought it was going to sand and sand only, like
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the fences a cool. i feel like i'm back home chasing iguas. i practice. it is the most exciting thing we've done all trip. it's like a game. who can ma it through the fence without getting stuck? my arm has marks where i crawled. he it's worth it. my hands are scratched and i can feel a trnn my left palm, but that's ok. we keep walking, the fences can't stop us. we got through another one and we are masters. che d marcello help each other. mario helps patricia. cho helps me. no one gets stuck. otr people do, so we make up a few positions in the line. dejo protects us. i look for his eyes, but only find trash or a rock or someone's water bottle. i'm so awake. it's almost 11:00. the latest i've stayed up since
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the boat. and i'm not tired at all." susan: so one question you would have as a reader, how are you able to recover such detailed memories? javier: multilayered answer. one is that trauma happens like i just mentioned in this sense a tory, high definition realm that you never forget, but you try to run away from it and you triple locket in a drawer in your brain. when you are triggered, you replay that movie and you are back there. i can still taste the dust i just read about. there is one. the trick is accessing that video on your own terms. this is where for me, therapy has really helped and having a therapist who is a specialist in child immigrants and is an ever got herself from the dominican republic really allowed me to go there.
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at the same time, my wife is a reiki practitioner and we would have sessions where i was thrown back into immigration detention cells or in the desert as i'm running away from helicopters. and we moved to tucson in the process of writing this book. i had to expose myself to a similar landscape, to the elements that i lived through when i was nine years old. that reminded me and put me back into the fear of the video in the blu-ray and dvd. susan: you talk about your parents' emotional reaction. i was just reading a story in "the new york times" in your experience recording the audiobook version of "solito."
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why was it so emotional for you? javier: the writing of it, i choked up certain parts. all of the expected parts felt difficult the aspect of running away from the helicopter and being in detention. the editing of it. i got to know chino and patricia, and it's almost in hindsight expected that it would move me to tears. in the reading of it, i wasn't looking at the book through an editor's lens, just observing the story. there were certain passages that i had not realized still affect me today. for example, when i talk about this teenager who dropped out of school in order to work and drive this bicycle taxi cab in a border town in guatemala, and just him acknowledging he does not have to go to school because he can make money and he's been doing this since he was 12 years old, that made me cry.
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here i am being a writer who has learned and listened to his lesson, but i have the privilege to just be a writer. another passage was when we were hungry and we had just attempted our second try at the border, and we go to the shelter and a nun dropped hot food on a plate and i just remembered how good that food tasted. it really broke me down. it's a completely different process to read your own book out loud. my wife was there, and her brother was there, and i don't think i would have allowed myself to cry in the studio if there were strangers around, but
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it was family. susan: before we get into more details, of course publishing this book at this point puts you in the middle of this ongoing contentious debate the country is having about southern border illegal immigration and border security. what perspective does your book bring to that? javier: i don't like the i word. i would call it paperless migration or undocumented migration. what i hope this book does is that it really sheds a light into the humanity and empathy and superhuman powers that immigrants are forced to embody and enact. we are not ponds and we are not only our trauma, we are more than that.
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we are also joy. even in the darkest moments of our lives, we have the capability of laughing, of joking, of enjoying a hot plate of food and being really joyful about it. i hope that this book doesn't flatness -- flatten us like most of the politicians and news outlets do immigrants because they treat us as sounding boards of trauma. we are more than that. we are 3d, full-bodied human beings, capable of anything. the word that does not really get used around immigration is survival. we are survivors. what would happen if we treat every single one of these individuals as survivors? i think the general american
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public would have more empathy and we could really begin to have a real conversation and provide real solutions to this problem. susan: let's spend a bit more time on the details of your story. your village -- in el salvador at the age of nine, you wrote that there was one way in and one way out. how small was it and who was raising you after your parents left? javier: at the time, it was a very small town. there was one asphalt road and one dirt road. i want to say the town could not have been bigger than 1000 people. it is right in the middle of a mangrove forest. it's in the middle of a town that leads to the one pure -- pier. and the entire mangrove forest,
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estuary, i don't know what to call it. when my mom left, i was left in the care of my grandma and grandpa, and my aunt became a pseudo-mom, who i trust and got close to, but in reality she's only eight to nine years older than me, so she's only like 18 or 19 at the time. she was like an older sister. i spent four beautiful years in perhaps the most peaceful time in salvadorean history, but it is in this peaceful time that people begin to get murdered in my hometown, and the town begins to grow, and those outside factors, the violence, are also the reasons for why my parents cannot wait anymore. it is like they could foresee what eventually does end up happening in my country, which is a pandemic of crime and gangs taking over and corruption at the political level. susan: do you still have family living there now? javier: yes. part of the research of this book was getting a green card and finally after 19 years being able to return to my country and the exact same room i grew up in
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that actually has not changed much. we did change the room, it is no longer a terra-cotta roof, but a more modern roof. the house is still there. my grandma and my grandpa are still there. my cousin julia, who when i left was five years old, is still there. but everybody else has left. my mom cannot return. my aunts have both left and can't return. i'm the only member of my family who can do the back and forth. that also has been difficult for me to navigate. susan: at the time your mother left, why did she or was she not able to take you with her javier:? because she came here without papers. in her calculation, like most immigrants, she believed she would leave for a few years and that the situation in my country was going to improve. by the time that i'm seven or eight, it looks like the
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situation is not improving. like i described in the book, one of her friends who happen to get shot right in front of or a few feet away from the room where i sleep, so i was woken up as a nine-year-old because this man gets shot. i think that is what convinced her there is no way that i'm leaving my son or that i myself am returning or that my husband is returning to this country, that we thought was going to finally be in peace, but it looks like it's not. susan: so you were a student at a catholic school, and you were a good student and great at grammar even at that early age. you write about as you prepare
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to leave for your trip that it is important not to tip off the nuns of what was impending. why not? what were you and your family concerned about? javier: there are rumors in small towns. i believe it is still happening now. everybody knows a coyote or knows somebody that is thinking about, preparing to, or it has -- or has just left to come to the united states. part of the rumor mill was that nuns, jesuit nuns, were stopping children from leaving, which i have looked into it and i have not found any sort of proof, so i think it is just a made up rumor that trickled down to my nine-year-old self. so i was very afraid about not telling anybody.
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and my grandparents believed this as well. it might have been a trick. i have asked them. they sincerely thought nuns were doing this, to this day. but we just did not trust them, that they would allow me to leave, because i was there valedictorian. i almost won this national spelling bee that put my catholic school on the national conversation, on the national map, and i shook the president's hand. i was a very good student, and we were afraid that because i was a very good student, that they were going to tell on me. susan: so you were carrying this secret for at least a full year, because every time you spoke to your parents, they kept referencing your upcoming trip. the trip we read about so often.
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the trip that you were getting yourself mentally prepared for and emotionally prepared for. i guess i was struck by the ceremony you had when it was time to leave with your schoolmates because you could not tip them off, and yet you conveyed a real sense of finality of the moment. could you tell me about that? javier: yes. talking to my therapist, those are skills that i learned have stuck with me. one, wanting to be a good student because i've always wanted to be loved and taken care of, and the other is learning to be such a good liar from such a small age, because i had to. the day before, i never invited my best friend to play with, i left my best toys. the best toys that nobody touched. i did not allow them about the second level, second best toys, i finally revealed those, because my mom worked at a toy store in the united states.
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i had for example a jurassic park walking t-rex that had a remote control. in a small, coastal town, that was the same toy i'm seeing when the curtains are playing, it is right here. so they come over and we have the last play date and i still can't tell them. i can't tell them that i'm leaving because there's this fear that somebody is going to tell somebody, tell the salvadorean police or guatemalan police, meaning immigration and they will not allow me to cross into guatemala. susan: so tell me about the way your grandparents and in particular your grandfather prepared you for the journey. javier: for lack of a better term, my grandpa was an alcoholic. he drank up until my mom left. he stopped drinking when i
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turned five. but from the ages of three to five, i remember a lot of his troubles with alcohol. i was afraid. i was never close -- who i was closest to where my grandmother and my aunt. they tried to prepare me for the trip, telling me that i had issues being potty trained, which is not unusual for children who have been left by their mothers. it's not that i couldn't. there was a mental block that did not allow me. my mom was potty training me at the same time she left, so i refused to use a toilet. so they tried to tell me, you know, if you go on this trip, you will have to use this toilet. so there's that. another one was that i needed to do my dishes, for my own clothes, and try my best to not bother the adults around me, which in hindsight, ended up paying off, because i wasn't a nuisance for the adults around me.
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i tried my best not to get in the way of the adults. some of it is respect, but it turned out to be a survival tactic. once i leave them and i'm stuck with my grandpa, he used his best skills in the military to help me tell time. i still do this to this day. if you stick your hand out like this, and this is the horizon, that's where the sun is, you have an hour left of sunlight. if the sun is higher up, you can do this and you have two hours left. if it's right there, you have 45, 30, 15. he learned that in the military and he taught me in the two weeks we stayed together in guatemala. i ended up beginning to trust my grandpa for the very first time in my life and to have this beautiful, wonderful memory.
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ice store remember what he told me about his life before grandma and his life in the military, and all the things in all the places he had been two or had not been to. and it is the first time that he himself leaves el salvador to explore guatemala. i can see my grandpa in a different light. we get close for two weeks and it is very hard for me to say goodbye to him when he has to return to el salvador and we have to go to a coastal town to get on these boats. susan: your grandfather also told you a lot of things you had to memorize. your parents' telephone number, the names of the towns you were expected, and a lot of mexican heritage touch points. you were going to be assuming a mexican identity as you crossed the u.s. border. why was that important? javier: there's this figure, at the u.s. mexico border, of the
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people, or the nationalities that were most traveling to the united states in the 1990's. i want to say on paper, the statistics say it was 95% mexican. i would kindly assume that is not fact. a lot of central americans were people from other countries were lying in order to not be deported all the way back to their home country. because if you say you are mexican, you get deported to mexico, and then you can try again. and that is part of this culture of learning or expecting what the cops or mexican police and mexican immigration will ask you in order to prove mexicaness. those are as simple as, say you are from guadalajara.
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tell me the three soccer teams that are based in guadalajara. or sing the mexican anthem chorus. ok, you got the course. tell me the first verse. also, who is the president right now? in your opinion, who are the best presidents? these are the things as a nine-year-old i had to remember in case the cops were going to ask me and not believe that the people i was with where my parents. and that parental figure changed when our coyote was still around, he was supposed to be my dad.
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once he left, patricia and carla, patricia became my mom and her doctor became my sister. -- her daughter became my sister. eventually as i got closer to the u.s. mexico border, chino becomes her husband and he becomes my fake dad. these are all things, lies that we used in order to not be deported all the way back. susan: were you ever asked these questions? javier: no, it never came up. susan: were you ever asked those questions by border authorities? javier: i always pretended to be asleep. i don't think i could've lied. susan: after your grandfather left, were you worried about survival on that boat trip? how perilous was it? javier: i am from a small coastal town and i did not know how to swim.
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i was afraid of the water. i was afraid of the sharks. i was a nature nerd and knew too much about sharks. we were on this 30 foot long boat that had no roof. it was a motorized skiff. you sit down in the boat and if you put your hand out, you can touch ocean water. it was very scary. and it was packed. there were three boats. weeks before, again from the rumor mill in this small coastal guatemalan town, we heard that three similar boats had capsized and everyone died which was why we were supposed to get to town and leave but we spent another week waiting for new boats and
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to take this 20 hour boat ride in the middle of the pacific ocean. and i was very afraid. it is colder than you would think in the middle of the ocean and that was unexpected. but it also ends up being the experience that brings me closer to chino, this 19-year-old young man who i attached to and began to trust, and he becomes the is father figure from that moment on. father/older brother figure. he takes care of me, patricia and carla, for the rest of the trip. susan: once that journey finished, you were in mexican territory. you got on a bus and an old woman on the bus turns your group in. you run into the mexican police. you had your first experience with police extortion. what happened?
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javier: the pecking racial order or racism, internalized racism, plays a part in the situation because the woman that turns us in is an indigenous woman. the cop did not believe she was mexican because she was darker skinned. and in order to prove her mexican-ness, she turns on us because she had heard us talk. us salvadoreans, we talked differently. she points at the man, not patricia, carla, or me, who always sat together, and says, take him, they are not michigan. they dragged the man out. our new coyote does not do anything so patricia freaks out and starts yelling and screaming at the woman and then the cops come back and they drag patricia, her daughter, and
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myself out of the bus. they point their guns at us. they make us empty our backpacks, our pockets and take our shoes off. they are looking for money. after doing this, they make us face down on the dirt and it was one of these experiences in which i learned how to disassociate. meaning to focus on something that allows me to survive the situation. for me, people asked me if the lizard i named paola was real. she was very real. i happened to concentrate on this lizard a few feet away from my face as i am facedown on the dirt. and i just focus on her, on her tail, on the way that she looked instead of focusing on the guns and on the hands that are
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tapping all of us looking for money. susan: did you have any money? javier: i did. we all had money sewed in different parts of our clothing and that money they did not find. but they found our walk around money, if you want to call it that. susan: i want to fast forward to your first border crossing which was in the nogales section of mexico. and tucson. by this point you have a guide, a coyote, named el marinero. interestingly as you set out on this long walk, they distribute white pills to each of you. what was that? javier: i do not know for certain but my friend who does a lot of research on the borderland -- what he thinks is they were caffeine pills. coyotes have been known to use
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meth. i don't know. it is the way they make who they think are the weakest last longer in the desert, which also is a double-edged sword, because it also makes you dehydrated so you have to drink more water. if you don't make it through and you are on one of those drugs, you will die faster. susan: tell me about that first border crossing. what is the important aspect of that section of the journey to know? javier: moving to tucson was a very crucial part of me writing this, because i remembered different snapshots and different parts of the landscape that did not match up. if they all happened in the same sector of the border. and for that first trip, it was hillier, so i can tell you with 80%-90% certainty that it was
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east of paladin. and we had made it. the route was quick and fast and we made it to the road on which we were going to get picked up by a van. it was always a van promised to us. we got there so fast that we were waiting in this crater like hole on the ground. instead of the van showing up, immigration showed up. they rounded all of us up, that was the second time i had a gun pointed at me. chino gets handcuffed and we get separated from, by that point, the group of eight we had set out from el salvador with, ended up shortening to six. and when we get apprehended, the six shrinks to the four. it is patricia, chino, carla, and myself. everyone else that started out is gone and the other strangers that we banded with in order to make this crossing at the
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u.s.-mexico border, i want to say there were like 50 people and most of them scattered in the desert. and when that occurred, that is the most dangerous for immigrants because they do not know the desert. in all likelihood, they did not survive or make it out of the desert. and that still haunts me to this day. susan: this was your first run in with the u.s. border patrol. what was the experience like? javier: it was not pleasant. [chuckling] i want to say there were five trucks. an agent each. there were also german shepherds that they released. they follow people and they are trained to bite if they have to. and to bark at the people and to freeze them so the rest of the
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agents can get there. one of the agents hits chino and pins him to the ground and handcuffs him. scenes that a child should not see. that no adult should be put through. and seeing that -- i still carry it with me. and then, after the violence of the apprehension, we get driven to a detention cell and i spend two nights in this detention cell, stuck in a small 8x8 room with a toilet, and on top of the toy that is a faucet we have to drink water out of if we are thirsty. everyone smells. there is no room to sleep. men sleep standing up. others don't sleep.
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they are not the best of conditions. susan: did they make any accommodation for you and carla, nine and 11 years old, that you were aware of? javier: no. what they did was separate the men from the women. at that time, there were a lot of men immigrating. they did not want to separate me from my fake dad, which now, at one point, they were not doing. they were separating the kids from their family members. in hindsight, i am thankful that that practice was not in use in 1999. patricia and carla had their own cell with i want to say one or other woman, or other women. two they had cots. it is not a good practice and it
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still haunts me. and trips me up when i talk about it. susan: border patrol returns you to mexico. you recovered at the shelter that you described earlier, run by the catholic nuns, and your original deal with don diego was a guaranteed two tries. the second try was june 2. you have been away from home two months at this point. long walks in the sonoran desert. what was really compelling about this was that helicopters, the running, and the running into cactus for you and your fellow travelers. what happened? javier: from my research, this try happened in the buenos aires wildlife refuge, which is west of nogales closer to a town named sassebe, arizona. this was the longest trip. our coyote, after we run away
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from a helicopter, we get chased by a helicopter. it turns out he twists his ankle. as an adult, i think that it was the running away from the helicopter that disorients him. he does not know where he is. people can tell he does not know where he is going. we are running out of water. eventually by the second night he stays. he said, you guys keep going. a lot of the people, when we ran away from the helicopter, and this happened our first night, mpednto cactus. and when i say cactus, im desc a teddy bear choya, the worst cactus to run into, because they do not have needles that point forward, they are like hooks. patricia, the mom in our group of four, runs into one and has so many needles on her face. and she is hurting.
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she gets puffy, she is bleeding. the next day we spent an entire day walking in the desert. we are out of water. the coyote stays the second night. and then the second day, in the desert, we are completely out of water. at this point we started off with what i call the centipede. i want to say it was like 50 to 60 people. by the second day in the desert, after the second night, we shrink into 10. eventually, by mid afternoon it is only us four. everybody else is gone. i don't know where they are. hopefully, they left us because we were walking slower and they did make it to the van. i don't know. in order to survive, we keep on deciding, we meaning chino and patricia, the adults, are again
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balancing whether it is safe for us to approach a ranch. our directions were where the vans are, there are two vans out front and three full-grown trees and there is a red brick or red roof, i don't remember. we are trying to decide which of these houses fits the description. none of them do. eventually we find one that has a hose. we were at this point 24 hours without water. we approached the hose and as we are approaching, two dogs come running. and the owner of the house comes out with his shotgun and shoots up in the air and tells us not to move in his broken spanish. and that he has already called immigration and immigration is on its way. and we get stopped again. susan: we have about 15 minutes left.
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i just wanted you to comment, because at this point, your connection with u.s. immigration was border patrolman gonzalez. frankly when i read this part of the story, i was unclear of his motivations towards you. what do you think he was intending with his response to your group? javier: i think he had empathy on us because it was clearly, in his eyes, a family who was struggling to make it here and that had already tried. i think if we had lied to him and told him this was our first try, he would have taken us back to the detention center and processed us, meaning run our fingerprints. i think he didn't because if he would have done that, after the second attempt, the adults with me would have been charged with 10 years in jail.
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and i don't think he wanted to do that. i have talked to a close friend of mine who helped me with the research who used to be a border patrol agent and ariter himself, francisco, who is my best friend in tucson. he has told me that this is common practice -- that sometimes agents themselves are lazy. they do not want to drive back and do the paperwork because you have to fill out almost like a police report. in the sector he was, the closest station was like an hour away. and so, my friend thinks that this agent factored that in. he was like, you know what? they are going to try again and i am just going to walk them back to across the border. which, depending on who you ask, sometimes is better that they
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don't do that, especially now in the present day. because if an agent does that, you are putting the immigrants in the hands of the cartel, the mexican cartel, which at that time the cartels were not involved as much as they are in the immigrant trade. in 1999, that was, for lack of a better word, the more empathetic choice to make. which is just allow us to walk back into mexico. susan: let's spend a minute on the coyotes. at this point your contract with the original don diego, who abandoned you to some of his comrades, is over. for the third try, you have a new set of coyotes. can you talk a little bit about, in 1999, who these people were and how their network operated that is different from today? javier: i am not an expert. i will say that.
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again, this is all hearsay. i can't fully comment on what is going on now. i can only comment on what was going on in 1999, and i was a kid. so at best, me as an adult commenting on what i saw as a kid. in hindsight, it seems to me that at that point in time this was the line of work that everybody did and some people took pride in. they took pride in providing a safe passage for people to come work in this country and to fulfill their dreams of coming to the united states. and some of those people, like any line of work, are better than others and have better routes. it is the routes that have been monetized and appropriated by the cartels. and we happened to sleep the second time we got deported back
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to the mexican side, we happened to sleep in someone's front yard that knew somebody that knew somebody who had a cousin who did these tries. but not in salsave. we drove like two hours east. somewhere on the mexican side. that is where this young man who was -- i don't know how long he could have been doing this -- he couldn't have been older than 25, 26. and it was his route that ends up working and it was the safest route -- the fastest and safest route. we finally made it across on june 10, 1999. susan: when did you reconnect with your parents? and when in those nine weeks did they finally know you were still alive?
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javier: unbeknownst to me, and they only told me this once i reunited with them, the original members that left el salvador, the first time we get apprehended by border patrol, he runs away beforehand. he makes it to l.a. and the moment he gets to l.a., he calls my parents. this would have been june 2 and , 1999. he tells them that i am safe. that i am with good people. and that he is pretty sure i'm going to make it and that is the first time my parents hear from me. the second time they hear from me is june 10. these new coyotes ask me for their phone number, which i had memorized. and they called them and he gives my parents instructions of how much money to bring, where
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to fly him to if they can't come tomorrow to do it by 10:00 a.m. and to not fly into tucson but fly into phoenix because there might be checkpoints. the first exit in tucson, to park at the gas station next to the freeway and he is going to be there. he tells them what he is going to be wearing. and that is it. they don't talk to me. the coyote gives them details , that i am nine years old. with that bit of information, they take a flight and follow through the directions and are finally reunited with me. 8:00, 9:00 a.m. on june 11. , 1999. susan: clearly you would not have survived the trip without patricia and chino. they really did become your family. you tell readers at the end that you lost touch with them shortly
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-- a short time after you came to the united states. you hoped this book would help you reconnect. is there any news on that? the book has been out for a while, you have gone national publicity. javier: no, not yet. they have not come out of wherever they are. and i don't expect them to. i hope -- susan: what would you say to them if you saw them again? javier: i wrote this book and i dedicate the book to them. i don't remember ever saying thank you, and this is my way of thanking them for my life. i would not be alive without them. i don't know where i would be or if i would be alive. and i just hope my more realistic scenario would be that . -- that they see this book, open it and they see it is dedicated
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to them. and not that they read it because they know what happens inside, but they just know that this boy has grown up and has never -- there has not been one day that i have not thought about them. and that i still carry them with me. and their deeds, they are -- their completely empathetic deeds that i carry with me every day. susan: we have about five or six minutes left. this is the subject of another hour, but you made it from a nine-year-old boy crossing the border to harvard university and a professional writing life. what was responsible for that journey, that personal journey? javier: it is funny, i talked to my therapist about it today. this boy watched his mom leave when i am five years old,
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subconsciously learned that one way for him to get love from strangers, including teachers, is to be a good student. and he is going to be such a good student that people are not going to leave, the nuns are going to want him to stay because he almost went to the national spelling bee. the same thing happened when i am in this country. it is not necessarily that education is going to get me places but in a more nuanced way, it is education that is going to keep people around. it is going to make people care about me. and it will make people want to help me. which ends up happening.
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the biggest break of my life was my soccer coach in a club happened to be the athletic director of the very fancy high school, the branson school in marin county, and he helps me get into that school because he not only sees that i am a good athlete but that i am a good student. and that becomes a theme. and a poet who goes into the classroom sees i am a good student and she wants to help me become a writer and also helps me write a personal statement that gets me into college. once i am in college, same thing. it is like you can see that's me being smart, but there is also a read that this nine-year-old boy wants to be loved, helped. so throughout my life i have attempted to re-create the dynamic of the nine-year-old making the nine week journey, and whether it is my charm,
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intelligence, my lies that makes patricia, chino, and carlo want to help me. they did not have to help me but they chose to help me. susan: how did you overcome the skill of telling lies? javier: therapy. [laughter] lying has gotten me places and has gotten me in trouble. that has been the biggest thing i have had to heal from. it has affected me. once you are no longer in survival mode, it ends up hurting you. susan: in our last couple of minutes, i really want to go back to the big overall question about solito. what is the main question you want readers to take away from it? javier: if i did my job correctly, is that you will now
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have a phase, a name, at least one. it could be mine, could be chinos, patricia's, carlos. you as the reader now personally know an immigrant. you might already know an immigrant, but they don't talk about what they have lived through, and now here is sharing one this journey with you. and now hopefully you have more empathy. you have a friend. you have somebody you know that survived the desert, that survived the immigrant journey. and i hope that that knowledge turns into action and you as the viewer, as the reader, as the listener now have something more at stake in the immigration discussion. susan: javier zamora, your book
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is "solito." thank you for spending an hour with c-span. javier: thank you so much. ♪ >> all "q&a" programs are available on our website or as a podcast on our c-span now app. >> all this week beginning at 7:00 p.m. eastern, c-span is featuring encore presentations of q&a, our interview program with nonfiction writers, journalists, and historians. on thursday, northeastern university's margaret burnham shares her book that examines the racial violence experienced by blacks in the south by the jim crow era legal system that supported it. thursday night at 7:00 eastern on q&a.
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