Poet Javier Zamora was born in El Salvador in 1990, and migrated to the United States to join his parents at age 9. His collection of poetry traces his journey from El Salvador to the United States — and back again. Perhaps most striking about the collection is its fluidity in time and space, as frequent references to to the civil war in El Salvador and to other events of political and historical significance are balanced against his personal recollections, in vivid detail, of moments near and far. This proximity allows Zamora to write his reader into the narrative in a way that highlights the irony of the collection’s subject: a reader is welcomed to this extremely accessible collection in the way quite dissimilar to the reception of the modern migrant. One cannot help but situate Unaccompanied, published in 2017, in the context of Donald Trump’s election and the ongoing rhetoric regarding migrants entering the United States. The title of the work is both a reference to Zamora’s own journey to the United States, as well as a reference to the sentiment held within this country’s borders: those who come to the United States seeking a better life can find themselves at a distance — unaccompanied, unfamiliar, made alien from the home they left and the home they hoped to make.
It’s difficult to give a comprehensive summary of the contents of this text, as there are so many poems in this book; however, certain themes surrounding family, place& space, and identity are particularly well threaded through the collection as a whole. This seems to me to be an immensely valuable text, but, I will say, its applications on the exam is (as with all of the texts) pretty dependent on the questions that are asked. That said, some pf the poems that I think may be beneficial/deserving of a second (or third) look are Aubade (54-55), Abuelita Says Goodbye (58), Citizenship (63-64), and all of the final section (79-91, but particularly 89-91 where it talks about the process of writing/lit value). These are poems that may be relevant, but may not be relevant either! It all depends. A questions about identity would, for example, work well along with Silko’s novel (I could imagine contrasting the situation of Zamora, who migrates into the USA, with that of Tayo, who is a “foreigner” in his native land.). I can also imagine a way that Philips’s chapter would work with the over-arching premise of Zamora’s poems. A question about citizenship could allow for a connection to Antigone, to Hamlet, maybe to Silko again. There are, I think, a lot of possibilities to weave this text in conversation with others on our list.
Published in 2017, Javier Zamora’s poetry collection Unaccompanied depicts Zamora’s experience in his native El Salvador and journey immigrating to America by himself at the age of 9.
Zamora’s writing style switches from Prose to Poetry throughout the collection. In an article from The New Yorker, while recalling his journey from El Salvador to the Guatemala-Mexico border, Zamora’s recollection was clearer. This ability to recall this portion of his experience allowed Zamora to write about his encounters in prose format, depicting an organized recollection. It is after this first half of the journey where Zamora’s memory becomes far hazier. This effected the collection in that Zamora decided, “From Guatemala on, everything turned into poems”. His poems are structured in short bursts to illustrate the “memories he didn’t realize he had”. With these bursts of recollections, the reader is then allowed insight into how exactly Zamora pieces together his experience and tries to make sense of his journey to America.
In taking in account the time period of Zamora’s publication, now more than ever is it important to discuss the socio-political effects that the world has on literature. Prior to his own journey, Zamora’s parents had immigrated to the U.S., being affected by the U.S.-funded Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1992).
In his final poem of the collection titled “June 10, 1999”, Zamora discusses the day he arrives to the U.S. Taking his journey full circle, Zamora brings his experience to the present day when he mentions, “a white man passed a bill that wants me deported / wants my family deported” (87).
In the present U.S. where our current leader threatens the livelihood of its citizens, where DACA recipients are threatened with deportation, and ICE agents storm into homes essentially breaking apart families it is imperative to hear the stories of those that have experienced the hardship of immigrating to the U.S.; to provide the public with the first hand experience of border politics, racism, and economic injustice. The last lines of “June 10th, 1999 is “everyone’s working / Mom Dad Tia Lupe Tia Mali / working under different names / I sit here writing our names” (91) demonstrating Zamora’s ability to share his family’s experience as illegal immigrants. In an attempt to discuss what the “American Dream” truly means within the context of the 21st century, it is through Zamora’s experience that the migrant experience is finally given the opportunity to be discussed.
When trying to figure out what texts could be used to support Zamora’s collection, I think using Levine’s “forms” would be an interesting theory to use to discuss what having multiple forms in one text affords the reader and the writer. This would explore Zamora’s use of both prose and poetry in his writing to illustrate his experience and whether or not it is a beneficial technique.
Alternatively, one could take a more social approach and use Claudia Rankine’s Citizen in connection to Zamora’s Unaccompanied to discuss the injustices faced by minority groups. One could go in depth to discuss how U.S. politics can have an affect on the public and include Philip’s “spy” as a supporting text to discuss how image effects ones perception of something.
Unaccompanied follows an El Salvadoran poet’s journey of migration to the states at the age of 9. I don’t think further summary is necessary – these poems are relatively accessible. It’s important to be aware of the El Salvadoran civil war from 1980 – 1992 and of Unaccompanied’s publication in 2017 – after Trump was elected, as pointed out by Kaitlin.
1. “Doctor’s Office First Week in This Country,” pp. 66-68. An example of a uniquely immigrant experience, formative to the immigrant identity.
2. “’Ponele Queso Bicho’ Means Put Cheese on It Kid,” pp. 46-47. Similar to above, but less individual identity and more cultural identity.
3. Read alongside Silko’s Ceremony, as suggested by Kaitlin.
1. Extremely broad theme with general applicability to this text. Trading citizenship in one place for a chance at citizenship in another.
2. “Second Attempt Crossing,” pp. 9-10. Sacrifice for another migrant, a child. Is this the duty of a good citizen?
3. “For Israel and Maria de los Angeles,” pp. 34-37. Paints a picture of the violence of the El Salvadoran civil war. Civil wars as an idea make us question what it means to be a good citizen. If one believes in their cause, as the leftist El Salvadorans did, is it enough to incite violence? Do the ends justify the means? Antigone broke the law, but she didn’t hurt anyone. Where do we draw these lines?
4. “Let Me Try Again,” pp. 61-62. La Migra, the border officer, opts not to take the illegal immigrants into custody. Zamora suggests “he should’ve,” but “he must’ve remembered his family over the border.” Is the officer being a good citizen for not arresting a desperate group in need, or is he a bad citizen for not doing the job he was given by his sovereign state? Is he Bartleby, simply preferring not to, or is he Antigone, willfully disobeying?
5. When writing on citizenship, one should consider Antigone, as mentioned, and possibly Bartleby. I see Bartleby in everything! Utopia is also something that should be considered, of course. Hamlet. The Island. Citizen. Kaitlin suggests Silko for consideration here, as well.
C. Literary Value
1. “June 10, 1999,” pp. 79-91. Page 89, Zamora hides his poetry writing, saying that being a poet wasn’t supposed to be a part of his life as a Gringo – he was supposed to be “someone of value.” Comparison of writing to working on page 91.
2. When thinking about literary value, we could put this poem in conversation with “Not Writing,” The Female Quixote, and Areopagitica.
Javier Zamora was born in La Herradura, El Salvador, in 1990, and began his journey to join his parents the United States when he was just 9 years old. His poetry highlights the journey from El Salvador to the border and back again, all the while struggling with familial and identity issues. Unaccompanied was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2017, and is significant to our current political moment as Zamora is one of millions of Dreamers whose statuses are being threatened by the elimination of DACA.
Zamora wrestles with poetry and prose throughout his book, and his recollection of a journey that was supposed to take two weeks but lasted much longer is much more clear when he speaks to his reader in prose. In addition to his own work, Zamora includes poetry by many other immigrants with similar experiences. Zamora’s poetry gives voices to the voiceless, and exemplifies the ways in which borders are not always physical and do not always exist at country lines, but that sometimes borders exist only in our minds, to keep out what we consider dangerous.
In his opening poem, “To Abuelita Neli,” Zamora highlights the identity struggle of young migrants- “Last time you called, you said/ my old friends think that now I’m form some town/ between this bay and our estero. And that I’m a coconut:/ brown on the outside, white inside. Abuelita, please/ forgive me, but tell them they don’t know shit” (Zamora, 3). Through this poem, Zamora sums up the betrayal that is felt by those that are left behind, the ones that somehow feel as though when you leave, you turn your back on your true identity. But the reality is, in fact, that the journey to America literally rips your entire identity apart, and even you may no longer know who you are anymore.
In “The Book I Made with a Counselor My First Week of School,” Zamora touches upon the public persona that migrants must put on to appear trustworthy to “gringos,” “Earlier, Dad in his truck: ‘always look gringos in the eyes.’ Mom: ‘never tell them everything, but smile, always smile’” (Zamora, 8), he learns at an early age that he is always being watched by those that will always be suspicious of him and his intentions, even if he has done nothing wrong.
Through the early poems in the collection, we can see the way a child’s mind works to make sense of a world that seems unnecessarily difficult, and an unwelcoming country that is supposed to be the answer to every immigrant’s dreams.
In “Let Me Try Again,” Zamora describes what it is like to finally reach the border after a seemingly endless journey filled with lies, violence, and need. The moment when you realize that of the 40 people you began your journey with, just 4 have made it to this point, and the moment when an immigration officer kindly tells you “…next time, rest at least five days/ don’t trust anyone calling themselves coyotes,/ bring more tortillas, sardines, Alhambra./ He knew we would try again/ and again,/ like everyone does” (Zamora, 62). This poem highlights the determination behind the journey for each and every one of them. While the immigration officer still had a duty to return them to the other side of the border, the kindness found in such an unlikely place is what feeds the hope and desire of these migrants to return, no matter how treacherous the journey.
Strikingly, in the closing poem, “June 10, 1999,” Zamora reveals “I wasn’t born here/ I’ve always known this country wanted me dead,” (87), and this passage thrusts the feelings of immigrants of the United States, during our current political climate, to the forefront of his collection of poetry. At a time when white supremacy is at a record high, as well as the distaste for and distrust of any and all migrants that pass over the U.S.-Mexico border, Zamora reveals to his reader that while this feeling may be new to the news, it is one that he has always been familiar with. Even though this country is the answer to the prayers of man immigrants and the dream of so many still attempting to make the dangerous journey over the border, they are well aware of the animosity that awaits them on the other side, but the animosity is still better than whatever they left behind them.
Unaccompanied can be paired well with Silko, particularly the section where Zamora discusses the border crossing people as opposed to the other way around (page 62) as Tayo feels like a foreigner in his home. Additionally, if speaking in a more political light, Rankine’s Citizen is also an ideal choice. Sophocles’ Antigone can also work in terms of the determination regardless of the risks taken. Levine’s “Affordances of Form” seems like an ideal choice, but I believe that Federici can also work alongside Zamora’s collection.
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