The dangerous, untold story of how Bay Area author immigrated to US

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Friday, September 16, 2022
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Here's how author Javier Zamora made it to the US alone from the war-torn country of El Salvador at only the age of nine.

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- Hispanic Heritage Month has begun, marking the independence of several Latin American nations including Mexico on Sept. 16. ABC7 is kicking off the month with the story of Javier Zamora, who at the age of nine left the war-torn country of El Salvador by himself to join his parents in the Canal District of San Rafael.

"My parents grew up during the Civil War," begins Zamora.

It was the 1980s-early 90s and things were so dangerous in El Salvador that, fearing for his life, Zamora's father was forced to leave the country when Zamora was only one.

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"And then the war ended but economically speaking things didn't change and there was still a lot of violence and when my mom tried to find a job, she would be sexually harassed," he explained.

His mother ended up also leaving when Zamora was only five. He was left in the care of his grandparents.

"She promised to come back but the situation as we like to call it in El Salvador kept getting worse," he told ABC7 news reporter Lyanne Melendez.

"You know, I always wanted to leave, I wanted to be with my parents," Zamora revealed.

That meant traveling alone at the age of nine with a "Coyote" and others from El Salvador to the U.S.-Mexico border. It took them nine weeks.

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He writes about it in his new book, "Solito."

The word "solo" means alone. We asked him what "Solito" means.

"It literally means little, alone," he explains.

Alone, with only his backpack. Too embarrassed, he seldom shared his traumatic experience with others, until now.

"It wasn't until I wrote this book that I began to take that backpack off," he adds.

He read from his book about escaping on a boat toward Oaxaca, Mexico, and encountering flying fish, he says, a symbol of hope.

"They ride the wind like bullets, like skinny balloons, more and more. 'We're going to make it,' I whispered. 'It's a good sign,' Chino said." again reading from the book.

Zamora made it to San Rafael. He went on to graduate from UC Berkeley and was a fellow at Stanford and Harvard. The 32-year-old author calls himself an outlier.

He wants his readers to know that thanks to the people who crossed the border with him, he was never really alone.

"Now if you see them as full human beings maybe you have more empathy and maybe that empathy can lead to change real political change in this country," says Zamora.

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