Crossing Borders

The whole idea of coming out of the shadows is to be humanized and to be seen as a complete human being. We forget that the people who cut our meat at Whole Foods or the ones who clean our sheets, who work out in the streets fixing the roads—a lot of them are undocumented. And I think that is the whole idea that I want to crack. We’re around you more than you want to credit us for.
    —Javier Zamora

In this edition of Narrative Outloud, Carol Edgarian talks with our 2017 Narrative Prize Winner, Javier Zamora, about his debut poetry collection, Unaccompanied. Zamora’s work transcends borders and speaks to the immigrant experience. Join us as he talks of his extraordinary journey, from being an El Salvadoran immigrant to becoming a celebrated poet.

On becoming a writer:

Carol: Do you have any advice for young writers?

Javier: Do the work. Every day. Take a step back and see if you love it. If you don’t, do something else. And if you do love it, then do something every day, and it doesn’t have to be writing, maybe it could just be as easy as going on a hike and thinking about what you want to write. But always be in conversation with what you want to create.

On what it means to be “unaccompanied”:

Carol: The title of the collection is Unaccompanied. One of the things I thought the first time I read it through was, are you still unaccompanied?

Javier: I think so. And I think that’s okay.

Carol: What does that word mean to you?

Javier: What happens in trauma is that for some people—I would put myself in that category—after you go through a harrowing experience, you think that no other person could have gone through such a thing. And in that way, you isolate yourself. And I think that goes into anger, and it goes into resentment, and it goes into all these negative things. But I also want to honor those feelings because I think they are necessary on the potential road to healing. I think that needs to be part of the whole immigration experience. We have to acknowledge these very complex feelings that are natural, to say that those are okay. And that there’s hope.