Growing up in the late 90’s early 2000s was very interesting. I knew life before the internet, and now I know all about the internet. I remember the first time I attempted to log on to the internet. I had to wait for the little yellow AIM character to finish loading, and just when it was about to, the phone rang. poof. Disconnected. I did not have access to the internet. I always tried to use it when I was at my cousin’s house. I did not get internet until I was in 4th grade in 2004.
Whenever I needed to research something, my parents always took me to the library. I got my first library card in 2nd grade, thanks to my teacher Ms. Tayman. I will never forget it because the library became my favorite place to be after I had that card. I remember learning to love books and the excitement I felt when I finished one and checked out a new one.
I also remember the scholastic book fairs and being in a dual language school (that ended in 2nd grade, but it was an important time in my life). When the flyers came home, I convinced my dad to buy me books. My favorite one was Pulgarcito. Maybe I liked it because my mom and dad read it to me at bedtime or because it was in my native language, but that book was my comfort. Eventually grew out of it. I never found anything to replace it.
The first time we read a book in class that really stuck with me was around third grade. It was a book by Gary Soto named Too many tamales. I cannot explain the immense joy I felt when the main character shared my mother’s name- Maria. Or the fact that I knew EVERYTHING about making tamales for Noche Buena. It was a time when I felt like the subject expert and could relate to an academic text and to a character.
After that, I cannot remember a time when I felt represented by literature covered in class. I thought maybe in college, I could read something that I could identify with. I even enrolled in Latin American Studies. I yearned for a portrayal of my people, but instead, the courses were centered around other Latino cultures. Whenever I read about El Salvador, it was usually a paragraph in a chapter or a five-minute discussion. Why was it all we were always reduced to?
I knew we had scholars and writers in El Salvador. I knew we had important history too. Why did we never receive as much attention as the other Latin American giants? I always wondered why we were not centered or discussed more in academic settings, even though I had grown up and attended schools in PG county. My county and state were known to have the most Salvadorans per capita.
Two nights ago, I got an e-mail. A Salvadoran professor from UMD would be moderating a discussion with Salvadoran poet Javier Zamora. I knew this was the space I wanted to be in, the space I needed. It was everything I have ever craved and more.
When I first read Zamora’s work, I was brought to tears. My body reacted to every word on the page. His cadence and imagery transported me to the nights in my sala when my dad and uncle would discuss their journey swimming across the rio grande and running from la migra. I felt seen.
There are many stories about immigrants and assimilation. To be honest, most of these stories are told by Mexican immigrants. Although I honor and respect their experience, struggle, and work, their experiences differ from those of central Americans further south. As a first-generation Salvadoran American, I can tell you how hard it is to learn about everyone’s experience and still wonder about yours. All these years, I spent my time wishing I found a voice or had a voice that resembled me and mi gente, mi comunidad, and I finally found it through Zamora.
Sometimes our family historians are not ready to relive those traumas, and we lose that history. We don’t have many voices or lenses that encapsulate our journey. This was an example from Zamora’s discussion. One of the metaphors that explain what I mean uses tortillas as an example. In El Salvador, we are used to our thick tortillas. The further north you go, the thinner the tortilla gets. Even though it is still a tortilla, it is just different and not what you as a Salvadoran grew up knowing and eating. So, believe me when I say I was fucking thrilled when I was able to sit in a room, soak up the knowledge, and listen to my community share and trauma bond.
I hope that one day I, too, can become a voice for my pueblo salvadoreño and share my story and family’s story. I want to be the voice that I craved growing up.
If you are interested in purchasing Solito or Unaccompanied, I will link them below.