Author and poet Javier Zamora will deliver Dominican University of California’s Commencement address on May 13, the university’s President Nicola Pitchford announced this week.
Zamora was born in El Salvador in 1990. When he was a year old, his father fled El Salvador due to the Salvadoran civil war. His mother followed in her husband’s footsteps in 1995. Zamora was left in the care of his grandparents, who raised him until he moved to the United States at the age of nine.
In his 2022 New York Times bestselling memoir Solito, Javier tells the story of his nine-week journey from El Salvador to the United States. Leaving behind his aunt and grandparents, Javier travelled unaccompanied amid a group of strangers and a “coyote” by boat, bus, and foot. After the coyote delivered the travelers to Oaxaca, Javier made it to Arizona with the aid of other migrants. Zamora was reunited with his parents and grew up in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood.
Zamora’s story will resonate with many members of the Dominican University of California community, notes President Pitchford.
“While Javier Zamora’s story is deeply personal, it engages themes that are common to the experiences of countless migrants and refugees. Indeed migration is an experience familiar to me and to many members of our campus community,” President Pitchford said. “Often those experiences are invisible to the people outside them, but I hope that by bringing Zamora’s voice to campus we’ll elevate and honor those stories together, and remind ourselves and each other to do so at every opportunity.”
Zamora began writing poems about his journey to the United States when he was a 17-year-old student at Marin County’s Branson School, which he attended on a soccer scholarship. At Branson, a course featuring Rebecca Foust, Marin County’s Poet Laureate in 2017-19, sparked Zamora’s interest in poetry.
Zamora’s 2017 debut poetry collection, Unaccompanied, explores the impact of the Salvadoran civil war and immigration on his family. The collection won the Northern California Book Award and Firecracker Award from the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses in 2018.
“Unaccompanied is a timely and excellent debut, a heartbreaking account of leaving behind the grandmother who raised him to join parents he barely remembered,” noted Publisher’s Weekly. “Zamora’s wistful ambivalence about his homeland and the difficulty of assimilating where one feels unwanted are both powerful and distressing.”
Zamora earned a BA at the University of California Berkeley and an MFA at New York University. Zamora has been a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University. He holds fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.
“Javier Zamora’s writing is vibrant and visceral, capturing with stunning texture some landscapes that are very familiar – including Marin County – and others that to some of us may be entirely unknown,” President Pitchford said.
“His writing has tremendous movement and vivid, unexpected details of the kind only children are likely to observe and remember.”
Photo above of Javier Zamora credited to Geraldo Del Valle