There is a moment in the third chapter of Javier Zamora's memoir, "Solito," when the reader can grasp the grave circumstances he's facing.
Written from the perspective of a 9-year-old immigrant trekking from El Salvador to the United States, Zamora details his journey to a new land, hoping to see his mother and reunite with a father he does not know well.
We've selected "Solito" as the fifth book in the Mary Ann Key Book Club, named after my great-great-great grandmother, to highlight the immigrant experience in a community that's full of relatable tales of chasing a new life, sometimes at the expense of an old one, and all the love and familiarity it entails.
And while those journeys are often simplified, Zamora's book — much like the stories within our Latino and other communities anchored by those who've had to make the same harrowing decisions in search of safety and opportunity — details the complexities of his trials.
With this spring book selection, the book club — a collaboration with the Hennepin County Library, the Star Tribune and Friends of the Hennepin County Library — aims to center and highlight our Latino community and its members. This community represents one of the greatest assets within the Twin Cities: its diversity and the stories attached to it.
Zamora had left loved ones behind and traveled with a guide, or "Coyote," and strangers on his journey. At the start of the third chapter of "Solito," Zamora discusses the obstacles he encountered.
"Here, like in Tecun, at night I stare at the ceiling, waiting for something to fall on my bed — a cockroach in my mouth, a spider on my eye, a scorpion at my feet," Zamora says in the book. "There's no mosquito net hanging on top of my bed like back home. Grandpa isn't here to talk to me before falling asleep, to go out for walks and explore the town, and because of that I feel alone, lonely, solo, solito, solito de verdad."
It's a relatable feeling, that sentiment between the origin and the destination, even if only emotionally, socially or spiritually. We've all been there.
For our community members who've left countries and families to pursue new lives in this country or another, however, it must be a different kind of loneliness.
One I can't understand.
But I'm sure my great-great-great-grandmother could have. One of her grandchildren wrote a letter that detailed her older years. Per those notes, she appeared to have some form of dementia or another condition that would cause her to wander.
When they would find her and bring her home, she would sing songs about the things she'd witnessed as a young girl who'd been enslaved in the South. She'd talk about ships and people she seemed to know or love.
I always wonder about those folks. The forgotten folks in my bloodline. We don't have family records, like many Black families, that tell us anything about the generations before Mary Ann Key.
In "Solito," Zamora tells us what he's trying to find but also what he's lost. You can ask around the Twin Cities and meet people in this diverse landscape with similar experiences.
When I was a young reporter, I met a Somali man who worked at a local convenience store. I asked him about his family in Somalia. That's when he told me he had 40 brothers. We talked about his life with a gigantic family and he laughed.
I asked him if he'd remained close with his brothers back home.
He paused and then he began to cry. He told me most of his brothers had died in war and civil strife.
That's the missing piece of the immigrant experience in the United States. Dark figures who shape those narratives about immigrants only encourage one-dimensional tales and unfair stereotypes. But it's easy to dehumanize a person when you fail to understand what they've given up and lost to get an opportunity for a more fruitful future.
For this installment of our book club, we will discuss Zamora's journey and perspective in detail and magnify the experiences of a community that is often labeled but not heard.
On May 18 at 7 p.m., the Mary Ann Key Book Club will host a "A Community Discussion of 'Solito' with a distinguished panel, featuring leaders within the local Latinocommunity: Fernanda Acosta, an activist, community planner and climate organizer; Susana De Leon,an immigration attorney and the director of Kalpulli KetzalCoatlicue, a community-based traditional Aztec dance circle; Teresa Ortiz, a spoken-word poet and adult basic education manager at CLUES, Minnesota's largest Latino-led nonprofit; and Francisco Segovia, executive director of COPAL, a grassroots organization that aims to unite Latinos in Minnesota.
And then, the following week on May 23 at 6:30 p.m., the Mary Ann Key Book Club will host "A Conversation with Javier Zamora" at Minneapolis Central Library's Pohlad Hall, an event that will be both live/in-person and online.
We're excited for this book and we hope you'll join us.
Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print on Sundays twice a month and also online.