SOLITO, SOLITA by Steven Mayers


Crossing Borders with Youth Refugees from Central America
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A journalist and a historian gather 15 refugee stories that underscore a brewing humanitarian crisis.

Conducted between 2014 and 2018, these extensive interviews—by Mayers (English/City Coll. of San Francisco) and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Freedman (The Last Brazil of Benjamin East, 2015, etc.)—offer intimate portraits of the people currently fleeing horrendous violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Among other terrifying experiences, these first-person accounts (“solito, solita” means "alone, alone") tell of children witnessing the murders of their parents and grandparents because of their refusal to join gangs or provide the extortion money demanded by the gangs. These young people, often facing a lack of education and likely a life of crime, were sent away by relatives to often abusive coyotes at such an exorbitant cost that it has left them vulnerable and in debt for the rest of their lives. Some of the interviewees caught La Bestia, or the perilous freight trains in Mexico, where many perished along the way and others became “cyclical migrants” after repeated deportations. Even for the lucky few who made it to the United States, the immigration process was fraught and uncertain (even more so since the 2016 election). In the book’s helpful timeline, glossaries, and appendices, the editors give a sense of the historical context in Central America that has fed the current crisis since the 1930s: authoritarian regimes bolstered by American business and politics; gangs that formed in sanctuary cities like Los Angeles only to have their members deported to create havoc in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador); and the changing, often restrictive immigration policies of the U.S. Thankfully, along with the seemingly countless heartbreaking details, the interviews tell of hopeful moments, too—of arrival to safety and the promise of work, school, and love. The editors also include a useful section entitled “Ten Things You Can Do.”

A poignant, uncompromising addition to the growing literature on the plights of migrating asylum-seekers from Central America.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-60846-618-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Haymarket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2019


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