Acceptance in a New Nation

Survival is engraved into all of us. It’s simple human nature. Each of us strives to keep ourselves alive, no matter what the cost may be. Usually, when we think of survival, the fight between nature and other humans comes to mind first. But what about the battle for survival against ourselves? When something in our lives goes wrong, and our expected path through life takes an unwelcome turn, how do we deal with it?  Knowing that your life has not gone your way can be destructive to one’s mental health, leading to depression and even suicide. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez shows the reader what we as people do in this scenario to survive, we accept it and move on. The story told by Cristina shows through its various characters that the way in which we survive our battles with an unfortunate life, is by being optimists, accepting of how life has turned out and seeing the best in it.

The Book of Unknown Americans tells the story of two fictional latino immigrant families living in the United States. The Toro family immigrated a while ago from Panama, while the Rivera’s just arrived from Mexico in search for better medical treatment for their daughter, who has severe brain trauma. These families arrived in the United States at different points in time, but deal with the same issues. Finances are an ever present threat to both family’s well being, while the threat of racism from other Americans lingers in their lives. The Book mainly follows Alma Rivera, the mother of the Rivera family, and Mayor, the youngest son of the Toro family. They too face many hardships and make many mistakes within the story, mistakes that they must later come to terms with. Throughout the book, other characters also come to terms with their lives, either be it, misfortune, coincidence, or some mistake. Nearly all side characters experience these life ruining hardships, but manage to survive by accepting their role.

Acceptance. The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered(Oxford). This is what helps the characters of The Book of Unknown Americans survive, to keep on living life. One easy to spot example of this is through the side character Adolfo “Fito” Angelino who, like many other side characters, is given his own chapter to monologue to the reader about his life story. His monologue appears halfway through the book, after the reader has been given time to understand who Fito is and what he does. Fito states that his original reason for coming to the United States in the first place was so that he could train with Sully Samuelson and become a successful boxer. However, life had other plans for him, he ran out of money and could not go to where Samuelson was to train with him. Fito ended up as the manager for the building that the Toro and Rivera families live. Fito states “Well here I am. No Shame in it”(145 Henríquez) after he tells the reader about how he got here. From just this statement, we are able to see how Fito truly feels about how his life turned out. Fito isn’t enthusiastic about his life, but nor is he upset. Fito is simply okay, with his life. By the time we hear this story from Fito, he is already much older than he used to be and can no longer go back and give his dream another shot. His life goal has passed him by, and can no longer be achieved. Having a fulfilled life is a human goal, we try to do as much as we can, with the time that we have on this planet. Of course, not everyone has the ability or the means to achieve his or her goal. But what makes Fito’s story more interesting is the fact that he was very close to possibly achieving his life goal. If he hadn’t stayed and became manager, and simply saved up the money to meet with the trainer, he could have been very close to at least giving his dream a shot. The problem with Fito is that he began the journey to accomplish his life goal, but never finished it. And knowing that succeeding in life was at one point only one turn away, can be devastating. Yet, instead of wallowing in self pity, and regretting his mistakes and coming to the U.S., Fito accepts where life has taken him and makes the most of it. By focusing on the good instead of the bad, and accepting where his life has gone, Fito is able to survive by not letting his mistakes tear him apart.

A more dramatic version of a similar story is told by Quisqueya Solis. Her story is much sadder and represents the tragedy that can occur from immigrating to a new nation. Unlike Fito who seems to be completely okay with how his life turned out, Quisqueya’s struggle with acceptance still seems to linger. Quisqueya’s life was unfair for her, she was forced to move to America, had an unloving mother, and was raped by her step brother. These tragedies would be difficult for anybody to endure, and it’s evident that these terrible things have taken a toll on Quisqueya. She lost her trust in men, and seems to push people away based on her monologue. However Quisqueya also causes trouble in order to get attention, possibly from fear of being lonely. Her mistrust of men is evident when she informs Alma of Mayor’s relationship with Amla’s daughter, which ends up causing major problems for both the Toros and Riveras.  Quisqueya has come to terms with her life, but the pain seems to persist. She ends her monologue with “It’s not a wonderful story, but it’s mine”(118 Henríquez), showing that she knows her life wasn’t great, but that she can find happiness in the fact that she even got to experience life and owns herself. Coming to terms with her life and continuing to move on must be difficult for someone who goes through traumatic events such as the ones experienced by Quisqueya. Yet she does, and her claiming her life as her own, not her mother, not her step brother’s, but hers alone shows that she is determined to keep moving on. Even though she knows her life has been sad, she tries her best to push those thoughts away, in order to survive.

Alma also accepts the direction her life has come to. At the end of the book, Alma returns to mexico with her daughter, but instead of lingering on the fact that her husband is now dead and blaming herself, she instead goes home glad that she and arturo went there for her daughter. Alma, could have torn herself apart for the mistakes that she mad, but instead tries to put them behind her and tries to see the positives for going to the United States in the first place. Infact, throughout the book, Alma does tear herself apart due to her past mistakes, which only causes her to make even more mistakes. Alma blames herself, not only for her daughter’s brain injury but also for Arturo’s death, something that she later comes to terms with and avoids blaming herself, based on Arturo’s last words. Without her dong that, Alma would have likely killed herself for her many mistakes. In order to survive, most importantly for her daughter, she had to accept it, and move on.

The Book of Unknown Americans is a tragic story about immigration to the US by Latinos. It gives the reader a different lense to see Latino Immigrants through as actual humans, and not some type of lazy evil people, a stereotype that . This book paints all immigrants in a positive light. When the author introduces the characters, it makes the reader emphasize for them and their struggles, creating a connection between the reader and the text. Legally born American, or not, the struggle with life is one that is universal. We all try to find our purpose and then shoot for it. It may not always be accomplished however, and that is where you decide if your life was great or not. And if you do end up coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t, we as people still try to see the best in life in order to keep moving on. We can’t be happy all the time, but we as people try to see the best in things, in order to come to acceptance with, life and keep living.

Works Cited

Henríquez Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Alfered A.Knopf Publishing, June 2 2014.

“Acceptance | Definition of Acceptance in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford Dictionaries | English, Oxford Dictionaries, en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/acceptance.

Image Links

http://theharwoodinstitute.org/richs-blog-posts/2010/08/a-lost-voice-in-the-immigration-debate