Why do immigrants come to America? Immigrants comes to America as a safe haven, for education, job opportunities, health care, and for the future of their children. In The Book of the Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, reveals stories by those of different Hispanic and Latino background have come to America for better opportunities. Most of these stories are relatable to people from other countries who have also come to America.

             What is a safe haven? A safe haven is a place of security or a safe place to live in, a place of refuge. A safe haven is a way to escape from the war-like or revolutionary events from a country which are deemed dangerous or have poor living conditions. “We never felt safe there again” as Rafael Toro stated (Henriquez 23). There was an invasion in Panama as described by Rafael. Rafael and his family were living a good and happy life until the revolution hit and Panama became unrecognizable. They faced guns pointed at them by Dignity Battalions, food source was scarce, and they had to hide and stay in their homes until the revolution died down. Once they came out of their homes, the Panama that they once knew was turned into destruction and was gone (Henriquez 23). They came to America to seek refuge and leave their home country. America is a place where those who have suffered in other countries can feel safe. In the film adaptation of the memoir First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Luong Ung, Angelina Jolie directed the film depicting how the Cambodians suffered through the Khmer Rouge through the eyes of a child. The Khmer Rouge Regime put the Cambodian people through labor camps and had them work by growing crops. They suffered through starvation, illnesses, separation from their families, and death of their loved ones. Those with an education, who worked under the government and spoke English or French, or had any form of Western medicine to survive were sentenced to die. This is an example of a country that had suffered through traumatic events that came to America for refuge.

            Education is a gateway to gaining knowledge and seeking the skills you need for the goal of completion and for an occupation you would like to acquire. In Henriquez’s novel, a young teenage girl name Maribel Rivera suffered a brain injury and had difficulty keeping up with the teachers at her school in Mexico. After going through recovery from her surgery, she was able to go back to school. But when she came back home from school, she would tell her mother that the teachers were talking too fast and she would always be at the nurse’s office complaining of headaches. Her parents, Arturo and Maribel, went to the doctor and asked for advice about the situation. The doctor recommended they take her to a school that accommodates to her special needs and he stated that the best ones are in the United States (Henriquez 106). For the benefit of their child, Maribel, they came to America so that she can have an education that accommodates to her needs. An education that doesn’t limit her learning abilities or hold her back to the knowledge that she can gain.

            What does a job do for a person? Well for starters, it provides money through labor and tasks based on the occupation. What can money do for you? It can help provide stability, a home, clothes, food, necessities, and even pleasure such as travelling or entertainment. In Henriquez’s novel, Rafael Toro is the breadwinner of his family. He is the man of the house and in his culture, men such as the father or husband, provide for the family. He came to America to leave a difficult situation from Panama and to help take care of his family. He is a cook at a dinner restaurant he works at and he makes enough to provide for his family (Henriquez 23). While providing for his family, he is able to give his two sons, Enrique and Mayor, a better opportunity for them to go to school and have a future.

            Maribel Rivera has a brain injury that changed her personality and speech pattern. In Mexico, she struggled through trying to fit in and get back on track at school. It was difficult for her to keep up with the teacher speaking and she would have headaches that would put her in the nurse’s office. By coming to America, she has improved and has gotten better through interactions with people and the teachers being able to work with her pace of learning. Mayor Toro plays a big part in Maribel’s development. He allows her to express herself that her parents would usually shelter her from doing. Her being able to express herself has given her the opportunity to become a “normal girl.” She tells Mayor “You’re the only one who thinks I can do anything” (Henriquez 230). Maribel telling this to Mayor just shows that even though she has a brain injury, she wants to be able to express herself and do things she is capable of doing.

            “Maybe they wouldn’t have done well in Panama. Maybe they wouldn’t have had the same opportunities. So that makes coming here worth it” as stated by Rafael Toro for the future of his two sons Enrique and Mayor (Henriquez 23). Rafael and his wife Celia came here to give Enrique and Mayor a better life and a better opportunity for their future. Just the fact that they may have not done well in Panama just shows that it would have been a struggle to live there after the invasion. “I’m overcome when I think of this place and about what it’s given us… I will tell them all the ways I loved this country” (Henriquez 286). Arturo Rivera was a kind man who would do whatever he can to provide for his family. Throughout the struggle of coming here and seeing the improvements in his daughter, Maribel’s, personality and intellect, he saw America as a great country, a place that he would tell his friends and family back home. This opportunity of bringing Maribel to America is a place he was proud of to call his home.

            America has been a great home to these immigrants, to these people. Who have left their own home and life of comfort to come to an unknown place for a better opportunity for their future and for their children’s future. To provide education and gain job opportunities, for health improvements, and a place to call home.








Works Cited


Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of the Unknown Americans. First Vintage Contemporaries

Edition, March 2015. Print.


Jolie, Angelina, director. First They Killed My Father. Jolie Pas, 2017.


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Raleigh, Elizabeth and Grace Kao. “Do Immigrant Minority Parents Have More Consistent

College Aspirations for Their Children?.” Social Science Quarterly (Wiley-Blackwell),

vol. 91, no. 4, Dec. 2010, pp. 1083-1102. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2010.00750.x.


Ung, Luong. First They Killed My Father: A Cambodian Daughter Remembers. New York:

Harper Perennial, 2006. Print.