Throughout history discrimination and prejudice have been a major issue. In the 1890s Jim Crow laws were created which allowed for legal segregation. This affected where people of color went to school, which buses and trains they rode, even where they could drink water. Hitler and the Nazis killed over 5 million Jewish people during the holocaust because the Jewish people were believed to be inferior. Our society is filled with accounts of people hating one another based on ignorance. Prejudice is an important theme in the novel “The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez. Prejudice is a view based on things like race, nationality, or personal characteristics. In literature, is often observed coming from Caucasians towards people of color. While this kind of prejudice does appear in the novel, Cristina Henriquez makes the point that prejudice can happen everywhere; among non-whites toward Caucasians, and among people of color towards their own group. Henriquez also makes it a point to show that prejudice exists even outside the lines of race.
The first example of prejudice is described when Rafael had just bought a car and was driving the car “cautiously” . While on the freeway in a 50 mph zone Rafael is only doing 25 mph and his family gets upset that he isn’t driving well. The explanation he gives to his family is “ If you’re white, or maybe oriental, they let you drive however you want… if you’re brown they automatically think you’ve done something wrong” (166). Research conducted by Stanford university from 4.5 million traffic stops showed that people of color are more likely to be stopped and searched while driving by police officers compared to that of white and Asian motorists. Rafael fears that no matter how well he drives he is at risk to be pulled over. “ They see a brown face through the windshield and boom! Sirens!”(166). A report was conducted by the San Francisco district attorney’s office to examine police practices. In that report it was found that black and Hispanic people had the lowest rate of contraband recovered. Caucasian people when searched without consent were found to be carrying double the amount of contraband compared to that of black people searched the same way. These study shows that prejudice iscommonly found within the law enforcement community which causes minorities to be apprehensive like Rafael despite them doing no wrong.
Another example of racism and prejudice is when caucasian people discriminate against people of color. This can be seen through the perspective of Mayor, who is bullied at school by Garett l for being from Panama. “The kids at my school loved changing my first name and then tacking insults onto it, Major Pan short for Panamanian” (15). Based on research done by Jennifer Keys Adair, school aged children are exposed to discrimination from both their peers and their teachers. Individual teachers hold lower learning expectations for these children which does not give the students the chance to grow and develop as children of non immigrant parents would. Often discrimination of kids from their peers comes in the form of name calling or making fun of their accent. Forty eight percent of teens reported that they were called bad names because of their race or culture.
Prejudice although often thought of as being based in race, also occurs in other forms such as the discrimination of a person’s disabilities. This can be seen in the way Maribel is treated. Maribel—who is intellectually disabled—is looked down upon by many people because of her mental condition, which is no fault of her own. One example of this in the text is when Alma talks about how the townspeople began to treat her daughter differently after Marbiel’s accident. “She looked the same now as she always had, but people knew…they seemed to believe she was no longer worthy of their attention or maybe that it was wrong to look at her” (10). Maribel is a very beautiful girl who very often received attention, and after her accident she is, in a way, ostracized by the people that used to adore her. Another example of this prejudice towards Maribel is when Rafael describes her as abnormal, and urges his son Mayor to date a normal girl. “ Why can’t you talk to normal girls” (108) “ Do you remember that girl Enrique used to date… you can’t find someone like that?” (109). Rafael doesn’t understand Maribel on the same level that his son does. If Rafael took the opportunity to know her better he would see she is only trying to be a normal person and certainly deserves to be treated as such.
Prejudice also exists between Latino the community amongst themselves in the novel. This occurs with the Toros between their own family. Celia and Rafael raised their sons with the hopes that they will go to college and a create a better life than the current situation that they were in. During this process Enrique gets a look at what life in America is to him. The experiences he gets in college in turn make him hate coming home to Delaware. “ There’s no way i could live here again, this place is so depressing. Every time i come back, it seems shittier” (135). A study was done stating that hispanic Americans with more education report that they were less likely to racially identify as hispanic. The way Enrique feels about his home in Delaware can be attributed to this. By getting the opportunity at a better life Enrique now views his old home as a dingy apartment, and feels his parents are beneath him. He considers himself an American, and no longer wants anything to do that affiliates him to his family and their way of living.
Prejudice no matter how overt or subtle is not right, whether it be as extreme as the holocaust or being stopped by police for the color of your skin. If we teach the future generations that this way of thinking is not the way and that people deserve to be treated equally no matter our differences we can rid the world of this issue.