“Between the three of us we only knew the most minimal English, words and phrases we had picked up from the tourists that traveled to Patzcuaro and in the shops that catered to them, and we couldn’t read the signs above the storefronts as we passed them, so we peered in every window along the way to see what was inside” (Henriquez p. 7). A barrier to communication between people who are unable to speak a common language is a language barrier. The language barrier of not speaking, reading and not understanding English can be a communication problem. There is a huge language barrier that causes problems for the characters in this book.
“The Book of Unknown Americans” written by Christina Henrique is about the Rivera’s a family who must leave Mexico and move to the United States to help their daughter who was involved in a horrible accident and experienced a terrible injury. Since Mexico was their home for a long time Spanish is the only language that they could speak, write, and understand. So that made moving to the United States very difficult because they do not speak, write, and understand English. Alma and Arturo are the parents of Maribel which is the girl with the terrible injury. Leaving their home, they didn’t come with very much and needed to figure out how to take care of Maribel. Not knowing English interfered with them doing so in taking care of their daughter because communicating was a problem for them. “what’s wrong?” I asked Arturo(Alma). “ I don’t know”, he said. “I gave him the money, didn’t I? (Arturo). Is there something else we’re supposed to do?” “Should we give him more?” I asked (Alma). “More? I gave him twenty dollars already. We’re only getting a few things(Arturo).” (Henriquez p. 9). This is one of the very first problems that the Rivera family had when it came to trying to communicate with people and it was very frustrating and confusing for them. They were not able to ask why the man at the register was staring at them as if something was wrong and the guy at the register was waiting for more money but Alma and Arturo didn’t understand what was going on. That is the language barrier between the Rivera family and the people that live in the United States who speak, write, read and understand English.
Eventually Alma had to register her daughter Maribel into school but not knowing any English made the process much more difficult. Maribel only knew Spanish also and no English which was going affect her and not in a good way. Not only was there a language barrier for Alma and Arturo but for Maribel as well. “Her name was Phyllis, but when I tried to repeat it, it came out, “Felix?” “Phyllis,” she said. “Phyllis,” I tried again though the coordination between my tongue and teeth and lips felt clumsy and strange. “Do you speak English?” she asked (Phillis), and when I confessed with some embarrassment that I didn’t, she went on in Spanish” (Alma) (Henriquez p. 27). “So, this is the doorway, I thought, between us and the rest of this country. I was grateful to have it, but of course the limitations were clear: We couldn’t walk through the door without someone to guide us to the other side”. (Henriquez p. 27). As Alma said herself it was embarrassing for her to admit that she did not speak any English and that her and her family would always need someone to help them to communicate with people who don’t speak Spanish. “Does she have an IEP?” (Phillis) “A what?” (Alma) “An Individualized Education Plan. She needs one before she can be placed in a school like Evers. So first she’ll go to A. I. DuPont, where she’ll be in an ELL program” (Phillis). “A what?” (Alma). “English Language Learners. Or does she already know English?” (Phillis). “No” (Alma) (Henriquez p. 28). That was a conversation that Alma had with the translator from the school district and Alma was getting upset because she had come from Mexico to the United States and expected her daughter Maribel to go to Evers school. Maribel does not know English so that is what is stopping her from going to the school that alma wants her to go to. Maribel will have to go to another school and get evaluated to then see if she can go to Evers school. The language barriers that the Rivera family must face are very frustrating and there should be a way to help them and other families experiencing the same problem.
The main thing that is important to most parents is knowing that their child or children are safe. Parents will go over rules and make sure they know where their child or children are. Alma tries very hard to keep her daughter Maribel happy and safe but it isn’t easy because of the language barrier of not speaking and understanding English. One day Alma was walking around her new town one day while being distracted she had forgotten that she had to pick up her daughter at the bus stop. She quickly jumps on the bus to try to be at her daughters bust stop on time. She soon realized that she was not going to make it there on time so she thought maybe if she called the school to let the bus driver know if they can wait until Alma got there. Alma was very worried because Maribel has a brain injury and cannot defend herself and cannot get home on her own. “I dialed the school and when a voiced answered, I said in English, “hello?” (Alma). “Hello?” the woman on the other end said”. “I didn’t know how to say, “I’m looking for my daughter,” so I just blurted out her name. “Maribel Rivera,” I said. “hello?” the woman said again.” Is there someone there who can help me?” I asked in Spanish”. “There was silence from the other end” (Henriquez p. 62). At that point Alma was scared and frustrated because she could not say one word that she was thinking because she only knew how to speak in Spanish. The person on the phone from the school also could not understand or speak Spanish making the communication between her and Alma very hard. That is a huge language barrier of not being able to communicate because of not knowing another language especially when it comes to keeping children safe.
A barrier to communication between people who are unable to speak a common language is a language barrier. The language barrier of not speaking, reading and not understanding English can be a communication problem. The Rivera family faced many challenging situations because of not knowing English. If they learned English before moving to the United States they would have not faced as many difficult situations. The language barrier between the Rivera family and the people that live in the United States who speak, write, read and understand English was difficult for the Rivera’s.
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel. Unabridged. Books on Tape; [New York], 2014.