The idea of the American Dream is that no matter what race, gender or class someone is from that everyone should be treated equally and have the same opportunities as everyone else.  It has different meanings depending on how the person’s idea of what the American Dream means to them. Historian  James Truslow Adams defines it as ““It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” (Delair 34). In “The Book of Unknown Americans” by Christine Henriquez talks about the characters journey in the United States from their perspective with the good and bad side of it.

One of the characters Arturo came to to the United States with his wife Alma and Maribel because the doctor said that the best schools for Maribel are over there. He said that some people from his town left to the US because they wanted a better life but wasn’t like that for them. Although he and his wife Alma had a good life in Mexico, he mostly did it for their daughter Maribel. He said that the people in the apartment building became a family to them. Maribel was doing better in school. He said that “It took us a long time to be able to come. We applied and waited to be approved. We traveled for days. We left a lot of things behind- not only physical objects but out friends and families-pieces of ourselves- all of the chances to see that light in Maribel’s eyes”. Although it was difficult for them to that, he said he would do it all again. He overcame what he thought about America and he is seeing so much improvement in Maribel, he thinks it’s safe, has good friends and he finds it incredible, When he goes back to Mexico, he’ll tell his friends and family that he loves the United States (Henriquez 186). Professor of Sociology Sandra Hanson and the Public opinion pollster John Zogby reported that in the 1980s through 2010 indicate that Americans feel that the American Dream for their family is more about spiritual happiness than material goods (Delair 34). Here although Arturo, Alma, and Maribel had everything they have in Mexico, they went to the United States so Maribel can be better. This is very common for someone who wants to have a better life for their kids. The Doctors said in Chapter 10 that there are schools for Maribel in Mexico but the best ones are in the United States. They made the move after Alma and Arturo arguing whether it’s a good idea or not until the decision was made (Henriquez 106-107).  But they did go through some obstacles in the story, In Mexico they had money, a nice house, and a good job, but when they came to the US, they lived in an apartment that wasn’t really in good condition and Arturo worked at a mushroom farm and at some point didn’t have much money because Arturo got fired. This shows that family usually go to another country to have a better life for their children which Arturo and Alma did for Maribel. They want to see Maribel be her old self and improve and he saw a lot of change in Maribel when they arrived in the United States.

              Another character named Adolfo “Fito” Angelino came here to the United States in 1972 to become a boxer. He wrote to trainer Sully Samuelson in hoping he could train him but Samuelson wrote back saying that he’s not taking any new fighters at the moment but if he was ever in Washington DC to stop by and see him. Fito then decides to make the trip to Washington DC. But then when he arrived at his gym it turned out that he actually lives in Vermont. He ended up in Delaware because he ran out of money so he got a temporary job for laying blacktop and was trying to earn enough to go to Vermont. Then he meets Oscar who was landlord asked Fito if he could be the new manager of the property, but Fito said “I’m gonna be a boxer!” but Oscar just laughed at him (Henriquez 145). Fito then challenges Oscar to an arm wrestling match and makes a bet saying that if Fito wins, Oscar would have to give him money for a bus ticket to Vermont, but if he loses then he would be building manager (145). Fito ends up losing and becomes the manager. Fito was a manager at first and now owns the building after saving up money for years.  He said that the building is like a “washed-ashore refugees”.Whenever someone would tell Fito to go back home he would turn around and say “I’m already home” (146). Although he did not exactly follow his dream to become a boxer he does end up enjoying his job so that the immigrants can feel like they are welcomed in the community.

Nelia Zafon is another character in the book who somewhat achieved the American Dream. Nelia wanted to become a dancer and to be the next Rita Moreno, so she decided to move to New York despite her mother being against the idea. She told her mother “You can look for me in the movies!” and left (Henriquez 175). She lived in an apartment with her friend Josie and got a job as a waitress. Nelia would put the money she earned with her job for dance and acting classes. She would also go to auditions and also have vocal lessons. It shows that Nelia worked really hard non-stop no matter how much she worked. She said “I’m a fighter, you get me against the ropes and I will swing so hard- bam! So I thought, well if I’m not going to find it then there’s only one option: I will create it”(177). Nelia did research and found that out that taxes for businesses are low in Delaware. So she stopped taking classes and ended up working extra shifts and saved up money for a while. She then left New York and moved out to Delaware where she worked as a waitress only during the day while trying to start a theatre company. Then 20 years later, she still runs the Parish Theatre and would do one production every week.

Everyone has their own idea of the American Dream whether it’s for themselves or their family and goals. The idea is that you achieve your dreams by hard work and doing more action than saying. In the novel, it explains the struggles and achievements that the characters throughout the chapter and some have accomplished it and some did not exactly how it really turned out. But the idea is that you can achieve the American Dream just as long someone has the ambition and goals to do so.


Work Cited

DeLair, Steven. “American Dream.” Torch, Fall2015, pp. 33-38. EBSCOhost,

Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House LLC, 2015.


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