English 1A 5:30-6:50
Behind the Silence
It’s disheartening that domestic abuse and women oppression has seeped into so many Hispanic/Mexican homes. The aggressive behavior Rafael Toro has towards his wife in this book is not only being dismissed but is being considered a normality. The character Celia portrays is sadly the role that many Latina women live. Their dreams and goals hidden behind an apron, their kids witnessing this toxic behavior and passing it along to the next generation of males in the family inevitably continuing a destructive cycle.
In the Book of Unknown Americans written by Cristina Henriquez, Mayors father Rafael introduces his story and mentions that one day his father was so angry as he usually was and he picked up a ham the mom had just made for dinner and threw it onto the front yard carelessly. His mom runs outside and comes back to the table sobbing trying to pick the pebbles off the ham. Rafael admits being affected by this behavior and tells how it molded him into the person he is now with a terrible temper (19). No man is born to be abusive and aggressive, they learn these habits as toddlers and adolescents as they see the way their fathers act with their mothers. And in turn observe their mothers take in this abuse but yet do nothing about it to stop it, which is communicated to a child as a normalcy.
Research from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network presents that although not all children exposed to domestic violence are affected equally or in the same ways they observed a patter among certain age groups of children and adolescents. Possible long-term reactions are; Antisocial behavior, impulsive or reckless behavior such as school truancy and running away as well as social withdrawal.
Most Hispanics are brought up with the man being the main provider and the mom staying home to take care of household chores and the kids as stated by research from the Institute for Latino Studies University of Notre Dame, In most cases there are not many opportunities for Latina women to work outside of the home and women can be chastised if seen doing so. Any idea of the women working would be considered unacceptable to most latino men. An example can be found on Mayors chapter of the novel where Celia offers to get a job to help out with the bills but Rafael shuts her down immediately. During a phone conversation Celia is having with her sister, their talking about jobs she should think about getting and Rafael comes over and just hangs up the phone without respect or a care of his wife’s feelings (39).
In Latin America gender roles and societal expectations of men and women have been shaped largely by cultural-specific values and beliefs in which the women are defined as selfless and submissive (Zimmerman). We see an instance of this in the novel, Celia is packing for a vacation back to Panama when Rafael notices all the luggage she’s taking, he shouts at her that she can only take a limited amount of clothing and shoes. When Celia Opposes he kicks the row of shoes she had laid out and sent them flying towards the wall (81).
This behavior continues when Mayor came home from school one day surprised to find his dad sitting in the living room, Rafael notices mayor didn’t have his soccer clothes on and asks him why he is not wearing them. Mayor panics because he has been lying to his father that he has been going to soccer practice when in reality he quit weeks ago. He tries to continue the lie in order not to upset his father by saying he simply did not have a clean uniform and borrowed a team mates instead and returned it to him after practice. Rafael immediately summons the mom to the living room demanding that she keep up with the laundry instead of taking initiative and doing it himself (115). A blind eye is turned to these behaviors because men provide the financial support of a household and therefore by culture need to be respected by having the last word, as stated by the Institute for Latino Studies University of Notre Dame student research series.
Towards the last chapters mayor describes one night while his parents were discussing whether Celia should accept her sister’s money or not, Rafael automatically disapproves. Almost like his manhood is taking a hit if he were to accept it. And he describes. “My mom pursed her lips and stared at her plate. He reached across the table and seized both of her wrists. Look at me when I’m talking to you!” but as soon as she did, my dad threw her wrists back at her in disgust (158). As mentioned in the beginning of the story we see similar behavior when Rafael’s father witnessed his own dad act violently towards his mother. Research from the U.S Department of Health & Human services shows that children who witness some type of domestic violence are at greater risk for repeating the cycle as adults by entering abusive relationships or becoming abusers themselves. For example, a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult.
The Childhood Domestic Violence association confirms, Children and adolescent’s who’ve experienced domestic violence often meet the diagnostic criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) and the effects on their brain are similarly to those experienced by combat veterans. Children of domestic violence are far more likely to repeat the cycle in adulthood, as growing up with domestic violence is the most significant predictor of the child’s future. Not only was Rafael exposed and damaged by this through his father but he is also damaging his wife and how he raises his son Mayor.
Childhood domestic violence Association. February 2014. 10 startling statistics about Children of Domestic violence.
Enriquez, Christina. The book of Unknown Americans.
Office on women’s health, U.S department of Health and Human services (n.d.). Effects on domestic violence on children. Retrieved from
Research from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects. Retrieved from
Student Research series. Institute for Latino Studies University of Notre Dame.(2009) Women, Men and The Changing Role of Gender in Immigration. Retrieved from
Zimmerman,Lisa. Women in Latin America. (n.d.). Stone Center for Latin American studies. Retrieved from