America, the land of the free and home of the unknown Americans. This country is phenomenal but it didn’t what it is today by itself. It has much to thank for its foundation that made it great which is the immigrants from other nations that decided this would be their new home. According to the statistics by the American Immigration Counsel, “Immigrants make up significant shares of the U.S. workforce in a range of industries, accounting for over 41% of all farming, fishing, and forestry workers—as well as nearly 25% of those working in computer and math sciences”(AIC). This shows the vast variety that immigrants make up in this country. In the story “The Book of Unknown Americans” written by Cristina Henriquez, the author conveys the idea of what an “Unknown American” is by introducing different perspectives of individuals who come from other countries to America in search of certain goals and aspirations.
The story introduces a person by the name of Rafael Toro, born in Panama in a town called Los Santos. He met his wife Celia in Panama where they had their two children, Enrique and Mayor. Unfortunately, due to the invasion of America into Panama, the situation went from bad to worse and they did not feel safe anymore so they were forced to flee to America. In the story Rafael says “We’re American now. I’m a line cook at a diner, and I make enough to provide for my family…We’re citizens, and if someone asks me where my home is, I say los Estados Unidos. I say it proudly…We still miss Panama…But I worry what it would be like after all this time. We thought it was unrecognizable when we left, but I have a feeling it would be even more unrecognizable now” (Henriquez 23). Rafael is an unknown American in the sense that the longer he stays in America, the more disconnected he feels from his hometown which makes him feel more American than Panamanian as time passes.
Another character in the story that is unknown American is named Alma. She came from Mexico with her husband Arturo and daughter Maribel due to the fact that her daughter went through a horrific accident where she fell off a ladder which left her with brain damage. They realized that a school in the United States was the best option for their daughter so they packed their bags and left their old home. Alma is an unknown American in the sense that she was not used to American customs when she first arrived. She would wander outside of her apartment alone when her husband was at work in order to try and become accustomed to her new surroundings and she was dumbfounded by the lack of communication between strangers. She says “I yearned for them to talk to me, especially anyone who looked as though they might speak Spanish. I readied myself to say hola if anyone so much as glanced my way, but day after day people walked by without acknowledging me in the least” (Henriquez 54). There was another instance where Alma felt her sense of being an unknown American when she was at a restaurant with her family. Alma says “I had the feeling that they disapproved of us being there, drinking only water, taking up space. But when I glanced at the people around us, no one was even looking in our direction, and I felt the way I often felt in this country—simultaneously conspicuous and invisible, like an oddity whom everyone noticed but chose to ignore” (Henriquez 186). Alma identifies not only herself as an unknown American but her whole family because she felt out casted due to differences in race and level of poverty compared to other Americans.
Mayor Toro is the youngest boy in his family who came to America due to the invasion in Panama when he was less than a year old with his father Rafael, his mom Celia, and older brother Enrique. Mayor wasn’t a popular boy at school nor was he good at sports like his older brother so he would constantly get picked on in school for being different. Because he left Panama at such a young age, the feeling of being Panamanian wasn’t there for him even though his father insisted and bullies would try to convince him that he wasn’t American either so Mayor felt as though he was stuck between a rock and a hard place. In the story Mayor says “The truth was that I didn’t know which I was. I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim”(Henriquez 78). He is unknown to what category he belongs in and can’t seem to pick a side. He feels out casted from being American by people in school and also never knew what it was to be Panamanian.
Micho Alvarez was also an individual that came from Mexico. He first began working for a newspaper in Sinaloa who made him report on macabre, which were just photos of gore and other information regarding the drug wars rather than letting him do what he wanted which was to raise awareness of the atrocities in order get his people to take action. Since he felt he was making no progress, he decided to come over to America to work with a group in Wilmington to advocate for legislation reform for immigrants. In the story Micho says “ We’re the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they are supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them”(Henriquez 237). Micho Alvarez’ take on what an unknown American is someone who came to this country looking for some type of improvement for themselves or someone back home yet is shunned by “gringos” as he says who do not even take the time to better understand them just because they aren’t the same.
The unknown Americans are pertinent all throughout the story because each character in some way was lost and was looking for a way to belong in America. Henriquez used different individuals with diverse hardships to show how difficult immigrants have it in America. Immigrants are the unknown Americans because they are prejudged for not being born here. Whether it is because they speak a different language or have different skin color they are already out casted and put aside when all they want to do is belong somewhere.
“Make America Great Again”
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House LLC, 2015
“Immigrants in the United States” American Immigration Counsel, 27 Oct. 2017, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-the-united-states
Images, Getty, and Warner Bros. “Trump’s $1 Billion Demand From China Was Supposed to Be $100 Billion.” Daily Intelligencer, 8 Mar. 2018, nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/03/trumps-usd1-billion-china-demand-supposed-to -be-usd100-billion.html. (image 1)
Hood, John. “Immigration Sign.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Mar. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_sign#/media/File:W54_Special_(CA-San_Ysidro)_ -vector.svg. (image 2)