English 1A 3:30
11 April 2018
Unknown Americans: Is the American Dream Real?
People from all over the world travel great lengths to come to the United States for better opportunities and a higher quality of life. They believe in the American Dream, the thinking that making it to the United States will solve all their problems and assist them in every possible way. According to the Library of Congress, the American Dream is a “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” Although people perceive the American Dream easily obtainable, most people fail to grasp what it entails. In The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, she depicts where several different families go through hardships trying to achieve the American Dream. Every character has their own chapter explaining their journey and what they have in mind for the American Dream. Through these character descriptions, Henriquez demonstrates how the American Dream can sometimes be not as glorious as expected.
The first family that Henriquez mentions is the Rivera Family. The mother is Alma, the father is Arturo, and their daughter is Maribel Rivera. They came to the United States, specifically Delaware, from Patzcuaro, Mexico to seek help for their daughter who suffers from a brain disability. The Rivera family was successful and financially stable in Mexico but when they came to the U.S they became dirt poor. Arturo went from owning his own business to working at a mushroom farm to get their visas. He was treated poorly at the farm because of his immigrant status. He worked for ten hours straight without any breaks and in the dark. Alma said “There had to be rules. This is America, after all…” (Pg. 26). She assumed that since this is America, everyone would get treated equal. She was surprised to learn that her husband had to go through long days and hardship just to make ends meet as well as obtain simple visas for the family. Later the mushroom company ended up firing him, since it was cheaper for the company. If he didn’t find work, their visas would have been voided. What happened to the saying, “Work hard and you will succeed?” The American Dream implies that if one applies themselves, they can achieve anything they desire. Idealistically, the American Dream does not discriminate people, which is unfortunate thinking because it is not true. “Americans believe illegal immigrants should be denied benefits because they do not pay federal taxes and are a drain on government services and the economy.” (Sid. Pg. 6). Unfortunately the way the American Dream ended up for the Rivera’s, was not as great as it was made out to be.
The second character mentioned was Adolfo “Fito” Angelino. Angelino was from Paraguay and came to the U.S to become a boxer. He desired to become famous. Upon his desire to become famous, he wrote a letter to legendary boxer trainer from Washington D.C, Sully Samuelson, to help him train. Sadly, Samuelson wasn’t taking in new fighters, but if Fito was in the area he was welcome to go visit his gym. This gave Fito the ambition to travel all the way from Paraguay to Washington D.C. He went to his gym, but when he arrived, Sully was no longer there and instead was in Vermont. Fito then decided to go to Vermont. While on his way to Vermont he ran out of money. In order to gather funds for another bus ticket, he got a job laying blacktop cement. While sealcoating a parking lot he met a man named Oscar, a landlord of a nearby apartment building. Oscar was looking for a replacement to take care of the complex because he was planning to go back to his hometown. He thought Fito could do it, but Fito was on a mission to become a boxer. When Fito told him his plan, Oscar just laughed at him. This prompted the two to place a bet. The bet was as follows, if Oscar won an arm wrestling match, Fito would take over. If Fito won, Oscar would buy Fito’s ticket to Vermont. Needless to say, Fito is now the new manager of the apartment complex. He never imagined being where he was now. He didn’t get his dream, but was still happy with how his life path turned from pursuing boxing to being a manager of an apartment complex. Fito’s dream was fulfilled in a way because he enjoyed seeing the community grow. He liked making a “safe harbor” for refugees. Despite his good soul, Fito still faced racism in Vermont. People would tell Fito to go back to where he came from, but instead he would just smile and say, “I’m already home” (pg.146). Fito’s “American Dream” was fulfilled in him seeing his works help others, and people that tried to ruin that dream, did not have an effect on Fito.
Another character mentioned is named Nelia Zafon. Zafon was born in Puerto Rico and her dream was to become a famous Broadway dancer. The American Dream inspired her to travel to seek out her dream. She left home at the age of seventeen to pursue her career in New York, despite her mother telling her that she did not have the knowledge to go out on her own. Unfortunately her mother was right. Nelia slept on the floor of the Grand Central Train Station the first couple of nights. Eventually, she met an escort, Josie, who offered her a place to stay. Nelia didn’t have to pay for rent when she stayed with Josie. This was a blessing because she was able to save all her earned money from the restaurant she worked at and conveyed that cash to dancing and acting classes. She went to every audition she could go to, but did not get a single role. Nelia worked so hard, but she soon realized how racist some people in America could be. Nelia said, “Americans can handle one person from anywhere…but as soon as there are too many of, they throw up their hands” (pg. 177). Nelia was a fighter though and even though her dream of becoming a Broadway sensation fell through, she did not give up and instead turned her focus on starting a company in Delaware after learning that Delaware’s business taxes were the lowest in the country. She stopped taking dancing and acting classes and took more shifts at the restaurant. Later, she moved out to Delaware and started her own theater company. It wasn’t the most popular, but it was enough to make money and stay open doing plays and shows. In spite of her own hardship, she still holds on to hope that she may one day succeed to the fullest extent, regardless of the fact that the American Dream for her was not what she originally expected.
Everything considered, access to the American Dream seems restricted at times on the basis of one’s race. Not just the Latino immigrants depicted in the book are affected, but other immigrants as well. A powerful quote from the book challenges people to give effort when it comes to welcoming in new immigrants to society and not labeling them from the beginning. “Unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re 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. And who would they hate then?”(237). Yes, the concept of the American Dream is solid, travel to America, work hard and you will succeed. However, the way the American Dream is executed can definitely be improved on and the first step to take is to remove the stereotypes and labels that blind us from seeing the true potential in people. By doing this, maybe everyone’s version of the American Dream can be fulfilled and found out.
Del Cid, Jessica. The American Dream: An Illusion or Reality for Latino Immigrants. 2011,
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House LLC, 2015.
Dream What Is The American Dream?” Library of Congress,