The American dream is different for many people, but has the same core principles. For immigrants, these principles consist of wanting to come to America to have a better life, and more opportunities for success. In, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, this theme of the American dream being the driving force of an immigrant to leave their home country to come to the United States is seen many times when people give their backgrounds, and how they moved here. Whether it is out of happiness, prosperity, or fear that is guiding someone, the American dream is the light at the end of the tunnel, giving people the hope they need try and achieve their goals.
In the novel The Book of Unknown Americans, there is a character named Adolfo Angelino, that has his own American dream of becoming successful, with the goal of becoming a boxer. He does not end up achieving his goal, but it is what helped him to leave his home of Paraguay. Adolfo, or “Fito” still feels at home after settling in and is happy with his life. He had to give up on his dream when he lost an arm wrestling fight, and became the manager of a building. “Well, here I am. No shame in it” (Henriquez 145), was his reaction to being stuck with a job in Delaware. Still, he progressed to be the owner of that building by saving up from working other jobs as well as his manager position. Even though this means he fell short of what he set out to become, he still says “This is our home, too. I like it here,” (Henriquez 145-146). So, while his goal had to change, his dream of becoming successful was still achieved. He is still happy in life, he calls America his home, showing how much this place means to him even though he didn’t grow up here, and after not becoming a boxer. The American dream which led him to leave Paraguay, that working harder will get him farther in life, paid off, and he is satisfied with the outcome.
Benny Quinto, an example of how the American dream can be greedy. He is another character in The Book of Unknown Americans, he is from Nicaragua and decided to come to America for money. The general idea of the American dream is that coming to the United States will give people the opportunity to earn more money, money is not what normally the only factor. However, for Benny, “leaving the poverty of Nicaragua to go to the richest country in the world didn’t take much convincing” (Henriquez 45). While that is not purely greedy, it becomes clearer that what drove him to leave his home was only money later. The American dream, for him, was to move out and make money any way possible. Later Benny started dealing drugs to earn the money to pay the people that got him to the states. After he paid them off though, he found the money too tempting, “you get a taste for that kind of money and it’s hard to go back to anything else” (Henriquez 46). His American Dream was only to get money, and once he found a way to do that he stuck to it, for him it was like he achieved his dream for a while, even though it was not respectable work. Later he is injured from a fight and realizes he needs to leave and find a city to live a normal life. He had the opportunity to leave twice to different cities trying to find a place that would keep life simple, he changed his dream to peace in the end.
Another character named Nelia Zafon in the same novel, was able to achieve her American dream somewhat. When she was a 17-year-old girl in Puerto Rico, Nelia decide to follow her dream and leave for New York City, against her mother’s wishes, and try to become famous, “You can look for me in the movies!” (Henriquez 175), she said confidently when leaving. Her driving force was to be an entertainer, through any outlet, whether it was dancing, acting, or singing. For a while, Henriquez wrote that Nelia did not make much progress on her goals, however she decided if no one will give her the opportunity to entertain, then she will make one herself. “if I’m not going to find it, then there’s only one other option: I will create it” (Henriquez 177). She found out where it would be cheapest to start her new business and moved to start her own theater. Later Henriquez writes that Nelia’s theater runs one show a week, and that Nelia enjoys making the dreams of others come true, giving them roles in plays like she wanted when she was young and full of hope for the future. She could follow her own American dream, and make her own opportunities that she would not have been able to in her home country.
All of these characters wanted to achieve their goals, and their own American dreams were there to motivate and give them all hope. There is no simple explanation for what the American dream is, “If you were to ask each one what “American Dream” meant to them, the vast array of answers would be akin to the assortment of individual stories themselves” (Murphy). Each story in the novel brings forth its own American dream, giving the term a new meaning with each one. They all have their own idea of what the United States will turn out to be, with their own visions of their path to becoming successful. They will all share the same basic principles however, those being wanting a better life, and to be given opportunities to achieve that better life. This is seen throughout the novel in every person, in life as well. The American dream is what breeds success and hope here, and everyone takes part in it.
HenriÌquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House LLC, 2015.
Murphy, Olivia A. “Conceptions of the American Dream.” Inquiries Journal, Inquiries Journal, 1 Mar. 2010, http://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/188/conceptions-of-the-american-dream.
picture 1: https://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm