The Book of Unknown Americans provides a window into the life of the hard-working immigrant that comes to this country in hopes of finding peace living the American dream. Further emphasizing on how Latinos are setup to fail in this country. Not knowing the language alone is enough to question everything twice in a foreign land. At the same time having to deal with being one of the most hated races while living in one of the most discriminating countries today. There are stereotypes everywhere that incite a misunderstanding of Latinos, including the media and the way they are perceived.
The luxury of the native tongue is never noticed to Americans but to the immigrant it’s the first great barrier. Within the first few days the Riveras found this out while trying to simply buy food at a gas station. Upon proceeding to pay Arturo could not communicate with the cashier, when the cashier needed more money suddenly Alma was finding herself in anguish wondering what could be wrong. Further proceeding to thinking what the Americans impatiently standing in line were thinking of them or the clothes they were wearing. A woman might have offered help, but all Alma could do was smile awkwardly. “Between the three of us, we knew only the most minimal English, words and phrases we had picked up from the tourists that traveled to Patzcuaro” Alma says (Henriquez 7). Her efforts to conquer this barrier are seen when she heads to the community house to learn English. Even the simplest of words are hard for her to grasp, like the days of the week. During the first visit to the community house Alma gets lost on the bus, she can’t communicate with the bus driver that she’s lost so she takes her chances being lost in the rain. Furthermore, Alma worries for Maribel coming home in the storm, when she calls the school to tell them about her situation she is again unable to find the words, despite having a dictionary there, where would she even look within the millions of words she didn’t recognize. “They were only words. I had the sense that I should have been able to unpack them, that there was only a thin veneer separating me from their meaning, and yet the veneer was impenetrable.” Alma exclaims in frustration (Henriquez 63). When Arturo is fired Alma encourages him with some English to help him find work. Arriving home Arturo tells Alma “I feel silly. I say it and then they answer me in English and there’s nowhere to go from there. They look at me like I’m stupid” (Henriquez 185). It’s implied often that Latinos are ignorant because they do not speak English, when they can offer smart and intellectual ideas in the language they are good at.
People don’t realize how discriminated life is experienced as immigrants, Mayor and Maribel being targeted by Garret is a perfect example. Mayor is already made fun of at school for his name and nationality, he’s in high school but studies even show that Latino/a students are still subject to racial discrimination on college campuses today (Monforti and McGlynn 310). When Garrett is bothering Mayor on his way home he implies home as in going back to Mexico stating, “My dad says all you people are from Mexico” (Henriquez 69). When Mayors culture is Panamanian categorizing him as just another Mexican. Garrett persistently bothers the Riveras through out the book, from menacing stares at the gas station to the assaults on Maribel. When Alma confronts Garrett in front of his house he tells her to “Go home” (Henriquez 52). Demonstrating how Americans perceive Latinos/as being here wrongfully or illegally and should just be kept out of America, when both Mayor and Alma’s family are here legally, documented, and hold the right to live in the U.S. Despite Alma having the courage to confront Garrett to stay away from Maribel that courage was fueled by the discrimination of officer Mora not seeing probable cause to help Alma. Even the police are no help when you’re a minority, after Rafael drives the Volkswagen home he reveals the fear that comes with the simple task of driving. Driving home cautiously and extremely slow his fears are revealed, “If you’re white, or maybe oriental, they let you drive however you want. But if you’re not they stop you” (Henriquez 165). “If you’re black or if you’re brown they automatically think you’ve done something wrong” (Henriquez 166).
The Latino/a immigrant today is greatly stereotyped. Media everyday portrays the Latinos in negative ways. Whether its for a “good” news report, in hopes of a good laugh, or even if you’re just trying to win a presidential election based on a bigoted point of views, it comes at the expense of the Latino/a. “On the analysis of instructional materials, other scholars have analyzed the content of K-12 social studies textbooks and found an absence of coverage of Latinos throughout history. Secondary textbooks tend to portray Latinos according to prominent stereotypes, such as “violent, lustful, and passive” (Monforti and McGlynn 310). Not only are we being misperceived in the everyday media world but in the academic world we are still inaccurately represented in things like textbooks or need more correct and in depth Hispanic representation. “The National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a “Network Brownout Report” in 2006 that found that out of 12,600 stories reported by nightly network news, less than 1% dealt exclusively with Latinos/as or Latino/a issues” (Monforti and McGlynn 310). Under representation in media and in education are hindering Latinos/as greatly, especially now when a man who talks about building walls and openly discriminating on many media platforms against Hispanics is still broadcasted and seen as great.
The immigrant may come for a better life, but the Hispanic immigrant may as well be handicapped in the States. They are labeled ignorant because of the funny way they speak the English language, leaving the attempt at a second language discredited in the shadows. We live in a melting pot of cultures where Latinos/as are easily and openly targeted. More so now that the media and so-called president are bashing the hopeful, law-abiding, family and community-oriented, and hardworking immigrant that have made this country great in the past. “I pointed out how backwards it was to have fled to the nation that had driven them out of theirs” (Henriquez 78). So much is hoped for when looking for the peace of the American Dream that they risk it all and endure being labeled as the enemy at the simple chance of having more.
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House LLC, 2014.
Monforti, Jessica and McGlynn, Adam. Aqui Estamos? A Survey of Latino Portrayal in Introductory U.S. Government and politics textbooks. PS: Political Science and Politics. Vol. 43, No. 2 (April 2010), pp.309-316, American Political Science Association. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40646732
Image 1 – by Kate Taylor cartoonstock.com
Image 2 – politicalcartoons.com
Image 3 – Immigration talk with a Mexican American blogspot.com
Image 4 – Compliance Campaign wordpress.com
Image 5 – South Park
Image 6 – Carlos Galindo protests Monday, May 9, 2011 outside the Arizona Department of Education in Phoenix, along with other supporters of an ethnic studies program in the Tucson Unified School District
Image 7 – CNBC cnbc.com