In The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez speaks on different, important issues that are not talked about as much as they should be. The one that stood out to me was sexual abuse/harassment, as well as Maribel’s brain injury. One of the main characters is Maribel, and she was sexually harassed by one of Mayor’s acquaintances. I feel that the brain injury that Maribel has affects the way she lives her life because she is treated differently, and was seen as a target for sexual harassment.
Maribel is treated differently by her family and the people in her apartment complex. As we have read in the book, Maribel gets dirty looks here and there from people living in the apartment complex, as well as people outside of her home. She is seen as weak, not independent, and fragile. Her parents are very protective over her because they do not think she can take care of herself. Although Mayor sees her as a normal girl, Garrett is one to take advantage of her and her disability. When Mayor saw Maribel at the Dollar Tree, he said, “She was fucking gorgeous” (40). He had thought she was the most beautiful girl in the world. On the other hand, Garrett was seen as a bully in school. He did not live in a great environment growing up. His mother had a huge breakdown and left. His father started to abuse alcohol, and Garrett was just living off the benefits of the military (69).
Maribel is very closed off. She doesn’t seem like the same girl that she used to be before her accident. She does not speak much. She does not express how she is feeling or what she wants. She is just, there. In one scene, the Rivera’s are having dinner, but all they had that was affordable was oatmeal from the Dollar Tree. Arturo initially is disgusted by the oatmeal and he begins to laugh at the crazy things Americans eat. Maribel is laughing along with him, and Arturo and Alma are overjoyed at Maribel’s ability to express herself. Mayor seems to be the only person Maribel will talk to, and express herself with. They became very close, and she had become so comfortable with him.
Garrett takes advantage of Marbiel because of her injury.When Maribel was fourteen years old, she had a bad accident that caused her to have a brain injury. This is called TBI, or a Traumatic Brain Injury. Those who experience a TBI may be sent home and told that everything is fine, but this is not the case. This misinformation about no long-term problems may have devastating effects, as the person remains unaware of the basis for his or her altered ability to function (BrainLine). This explains why Maribel froze when Garrett was in the middle of sexualy harrassing her. She did not know what do, or think. Brainline also explained how this can affect the person long term. They could go blank for one second, and then realize what is going on, the next. On the other hand, Maribel knew what she wanted. After Alma had to her that she could not see Mayor anymore, she grew moody and sullen (218). She grew so comfortable around Mayor, yet Alma did not see that. Henriquez says, she became “rebellious” and decided to paint her nails black with her friends from school.
After a while, Alma sees that Maribel has found herself again. She was wanting to do new things, such as dye her hair and paint her nails. She had never shown this type of excitement or interest in something since her accident. I believe that Maribel was always there mentally, she just never showed any emotion or anything. She found Mayor, and everything changed. Finding out that her father passed away was hard on the whole family, yet she stayed strong for her mother.
During the end of the book, another traumatic event happened. I believe that this brought Alma and Maribel a lot closer. They are on their own, back in Mexico, but stronger than they were when they first came to the United States. I am sure that Maribel won’t forget about her experiences in Delaware, but will learn lessons from them. I know that her brain injury should not be an excuse for her to be seen as fragile or weak.
“What Impact Will Mild TBI Have on a Person’s Life?” BrainLine, Mount Sinai Hospital, 13
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage Contemporaries: New York.