The definition of a home is a place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. In actuality home has many different meanings to different people. In the novel, The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez, it shows how the characters deal with fear and situations they must deal with in their idea of a home. For some, where they came from was their home, but for others who moved, they wanted to find a better home/life. Overall the novel shows changes for each of the characters, either for the better or worst.

In the novel, The Book of The Unknown Americans, the Riveras moved from Patzcuaro to Delaware for their daughter, Maribel, to have a better life. Once the Riveras got situated in their new home, they had differences of opinions on what home is. Alma speaking spanish and her surrounding of everyday people back in Patzcuaro, Mexico was her home. Alma doesn’t feel comfortable having America as her home yet and feels like an outsider. She states, “What must we look like to people here? I wondered. Speaking Spanish, wearing the same rumpled clothes we’d been in for days” (Henriquez 9).  Alma describes how she misses Patzcuaro when she says, “Usually in Patzcuaro someone either my mother or else one of my friends stopped by in the mornings. I would make cafe con leche and we would talk, sometimes for only a few minutes, sometimes for hours” (Henriquez 32). For Arturo Rivera the United States of America was a better home for his family than Mexico. “Other people from our town had gone north. Most of them left because they wanted a better life” (Henriquez 285). Once the doctors told Arturo how Maribel needed special schooling for her traumatic brain injury, he knewMexico couldn’t be a home for his daughter. The apartment complex, which the Riveras now lived in, was full of people from all different countries who had left their home to come to America. “Here is us! Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Paraguay. We have it all” (Henriquez 36). Alma was homesick, not having familiar surroundings, people and routines. That’s completely normal of her to feel and she knew she had to makes changes on adapting to her new home for Maribel. Alma stated, “This was my life now, I told myself, and I was going to have to figure out how to spend my days. I had to learn how to outrun the wave” (Henriquez 33). Overall the Riveras want a home where they can give their daughter Maribel a safe life, no matter the struggles they go through. The landlord, Fito Angelino, told Alma, “It’s safe here. Very safe. Nothing to worry about” (Henriquez 36).

In today’s society we never know if our home is safe. For Rafael Toro and his family, who lived in Panama, left because of an invasion putting Rafael’s family at risk. Rafael stated, “We felt as if our home had been stolen from us” (Henriquez 22). Just like the Riveras leaving their old home behind, the Toros knew it was the best to move on and remember the old Panama they called home. Rafael stated, “Because a place can do many thingsagainst you, and if it’s your home or if it was your home at one time, you still love it. That’s how it works” (Henriquez 23). After moving to Delaware, the Toros believe in America being safe as their new home. When the Toros saw the two planes fly into the World Trade Center in New York city and another one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., they felt their home unsafe again. Celia Toro stated, “We moved here because it was supposed to be safer! Where can we go after this?” (Henriquez 84). Quisqueya Solis also had an unsafe home, at sixteen years old being raped by her stepbrother. Quisqueya stated, “He did unspeakable things, all against my will” (Henriquez 117). Quisqueya told her mom on the incident, but her mother didn’t believe her. Quisqueya stated on her mother, “I don’t think she had ever even wanted a child” ( Henriquez 117).  So leaving that house in California was going to be her way on finding a home were she felt safe and loved for. For Alma Rivera seeing Maribel being taken advantage of near her apartment by Garrett Miller, put her mindset on how her new home is unsafe for her daughter. Alma stated on what she saw, “A boy, the boy from the gas station, I recognized him instantly-was holding her wrists in place, staring at her. Her shirt was bunched under her armpits, exposing her white cotton bra, and her head was turned to the side, her eyes squeezed shut” (Henriquez 121). Alma was scared to tell her husband about the incident, “I didn’t want him to know that I had failed Maribel again” (Henriquez 122).

For each home, their are standards to meet. For the Riveras to stay in America for their daughter, Arturo has to work in harsh conditions at a mushroom farm. Alma stated, “It was the only company near Marribel’s school that had been willing to sponsor our visas” (Henriquez 24). While the Riveras only know spanish, Maribel has to take English Language Learners program before she is evaluated and eligible to attend Evers. The translator Phyllis stated to the Riveras, “If they determine that she needs to be at Evers, that’s where she’ll go. Just not right away. They have to do an evaluation first” (Henriquez 28). Alma Rivera knew she had to adapt now that she was in America, so she started to learn english. Alma stated, “Maybe I would even learn enough to be able to help maribel with her homework” (Henriquez 58). The Toros applied for U.S. citizenships, since they were immigrants from Panama to become Americans. Mayor Toro stated his family experience, “Then they woke up one morning, got dressed in their best clothes, caught a bus to the courthouse, and, while my mom held me in her arms and my dad rested his hand on Enrique’s shoulder, took an oath along with other men and women who had made living the United States a dream” (Henriquez 79).

Many people have different views on what a home is from standards, environment, people, language, love, benefits, money, and etc. It’s the journey with struggles to get to that place called home. For Cristina Henriquez definition of a home, is her husband and children.

Work Cited


Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. New York: Vintage Books, 2014


Lyness, D’Arcy PhD. Homesickness. April 2015,