Professor Sefferino Ramos
10 October 2019
Creating The Dream: Exploration of Themes From The Book of Unknown Americans
“Por el engaño se nos ha dominado más que por la fuerza” -. Simón Bolívar
The United States of America has manifested its will in the third world resulting in sporadic violence and instability, facilitating economic exploitation of Latin America. Political interventionism, the exploitation of resources, and economic imperialism has created an environment in the western hemisphere in which the US, as the de facto dominant nation and culture, is the prime destination for immigrants from the demoralized third world. Immigrants chase an “American Dream”, but it is a fabrication born from poverty and hopelessness.
Like pilgrims drawn to mecca, the characters in The Book of Unknown Americans come to the United States with their own unique backgrounds, stories, and lives. What they all have in common lies in where they are coming from and what they are looking for: Latin America and an American Dream. In reality what they came for was the wealth and peace that was stolen from their home countries by US interventionism.
Benny Quinto from Henriquez’s novel came from Nicaragua ostensibly to make some real bones while mentioning Somoza and the contras, as well as the poverty of Nicaragua and “the richest country in the world” (71). Anastasio Somoza DeBayle was a dictator that ruled Nicaragua in the 70’s until he was ousted by the Sandinistas, a Marxist guerrilla group, and was given asylum in the USA in 1979 (Anastasio Somoza..). After their takeover, Nicaragua was embroiled in a civil war between the Sandinistas and the CIA funded and trained terrorists contras, but when insurrection was not enough, the US imposed economic sanctions that left Nicaragua devastated economically (Leogrande 329).The privation and volatile conditions of third world nations like Nicaragua, caused by Washington’s meddling, and the relative prosperity Latinos see in America composes part of the Dream.
For Quisqueya Solis from Venezuela, another character from Henriquez’s novel, the American Dream was achieved by being exploited sexually in return for riches (184). The Dream comes with a sacrifice, the Dream demands payment, the Dream takes more than it gives. Quisqueya’s rape by her American benefactor parallels the exploitation of her home country’s natural resources by American oil companies that operated with impunity in Venezuela throughout the 20th Century (Salas 148). The USA continued to be Venezuela’s biggest customer during the 21st Century, even during Hugo Chavez’s brutal reign (Oil Revenues). “He did unspeakable things, all against my will. I don’t know why, but he thought he could do whatever he wanted.” (Henriquez 185), Quisqueya and her mother were taken to California by a rich American man who gave them the Dream. All it took was their innocence.
Destabilized countries are easier to control, so US policy in Latin America has fostered such environments to support American economic interests. Rafael Toro and his family came from one such destabilized country: Panama. In 1984, Manuel Noriega came to power and instituted an oppressive “Kleptocracy” and narco empire, all under the supervision of the Central Intelligence Agency (Burgin 218). When the dictator no longer served US interests, the US invaded Panama in December 20, 1989 to depose Noriega. Operation “Just Cause” is the conflict Rafael Toro and his wife suffered through was the catalyst that drove him to leave his home in Panama for their conqueror’s, the United States (Henriquez 37). Noriega’s legacy of terror and operation “Just Cause” made Panama a part of America’s harem of economically dominated countries, part of the Empire, “contemporary imperialism [imposes] within the dominated countries, a government prone to the development of economic relations favorable to the interest of dominating countries.” (Kettell and Sutton 248). The Panama Canal remains wide open to American ships to this day (Junior).
Adolfo “Fito” Angelino from the novel hails from Paraguay, another country within the United States’ sphere of influence (Henriquez 227). Dictator Alfredo Stroessner Matiauda. ruled from 1954-1989 in an uninterrupted period of repression in Paraguay, his government supported by US investments and aid to advance its geopolitical interests in the region including stemming the proliferation of communism (Nagel 192). Like other characters in The Book of Unknown Americans, Adolfo came to America for an opportunity, in his case to be a famous boxer, something that he could not accomplish within his repressive country (227). His was another dream made impossible at home, so he chose the American version.
The American Dream has through the centuries been the freedom to pursue ones own prosperity, but that should be something that could be done anywhere in the world. For the Latinos in Henriquez’s novel and for their real life counterparts who may be our friends, our coworkers, or our families, it was not so. They came chasing the American Dream due to changing circumstances in their home countries induced by American hegemony. “This hemisphere is still one-half of the globe- our, America’s, one-half..”(Morales 77). But they came chasing an illusory creation because they already belonged to the USA.
Burgin, Eileen. “Congress, the War Powers Resolution, & the Invasion of Panama.” Polity, vol. 2 5, no. 2, 1992, pp. 217–242. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3235109.
Leogrande, William M. “Making the Economy Scream: US Economic Sanctions against Sandinista Nicaragua.” Third World Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 2, 1996, pp. 329–348. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3993096.
Morales, Waltraud Queiser. “US Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and Post-Cold War Cases.” Third World Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 1, 1994, pp. 77– 101. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3993025.
Yao, Julio. “La Invasión Ante El Derecho Internacional (2009).” Antología Del Pensamiento Crítico Panameño Contemporáneo, edited by Marco A. Gandásegui et al., CLACSO, Argentina, 2018, pp. 117–136. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvfjd163.8.
Kettell, Steven, and Alex Sutton. “New Imperialism: Toward a Holistic Approach.” International Studies Review, vol. 15, no. 2, 2013, pp. 243–258., http://www.jstor.org/stable/24032950.
Salas, Miguel Tinker. “Staying the Course: United States Oil Companies in Venezuela, 1945- 1958.” Latin American Perspectives, vol. 32, no. 2, 2005, pp. 147–170. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30040281.
“Oil Revenues, Rogue States, and Terrorist Groups.” Imported Oil and U.S. National Security, by Keith Crane et al., RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA; Arlington, VA; Pittsburgh, PA, 2009, pp. 43–58. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/mg838uscc.12.
Junior, Vic Lang’at. “Who Owns the Panama Canal?” WorldAtlas, Nov. 7, 2018, worldatlas.com/articles/who-owns-the-panama-canal.html.
Nagel, Beverly. Latin American Politics and Society, vol. 50, no. 3, 2008, pp. 190–194. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30130888.
Herniquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Canongate Books LTD, 2019.