Unknown American's Book

Freshman (College 1st year) ・English ・MLA ・1 Sources

Cristina Henriquez's novel The Book of Unknown American tells the story of Maribel and her parents, who move from Patzcuaro, Mexico to Delaware, United States, in search of a special school for their daughter. Maribel's brain damage was a major factor in the family's decision to relocate from Mexico to the United States in search of a better education. However, because they arrived in the United States knowing no English, communication was a major issue when interacting with others. Arturo (Maribel's father) worked on a mushroom farm in Mexico, while Alma (Maribel's mother) was a stay-at-home mom who looked after Maribel. They shared an apartment with a group of Spanish-speaking people after arriving in the United States. Her family became close friends with Toro, a neighbor next-door. Mayor boy, who later fell in love with Maribel, was the only person, who understood and acknowledged her; and because of their relationship, schoolmates occasionally bullied him, even though he ignored them.

Another character that Henriquez introduces in the plot is Garret Miller, who is a bully and troublemaker in school. One-day when Maribel was getting off the bus; Garret Miller started assaulting her sexually. However, Alma came right on time to stop him from mugging her.

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One day a neighbor went to Rivera’s home to disclose the hidden love between the Maribel and Mayor boy. As a result, Rivera’s family stopped Maribel from seeing Mayor Boy, because they were from a different racial background. However, Mayor’s love for the girl did not vanish and therefore, one day he took his dad’s car to pick Maribel after school. They went on an adventure, which caused a lot of worry to Maribel’s mom when they failed to return home early. After having spent long hours looking for them and ending up with no results, Alma decided to speak to Arturo about the disappearance of Maribel, which made him really upset. Arturo started looking for his daughter; he confronted Garret Miller about the issue and in the end, Garret’s father shot him.

The author’s message about the novel is that people often leave their country for several reasons; it could be because of war in their homeland, or looking for jobs in other regions that may have more opportunities for them. However, the story talks explicitly about how people come through hard times to understand and acknowledge the culture and racial background of others.

Stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination are some of the terms that Henriquez uses to help her audience appreciate the American dream as one of the main themes of her novel. Consequently, the paper will try to explore the differences between these three words. Stereotype - is a thinking perspective about people in a certain way, based on the group they belong to. For instance, Pakistan and Indian people do not like each other because of their religion, but when they meet each other in foreign countries, they do not show this hatred. However, they have developed that negative view towards Muslim culture and religion. My experience with stereotypic perceptions is that people have called me a terrorist on several occasions when I put on my customary attires.

Prejudice is a negative attitude or feeling, based on a person’s membership. Some of the examples are when I go to a place with my traditional clothes, they seem to dislike me because of the way I appear or talk. Discrimination is defined as treating someone as inferior, based on his or her race, sex, nationality, age or other attributes associated with him or her. I have experienced discrimination focused on the prices of goods. For instance, when I go to the shop the shopkeeper increases the cost of the item, because of my race, color, and religion. People have to go through these challenges in everyday life, especially if you are brown or black, mainly because of the way media expresses them. Additionally, discrimination has increased in many parts of the world, owing to the teaching of a family against associating with people of a particular race.

Below is an excerpt from the book that depicted and illustrated how the three terms helped to build the theme of the novel.

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Mayor and Maribel were diving back home after their disappearance. On their way, they meet Celia, who asks Mayor why was he driving so fast and Rafael replied that the police did not stop them on the road because he was white. “In the US if you are white or maybe Oriental, they let you drive at an abnormal speed without regulating your pace. However, if you are of another race, they will stop you whenever you drive at extremely high speed because they feel you are running away with a stolen car or item. (Henriquez, 165). The issue of racial discrimination dismayed Rivera’s family when they stayed in the US. The discrimination based on the complexion of the skin makes a living in the US a problematic undertaking, especially for the Mayor and Maribel’s family.

Most of the law enforcement personnel will stop people from a different race because they have a perception that they could be in possession of drugs in the car or drive a stolen car. However, sometimes they do stop them because they fail to uphold the traffic rules and regulation concerning speeding; for example, operating at 100 miles per hour in the city remains illegal. Consequently, the police will stop and take necessary action when someone breaks the laws governing the use of the road.

After the assault of Maribel by Garret Miller, Alma gets scared that Garret would sexually assault her again, and decides to report the matter to the police. However, the law enforcers did not take any legal action against him because he was white, while Rivera’s family were of Hispanic origin. One of the significant problems encountered by Alma was her inability to communicate in English, which significantly hampered her efforts to report the issue to the police agency efficiently.

“Senora, we don’t deal with teenage relationships here,” the police officer said through the glass. Alma felt terrible because of the way she was treated though her incompetence to communicate in fluent English also influenced her information delivery negatively.

Additionally, she feared that the police might consider her one of the careless moms, who just let their kids maneuver without proper parental supervision. These incidents and actions of the law agency personnel demonstrate the rift that has existed between Rivera’s family and the US society built on discrimination, established on the color of the skin and social class. Consequently, Alma decides to move back to Mexico because she feels that in the US color of the skin defined the ethnic group that law enforcement agency can help.

In conclusion, The Book of Unknown American is an excellent book to read, because it gives learners some good life instances of social problems, faced by foreigners in the US. For example, the police officers discriminate Alma because she was of Hispanic origin. Celia and Rafael feel their neighbors have prejudiced thoughts about them, given they are whites. Immigrants go through these situations in their everyday life in the US.

For the community to live in peace and harmony there is a need to stop stereotype, prejudice, and discrimination in the world by avoiding misconceptions, portrayed by the social and mainstream media. In real life, people encounter most of these incidents, elaborated by Henriquez in her novel. A good case is when an immigrant calls the police concerning a robbery in his house. However, on arriving they frame him of being in possession of a gun illegally and arrest him. The incident shows a bad image of the law enforcement agency because he called them to investigate who had robbed his house. An individual’s history can be the basis of discrimination in the US or other citizens. Prejudice also plays a significant role in the perception of blacks and other immigrants. For instance, police officers believe that brown skinned or black people have criminal records or they might have a gun illegally or involved in terrorist activities. As long as we want to live in peace, equality and freedom, we, as a society, need to learn how to treat each other with mutual respect, regardless of physical characteristics or cultural backgrounds.

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Work Cited

Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown American. New York, NY: Vintage Book, 2014.

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