Monday, June 9, 2014

The Book of Unknown Americans

Arturo and Alma Rivera move to the United States from Mexico after their fifteen year old daughter, Maribel, sustains a head injury at one of Arturo's construction sites.  They are desperate to help their daughter in any way they can, and move to Delaware, a land completely foreign to them.  The weather and language are just two of the challenges that the Rivera's face on a daily basis.

Eventually they make friends with the Toro family, who have moved from Panama to the United States. Their paths continue to cross, and despite Arturo and Alma's hesitation and concern, the Toros' son, Mayor, befriends Maribel - her first and only friend in their new home.

Interspersed with the Rivera's story, there are stories of other immigrants that have come to the United States, giving a broader perspective to the growing number of Central and South American people who move to the United States.

As I read this book, I could see the Riveras as a family from my school, which has a large Latino population.  This story is one that represents immigrants well, showing them to be hard working and conscientious.  Henriquez captures this perfectly when Arturo loses his job because of a time he missed work for a meeting at Maribel's school.  Alma cannot believe this could happen:

"I thought I could call the boss and explain the situation.  Maybe if he knew about Maribel, he would have some sympathy.  Maybe if he knew what it meant to us.  This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.  We had followed the rules.  We had said to ourselves, We won't be like everyone else, those people who packed up and went north without waiting first for the proper authorization.  We were no less desperate than them.  We understood, just as they did, how badly a person could want a thing - money, or peace of mind, or a better education for their injured daughter, or just a chance, a chance! at this thing called life..."

I could feel Alma's pain and desperation, and she was a character that I could easily relate to despite our different living situations. Henriquez's characters are not only very human, they also feel like friends, people I could sit with and drink a cup of tea.

Henriquez is an author that is new to me, but I can't wait to read more of her work.

No comments: