In the novel, The Book of Unknown Americans Cristina Henríquez succeeds in creating an image of the struggles that Latin American immigrants face when they arrive in the United States. Through hopeful and heartbreaking scenarios, the author uses the content of the book in asserting the relevance of the title. She demonstrates this aspect by depicting how modern mixed the Latino community is increasingly being represented in South, and Central America and the Caribbean and how this representation influences the creation of the modern Latino community. The title, The Book of Unknown Americans is, therefore, the voice of the ordinary immigrants who would otherwise remain unheard and unknown.
Latino American immigrants come to the United States for different reasons depending on their experiences and aspirations. While the unassuming love story between two teenagers is at the centre of the novel, the author also incorporates narratives from other tenants as a way of allowing them to share their immigration stories. Through their stories, it is evident that there are those who came to the United States to receive medical care, escape violence, and seek new opportunities. Despite the variance in their origins and objectives, the author argues that before the white Americans these immigrants are all the same because they crowd their residential areas, limited resources, and workplaces. The effects of this experience can be understood from the perspective of one of the tenants Micho Alvarez when he says, “We’re the Unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because…they’re supposed to be scared of us and because…if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize we’re not that bad” (Henríquez 237). They must accept their place as “unknown Americans” who nobody wants to acknowledge or understand.
The author engages in attempts of remedying this situation using a plethora of touching first-person narratives that are directed to the reader. In the novel, each tenant introduces him or herself and provides a description of their lives before and after migrating to the United States. Even though they vary greatly, Henríquez seems to be using this approach to give voice to the countless Americans whose invisibility is necessitated by the prevailing immigration policies. Despite the idealism that defines their narratives, it is evident each of them is a model citizen who expresses pride and admiration to the new home even in the bleakest of circumstances. Each of them shares a sense of community, and their desire is to be recognized as equal members of the American society.
The struggle of adapting to life in the United States is depicted as traumatic and hopeless. This is especially for the Rivera family who was happy in Mexico, but they decided to move to the United States to access better healthcare after their daughter suffered a brain injury accident. When Alma says, “I expected it to be nicer” (4), she expresses her disappointment, but as the novel progresses, it is evident that she learns to forgive herself and trust new people. Her experience demonstrates the resilience that Latino American immigrants possess when faced with such turmoil.
The Book of the Unknown Americans is an appropriate title for this novel because, through the stories that characterize the life of the Latino American immigrants, the author seeks to humanize these invisible personalities. From their experiences, they explain their reasons for coming to the United States using an ambitious conceit that seeks to demonstrate the diversity and ultimate universality of the immigrant experience.
Henríquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel. , 2014.