Theme of Race and Identity in the Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

Theme of Race and Identity in the Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

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Theme of Race and Identity in the Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina is a book that is focussed on the immigrants who made their way into the United States and the challenges that each of them encountered. It is a book on love, Romance, and fear, and hate experienced by the immigrants. The protagonist in the book is Maribel who does not have a voice but yet comes out strong in the book and makes everything revolve around her. The one theme that stands out in the novel is the theme of race and identity and this is seen in the life of Mayor and his neighbors and other Latinos who have just made their way into the United States. The Latinos are bound to experience difficulties in their new home because of their race and Mayor’s life clearly brings out the theme of race and identity.

The race an individual belongs to is a problem as depicted in the novel and this affected the identity of the individuals who originated from Mexico and other countries with Latinos. The theme of race is seen when the story begins explaining why Mayor’s family made their way into the United States. Mayor’s family originated from Panama and they made their way to the United States seeking the American dream of security and a good life (Henríquez, 2014). Panama had been hit by chaos and this forced the Mayor’s family to move into the United States after having to consume toothpaste as their meal. The Latinos occupied the shady suburbs of America, unlike their counterparts who lived in good cities.

Race affected the identity of the Latinos and the author puts this out by saying that the Latinos were a group of Americans who were not be seen and not heard, their identity, in other words, was unknown to the native Americans. This is seen in the life of Mayor when he gets to attend school and mingles with the Native Americans. Mayors says that he feels more American but that was up for debate because of the taunting he received at school. His schoolmate went to the extent of asking him to go back through the canal because they felt he did not suit to be called an American citizen. The taunting affects the Mayor’s identity as he turns out to be surly and awkward because of the critics he received from his classmates. Mayor’s father also ends up losing his job though the business owner says that it is not because of his race but because of the recession that the country was experiencing.

The other way in which race affected the identity of the Latinos who were of a different race is when it came to their love life. Mayor had the chance of falling in love with the girl from her school but he felt that he was not in a position to love them because of him coming from a different race. This is why Mayor ends up falling in love with Maribel who is an outsider like him (Hoppe, 2016) and this makes him feel comfortable as Maribel could relate to his life stories. Mayor’s love for Maribel is genuine despite the fact that she attended what he and his friends referred to as the turtle school for the slow learners. This does not deter him from expressing his love for Maribel and protecting her and being attentive to her emotions. The love that Mayor has for Maribel acts as a catalyst for other things that erupt in the future that forces Maribel to go back to her country.

In conclusion, the Latinos quest for the American dream is cut short due to the various things that they encounter while in America. Mayor’s family came to America seeking security but he feels insecure as he is not readily accepted by the people around him especially in school. The Latinos were ignored due to their origin and thus they failed to live up to their American dream.


Henríquez, C. (2014). The Book of Unknown Americans: A Novel. Vintage.

Hoppe, L. (2016). An Anthropological Exploration of Latino Immigrant Identity in Contemporary Migration Literature.