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and life along the winding road

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez gives us a fictional glimpse into lives of immigrants whether legal or illegal, who come to the U.S. looking for a better life.

The Hispanic group, whose lives Ms. Henriquez covers, is living in an apartment block in Delaware. The families are from Mexico, Paraguay, Panama, Guatemala and Puerto Rico. One family came here from Mexico because their daughter was brain damaged due to an accident and they were encouraged to seek out a specialized American school. One family escaped the fighting in Panama after the American Invasion, a father from Guatemala arrived in the U.S. to work and send money to his children who were living with friends in Mexico, another from Puerto Rico had dreams of life on the stage in New York quashed, and opened a theater in Delaware.

My thoughts:
I was surprised to hear there is such a heavy Hispanic population in Delaware, but apparently many came to work in the mushroom farms and others who had once been illegal, brought their families here after Ronald Reagan offered amnesty to those who had arrived in the U.S. illegally before 1982. While I didn't come to the U.S. from an oppressed country (unless you count the pre-Thatcher years with Trade Union control of England in the 1970s) I do understand how difficult it can be to move to another country and how you crave familiar surroundings, but I've found that many immigrants choose not to "fit in" as it were. 
At one non-profit company I volunteered for, a Hispanic woman, after struggling to talk to me, told me I should learn Spanish! 
And there appear to be so many free services offered to immigrants (whether legal or illegal), free schooling, free classes to learn English, free translaters. Many, like Gustavo Milhajos in the book, are working purely to send money back to Mexico, others like the Rivera family are here to take advantage of our schools or medical services without making an effort to learn English or become part of our society (although Mrs. Rivera did find a class for English as a second language by accident). Not learning English and with no way to communicate had disastrous results for Mr. Rivera. 

But we should not be quick to lump everyone into one category, there are many people from Mexico and South America who come here, work hard, become part of our society and go on to get their citizenship. When my daughter and I went to the courthouse for the finalization of our citizenship, 95% of the group were from Mexico and it was awesome to see how excited they were to become American citizens.

1 comment:

Joanne said...

interesting book and I like your follow-up comments. Indeed - I do think each person or family has their tale and choose to make an effort or not to assimilate. We can't make assumptions or just lump everyone into one pile. America does provide the dream for so many