The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 14: Mayor Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mayor has not had a run-in with Garrett since he stood up to him in front of Maribel, though he has seen Garrett around school. One day just before Christmas break, though, Garrett approaches Mayor at Mayor’s locker to taunt him about Maribel. Mayor tries to exit the situation, but Garrett grabs his arm and asks him increasingly explicit questions about Maribel, revealing that Garrett has been fantasizing about her. Mayor punches Garrett, and the two start fighting. A crowd forms around them until a teacher breaks their fight up and sends them to the principal’s office. When the teacher tells both boys that their parents will be called, Garrett sarcastically wishes the teacher luck in getting ahold of his father, who has been missing for three days.
Mayor once again breaks his own promise to himself not to retaliate against Garrett—and, once again, he breaks it for Maribel’s sake. As Henríquez drops hints about Garrett’s troubled home life, she continues in her commitment to displaying the many layers of her characters’ lives—even in the case of her novel’s unrelentingly violent and dangerous antagonist.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor overhears his parents discussing the call they received from the school, requesting they come by for a conference—he is in his room, examining his still-bloodied face. His parents go out to the school for an hour and a half, and when they come back, Rafael bursts into Mayor’s room, furious, and begins to reprimand him for fighting and for letting his grades slip. Furthermore, Rafael reveals that when he asked Mayor’s counselor whether Mayor’s grades had suffered because of soccer, the counselor revealed that Mayor has not been on the soccer team for months. Rafael berates Mayor for having made a “fool” of him and tells Mayor that he is “done.”
Mayor sought to keep his choice to quit soccer from his father rather than reveal it and disappoint him. However, now Rafael feels he has been made to look stupid and foolish in front of Mayor’s teachers, so Mayor’s plan has backfired. Though Rafael’s anger is excessive and the reader’s sympathy is with Mayor, Henríquez’s prior revelations about Rafael’s upbringing and his angry father makes Rafael’s behavior more understandable.
Themes
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Mayor describes Christmas as “the best and the worst [the Toros have] had in a while.” Mayor is heavily grounded—he is not allowed to see Maribel or his friend William, and he receives no allowance. His father has also taken away all of his Christmas presents, and he dangles Mayor’s brother Enrique’s many gifts right in front of Mayor’s nose. On Christmas Eve, the Toros go to retrieve Enrique from the Wilmington train station. Enrique wants to skip church that evening, as he is tired from his trip, but Celia insists that he join them. That night, the Toros ride the bus to church with the Riveras, and Mayor uses the opportunity to make some small-talk with Maribel.
Mayor’s sadness over not being able to spend time with Maribel is lessened slightly by the arrival of his older brother—even though Rafael attempts to use Enrique as an emblem of all Mayor’s failings.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
The next morning, Enrique’s “mountain” of presents turns out to be just toiletries. Celia calls her sister back in Panamá, who reveals she has filed for divorce from her husband. Later in the morning, the radiators stop working—soon, the telephone rings, and Alma Rivera reports that her family’s radiator has gone out, too. Mayor suggests that they invite the Riveras over—when Celia asks why, as their apartment does not have heat either, Mayor suggests inviting the entire apartment building over as a way to cover for having just wanted Maribel to come by. At noon, Celia begins calling her friends throughout the building and inviting them to come by—everyone’s heat is out. Soon there is a party in full swing at the Toro apartment, and even the landlord, Fito, stops by to announce that the energy company is on the way to fix the heat.
Mayor’s desire to see Maribel creeps back in, and, in an attempt to cover it up, he inadvertently suggests a full-on block party. Despite the annoyance—and even the danger—of broken heating on Christmas day, Mayor watches as his neighbors all come together to celebrate the holiday and their shared cultures. A moment of profound isolation for everyone in the building—being trapped inside in the cold on Christmas with no heat—is turned into joyful moment of togetherness.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
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As the party grows more and more boisterous and joyful, and everyone starts dancing, Mayor pulls Maribel away from the action in order to give her a Christmas present—he has saved up his allowance to buy her a red scarf. He tells Maribel that he hasn’t been avoiding her, but has been grounded, and then he kisses her. It is his first real kiss. Maribel giggles, and “the moment passe[s]” by. Downstairs, the party rages on.
Mayor displays real tenderness toward Maribel—he has picked out a present for her, and he wants to make sure that she knows he cares about her and has not been staying away from her on purpose. Their kiss moves their relationship to the next level, and represents a moment of togetherness for Mayor despite the isolation he has felt while being grounded.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon