The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 20: Mayor Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Late in February, Rafael comes home from work one evening visibly angry. Mayor steers clear of his parents until dinner. At the table, his parents fight viciously back and forth over whether Mayor has the right to “know” something—eventually, Rafael leaves the table, and Celia tells Mayor that Rafael has lost his job.
The financial crisis has at last impacted the Toros as well—Rafael has lost his job, and with it his ability to call himself his family’s sole provider.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Mayor feels sorry for his father, who has worked at the diner six days a week for fifteen years. Rafael searches for jobs everywhere, but, like Arturo, he cannot find anything. Celia and Rafael fight more and more, and Mayor is helpless to mediate their arguments.
Mayor, despite his differences with Rafael, feels genuine compassion for his father and senses the crushing futility of having worked so hard for so many years only to have everything fall apart.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Mayor and his friend William have been on the outs lately, but one day, at school, the two of them make up. William asks Mayor if he wants to go to a movie—Mayor is still grounded, but he decides that if he snuck out for Maribel, he can sneak out for William, too. That afternoon, when Mayor arrives home from the movies, his mother tells him that she has received a call from Alma Rivera. Mayor asks what about, but Celia insists on waiting until Rafael gets home. When Rafael walks in the door, Celia sends Mayor to his room. “After an eternity,” Celia and Rafael knock on Mayor’s door—when he lets them in, it is clear that Celia has been crying and Rafael has “a dark look in his eyes.” Rafael confronts him about having been in the car with Maribel, and Mayor admits to stealing the keys off the windowsill in order to get in. Rafael asks if Mayor kissed Maribel—Mayor attempts to dodge the question, but eventually concedes that he did and that it “wasn’t a big deal.” Rafael tells Mayor that he is not allowed to see Maribel anymore—the Riveras want him to stay away.
Mayor and Maribel’s sly disobedience finally catches up with them, and each is forbidden from seeing the other. Mayor, who was already in trouble with his parents, has betrayed their trust even further, whereas Maribel, whose parents give her little or no agency at all, has awakened her parents’ fears of more harm befalling her. Mayor remains adamant that his relationship with Maribel is not a “big deal,” failing to realize how the fact that he is obsessed with a girl with a brain injury might look to others.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Mayor protests, angry that his father has never liked Maribel and upset that no one ever asks Maribel what it is that she herself wants. Mayor feels the situation spinning out of control, “like a rope slipping through [his] hands.”
Mayor attempts to force Rafael to see his point of view, but it is all in vain, and he is aware that he has lost control over his circumstances.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
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