The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Book of Unknown Americans can help.

The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 26: Mayor Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By the time Mayor and Maribel get back in the car and start heading for home, it is already getting dark. The snow is falling even harder, and the car is skidding on the road before they even get out to the highway. Mayor pulls off the road onto the shoulder to wait. Mayor realizes that Maribel has fallen asleep, and he too rests his head and drifts off. When he wakes up, the snow has stopped and he has no idea what time it is. He starts the car, and the dashboard reveals that it is past one in the morning. Mayor begins to put the car in gear, but out of nowhere, Maribel starts to tell him about Garrett and the time he pushed her up against the wall of the apartment building. Mayor silently holds her hand.
Mayor and Maribel have become so caught up in creating an isolated space for themselves that they ignore the weather and don’t realize, when they pull over for safety and fall asleep, how much time is passing. The world is still going on around them, even if they don’t want it to. Maribel’s confession to Mayor indicates her lingering fear—perhaps her fear of returning home, and perhaps a sense of foreboding over what is waiting for them when they return.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
When Mayor and Maribel reach home, Rafael Toro is standing outside in the parking lot smoking a cigarette. Rafael opens the driver’s-side door and tells Mayor to get out of the car—Maribel is asleep in the passenger seat. Rafael tells Mayor to get in the back and the three of them begin to drive away. There are no other cars on the road, and Rafael is driving very fast. Within ten minutes, they all arrive at the local hospital, and Rafael instructs Mayor to wake Maribel up—they are all going inside. Mayor wonders if his father is taking them to see car accident victims, as a kind of warning—he has no idea what is going on. The three of them walk into the hospital, where Celia is sitting in the waiting room. Mayor realizes that whatever is going on, it is not good. Celia reports that there is no good news yet, except for Mayor and Maribel’s return.
Mayor is completely disoriented upon returning home—he expects that his father is about to conduct some elaborate punishment in order to highlight his and Maribel’s insolence and stupidity.  As it becomes clear that there is something far more serious going on, both Maribel and Mayor experience an even deeper disorientation, which they have, in a way, brought on themselves by choosing to isolate themselves from their families and their home with no consideration as to what their actions might lead to.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Maribel asks Mayor what is going on, and she seems to be growing agitated. Celia tells her that Arturo is in surgery, and that Alma is waiting elsewhere in the hospital. Celia tells Mayor that they called him “a hundred times.” When Mayor asks what happened to Arturo, Celia tells him that they don’t know, but there is nothing they can do but wait.
Something bad has happened to Arturo, but there is no information available as to his status and there is nothing that anyone can do but wait to find out. The futility and immobility of the situation grates on the Toros, and on Maribel.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Maribel waits with the Toros for hours until a nurse takes her away to the surgical waiting area to be with her mother. Mayor, Rafael, and Celia stay put. Eventually, a doctor comes out to tell them that Arturo is in recovery but is still unconscious. The Toros head home, and Mayor worries that whatever has happened is somehow his fault. He cannot get any rest and he finally begs his mother to tell him what has happened. Celia reveals that Arturo was shot when he went out to try to find Maribel. Celia runs to the bathroom to throw up and Mayor is stunned into silence.
As information begins to come to light and Maribel is taken to be with her family, the Toros decide that there is nothing more they can do. As the waiting becomes more excruciating, Mayor begins to wonder if he is somehow responsible—though there is still no answer as to the exact chain of events, the revelation that Arturo has been shot frightens and shocks Mayor.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Get the entire The Book of Unknown Americans LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Book of Unknown Americans PDF
Quisqueya and Nelia drop by, as do Micho, José, and Benny. Everyone pieces together what they have heard and eventually the story comes out. When Arturo went to Capitol Oaks to find Garrett, there was a confrontation and a man fired at him with a shotgun. Mayor cannot stop imagining the scene in greater and greater detail, and the images in his mind grow more and more horrific. Mayor thinks that Garrett’s dad must have been the man with the gun, and he imagines that Arturo was shot based on his race.
Mayor’s imagination runs away with him as he continues to wonder whether his actions have led to Arturo’s injury. Mayor recognizes that in entangling himself with the Millers, Arturo become involved in real danger and Mayor knows that the hostile attitude of white Americans toward Latino immigrants is something that can easily lead to unwarranted violence.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Celia cooks for the Riveras, Rafael drinks and smokes, and Mayor goes up to the Riveras’ apartment, where a mountain of flowers waits at their doorstep. He begins kicking them to pieces. Rafael comes out and asks Mayor what he is doing and when Mayor cannot answer, Rafael assures him that Arturo is going to be fine.
Mayor continues to wrestle with his grief and self-loathing as he and his family wait together for any news of Arturo’s status.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
That night, though, the Toros receive a phone call—Arturo has died. The Toros are overwhelmed with grief. Rafael goes to the hospital to retrieve Alma and Maribel and brings them back to their apartment—Celia asks why he wouldn’t have brought them back to the Toros’ rather than having them stay alone, and Rafael answers that “they have each other.” When Celia counters that that “isn’t good enough,” Rafael agrees, but says that there is nothing to be done.
The devastating news of Arturo’s death shakes the Toro family. Rafael thinks that Alma and Maribel should be alone, despite the insufficiency of the comfort they can provide one another—nothing will never be enough to soothe the loss, he argues, and it is futile to attempt to ignore that fact or make it better.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
The next morning, Celia and Mayor go to visit Alma and Maribel. Mayor sits with Maribel in her bedroom while their mothers converse, cry, and even laugh in the next room. Maribel asks Mayor if he thinks what happened to Arturo was her fault, since their family only left Mexico for her well-being. Mayor reassures Maribel that it isn’t, but then he begins wondering whose fault it is and he marvels at how the series of events which led up to Arturo’s death can be “trace[d] back infinitely.” Finally, Mayor wonders if Arturo’s death was “completely random—just something that happened.”
Maribel, too, is wrestling with blaming herself for Arturo’s death. Mayor attempts to comfort her, but ultimately arrives at the conclusion that fault and guilt can be traced back infinitely and assigned to anyone, everyone, and no one all at once. Mayor considers the role of chance in everything that has happened and wonders if there is a design to all things, or if this line of thought is futile, too.
Themes
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The last time Mayor ever sees Maribel is one week later—Maribel is sitting on the curb outside of the Redwood Apartments next to a discarded mattress. She tells Mayor that Alma is inside sleeping on the floor—she does not want to sleep on the mattress anymore—and that they are leaving to return to Mexico the following day. Maribel gives Mayor her notebook, which is full of the lists she kept for herself. Mayor tells Maribel that she could come back, or that he could come to México to find her. Maribel tells him that “finding is for things that are lost.” Mayor thinks how unfair it is that “the only girl who [had] ever liked [him]” is leaving, but recognizes that there are “way worse things in the world.”
Maribel, having once told Mayor that she felt she had lost a part of herself, now asserts that she is not lost. Perhaps she has found herself in her grief, or perhaps she has been there all along, and is just now realizing this about herself. Mayor reacts to the news of her and Alma’s departure selfishly, but with the knowledge that he is being selfish. He continues to long for Maribel, even as her departure is imminent.
Themes
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The next morning, Alma and Maribel are gone and Mayor pictures what they might have looked like as they left for their journey. Mayor believes he will hold a “place” for Maribel—and that she will hold one for him—inside his heart.
Mayor and Maribel experienced longing, isolation, and loss together, and Mayor knows that he has been forever changed by the impact that Maribel has had on his life. He believes he has had a similar impact on hers and continues to hold a candle for her even after she has left.
Themes
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon