The Book of Unknown Americans


Cristina Henríquez

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The Book of Unknown Americans: Chapter 9: Gustavo Milhojas Summary & Analysis

Gustavo Milhojas was born in Guatemala in 1960—“the year hell came to that country.” Raised by a single mother amidst horrific violence perpetrated by the country’s military, Gustavo eventually had enough of his dangerous surroundings and decided to move to México, his absent father’s homeland. In México, Gustavo found that “Mexicans look down on [Guatemalans,]” and he could not get a job. He met a woman named Isabel, married her, and had two children—he gained a new kind of confidence after his marriage, and the poor treatment he faced in his new country “didn’t bother [him] as much.” After his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, she could not obtain adequate medical care and she passed away. After her death, Gustavo moved to the United States in order to make more money to send back to his children, who were preparing to enter college. He works as a janitor at two different movie theaters in Newark, and though the work is difficult, he is grateful to be employed. He hopes that his children will use their educations to “give something back” to the world.
Just like the Toros, Gustavo Milhojas fled war and violence. He faced demoralizing discrimination for years, but found refuge and solace in his wife and family. After his wife’s death, having lost his one balm against the abuse and prejudice he faced every day, Gustavo sought something new in America. Though his life remains difficult and lonely, he is grateful for the chance to give his children a better future—and it’s notable that he hopes that he can, through his children, better the world, though it has been cruel to him all his life. 
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon