The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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Arturo Rivera Character Analysis

Alma’s husband and Maribel’s father, Arturo is the only member of the Rivera family licensed to work, so he is the sole provider for his wife and daughter as they make their new lives in the United States. Arturo works in terrible conditions for little money at a mushroom farm, and his long hours mean that his interactions with Alma and Maribel are limited. His old self shines through, though, in the form of his sense of humor—he’s always doing silly voices and cracking jokes. Arturo is the heart of his family and he is more than happy to work hard so that Maribel can receive the education she needs. After a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, Arturo confronts the Miller family because he believes they are hurting Maribel and he is fatally injured after an argument. Arturo is—throughout the entire novel, but especially in the end—a martyr figure and an emblem of the futility of the American dream, though he remains optimistic until his death and finds his life, despite its hardships, beautiful.

Arturo Rivera Quotes in The Book of Unknown Americans

The The Book of Unknown Americans quotes below are all either spoken by Arturo Rivera or refer to Arturo Rivera. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage Books edition of The Book of Unknown Americans published in 2014.
Chapter 4: Alma Quotes

I dropped the hot dog into a pot of water. I could hear Arturo behind me, working through his thoughts, trying to box in his frustration. After all these years, I could interpret his various silences. I knew he didn’t want to say any more about it. I didn’t want him to, either.

Finally, “She’s in the bedroom?” he asked.

“She’s resting,” I said. “The hot dog will be ready soon,” I added, as if it were some sort of consolation. But when Arturo didn’t say anything, I felt acutely the meagerness of it, the insufficiency. We wanted more. We wanted what we had come here for.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera (speaker), Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13: Alma Quotes

“What if God wants us to be happy? What if there’s nothing else around the bend? What if all our unhappiness is in the past and from here on out we get an uncomplicated life? Some people get that, you know. Why shouldn’t it be us?”

Related Characters: Arturo Rivera (speaker), Alma Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19: Alma Quotes

This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. We had followed the rules. We had said to ourselves, We won’t be like those people who pack up and [go] north without waiting for the proper authorization. We were no less desperate them. We understood, just as they did, how badly a person could want a thing—money, or peace of mind, or a better education for their injured daughter, or just a chance at this thing called life. But we would be different. We would do it the right way. So we filled out the papers and waited nearly a year before they let us come. We waited even though it would have been so much easier not to wait. And for what?

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 181-82
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 27: Alma Quotes

It was only a word—justice. It was only a concept, and it wasn’t enough.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:

I took most of the garbage bags that I had piled in the hallway out to the alley. Maribel helped me carry the mattress down to the parking lot, where we left it. Somebody else could have all of it if they wanted. I didn’t need it anymore.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

There she was again. The person Arturo and I had been waiting for, the reason for all of this. And as I looked at her I saw that maybe she had been here all along. Not exactly the girl she used to be before the accident, which was the girl I thought I had been searching for, but my Maribel, brave and impetuous and kind. All this time I had been buried too far under my guilt to see her. I had been preoccupied with getting us to the United States because I wanted it to make her whole again. I believed that I had lost my daughter and that if I did the right things and brought us to the right place, I could recover the girl she used to be. What I didn’t understand—what I realized now—was that if I stopped moving backwards, trying to recapture the past, there might be a future waiting for us.

Related Characters: Alma Rivera (speaker), Arturo Rivera, Maribel Rivera
Page Number: 282
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 28: Arturo Rivera Quotes

Maybe it’s the instinct of every immigrant, born of necessity or longing: Someplace else will be better than here. And this condition: if only I can get to that place.

Related Characters: Arturo Rivera (speaker)
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:
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Arturo Rivera Character Timeline in The Book of Unknown Americans

The timeline below shows where the character Arturo Rivera appears in The Book of Unknown Americans. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
...Maribel, who has fallen asleep in the pickup truck they’ve been transported in. Her husband Arturo takes in their new building—it is two stories tall and made of cinder blocks, and... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...the United States.” The Riveras take a mattress and a kitchen table from the street. Arturo pays their driver—half of all the money they have in the world—and he wishes them... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
...of the apartment is dingy, ugly, and “reek[ing] of mildew and fish.” As Alma and Arturo look around, Maribel stands “expressionless, as usual, clutching her notebook to her chest.” Alma wonders... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...items and laugh amongst themselves about the quality of American jarred salsa. At the register, Arturo does not understand the cashier, and simply hands over a twenty-dollar bill. The cashier continues... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Arturo emerges from the gas station with the food, exclaiming that his total had been twenty-two... (full context)
Chapter 4: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
A few days after the Riveras arrive in Newark, Arturo begins work at a mushroom farm “just over the state line in Pennsylvania.” The farm... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo asks if Alma has heard from Maribel’s new school, but she says that they did... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo is disappointed by the news, but optimistic. On Maribel’s first day of school, Arturo and... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Arturo leaves for work, and Alma is alone in the apartment for the first time since... (full context)
Chapter 7: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...but after Maribel’s first day of school, Maribel is as flat and emotionless as ever. Arturo urges Alma not to grow impatient. (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...tell her to call on them if she needed help. Ynez, after learning that Maribel, Arturo, and Alma have all been sleeping on the same mattress, brings over a sleeping bag... (full context)
Chapter 8: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...the economy. Rafael laments that America is “not as safe as it used to be”—when Arturo Rivera seems concerned by this statement, Rafael adds that “compared to where any of us... (full context)
Chapter 10: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma watches as Arturo struggles with the physical toll his new job is taking on him. She remembers how... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...at the suggestion of a fellow shopper at the Dollar Tree, makes oatmeal for herself, Arturo, and Maribel to have for dinner. Arturo initially is disgusted by the oatmeal and he... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...how things used to be before Maribel’s accident. Alma recalls the circumstances of the accident: Arturo was leading a construction project and Maribel was desperate to visit the job site with... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
At the work site, Alma observed Maribel carefully as she helped out with small tasks. Arturo called down to one of his coworkers from up on the roof to bring a... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Maribel’s doctors in Mexico were optimistic about her recovery, but warned Alma and Arturo that she might never be the same as she had been before. Sending Maribel back... (full context)
Chapter 13: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Trying to focus on the positive, Alma and Arturo rejoice over the fact that Maribel is laughing more often, now, and seems less confused... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
That night at dinner, Arturo asks Alma what’s wrong—he can sense that something is off. Alma does not answer him—she... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo urges Alma to snap out of her mood and to “believe [she is] entitled to... (full context)
Chapter 16: Alma
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
That night, after Maribel has gone to bed, Alma and Arturo sit at the kitchen table drinking tea. Alma is aware that she is behaving nervously... (full context)
Chapter 19: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Toward the end of January, Arturo loses his job. He comes home one afternoon while Maribel and Alma are working on... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo begins going out during the days, looking for work. He is laughed out of “store... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Despite all their hardship, Alma feels that she and Arturo are closer than they have been since Maribel’s accident. For their nineteenth wedding anniversary, on... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
At the restaurant, Arturo, Alma, and Maribel order ice waters and watch the American families all around them. Arturo... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
A week passes, and Arturo is still without a job. He is afraid that if anyone finds out their family... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...briefly thinks she sees Garrett—in the confusion, she loses sight of Maribel and becomes distressed. Arturo notices, and again asks Alma what is going on and what she’s keeping from him.... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
A week later, Alma and Arturo borrow the Toros’ radio and are enjoying listening to old music when there is a... (full context)
Chapter 20: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 22: Alma
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma and Arturo tell Maribel that she cannot see Mayor anymore, and in the days afterward, she becomes... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
In the middle of the night, unable to sleep, Alma asks Arturo if they did the right thing, and Arturo implies that if Maribel did not have... (full context)
Chapter 25: Alma
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma calls Arturo and tells him that he needs to come home from job-hunting—Maribel has not come home... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Arturo calls the police, who say that the school has already notified them that Maribel is... (full context)
Chapter 26: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 27: Alma
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
After Arturo’s death, Alma says, she “detached from [her]self.”  She remembers the pain of the moment she... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma, unable to sleep on the mattress she and Arturo had shared, sleeps on the floor. The night of Arturo’s death, Alma sits awake for... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...his father herself. As the sun rises, Alma looks back toward the mattress, hoping that Arturo will be sleeping there.  (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...their condolences and small gifts—Gustavo Milhojas brings flowers, and Micho Alvarez brings a picture of Arturo that he took at the impromptu Christmas party at the Toros’. Even those who don’t... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...time receiving guests, watching television, and packing for their journey home. Alma keeps all of Arturo’s belongings and feels as if, throughout the days, he is still “everywhere.” Forced to bury... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...and the church pitched in to raise over five thousand dollars and help Alma get Arturo’s body home. Celia tells Alma that everyone loved Arturo. Alma, overwhelmed, breaks down in tears.  (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...drive through the country, Alma wonders if things would be different if she had told Arturo about Garrett earlier. She remembers one of the last things he ever said to her:... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
The next morning, Alma looks out at the countryside and remembers something Arturo said to her on their way up to Delaware so many months ago: “Every place... (full context)
Chapter 28: Arturo Rivera
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
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Arturo lived all his live in Pátzcuaro, México—unlike other people who left town in search of... (full context)