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.
A resident of the Redwood Apartments and an immigrant from Panamá, Celia is a loving wife and mother, a dutiful, compassionate, and fun neighbor, and a devoted friend to Alma and to many others in the apartment complex. Celia weathers her temperamental husband Rafael’s outbursts with grace and understanding, but she is perhaps too compliant with her husband as his behavior begins to edge toward violence—she warns him to go easy on their troubled and lovesick son Mayor, but Rafael does not heed her advice. Celia is a steadfast and loyal friend to Alma and she takes up a collection to bring Arturo’s body back to México after his death. She clearly misses her family back in Panamá very deeply, and longs for the impossible—to return to a life, and to a country, that no longer exist.

Celia Toro Quotes in The Book of Unknown Americans

The The Book of Unknown Americans quotes below are all either spoken by Celia Toro or refer to Celia Toro. 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 3: Rafael Toro Quotes

We’re Americans now. We’re citizens, and if someone asks me where my home is, I say los Estados Unidos. I say it proudly. Of course, we still miss Panamá. Celia is desperate to go back and visit. But I worry what it would be like after all this time. We thought it was unrecognizable when we left, but I have a feeling it would be even more unrecognizable now. Sometimes I think I would rather just remember it in my head, all those streets and places I loved. Because a place can do many things against you, and if it’s your home or if it was your home at one time, you still love it. That’s how it works.

Related Characters: Rafael “Rafa” Toro (speaker), Celia Toro
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17: Mayor Quotes

“Next time, just try to blend in with everyone else and you’ll be fine,” my mom offered.

“The way of the world,” my dad said.

“What?” my mom asked.

“Just trying to blend in. That’s the way of the world.”

“Well, that’s the way of America, at least,” my mom said.

Related Characters: Celia Toro (speaker), Rafael “Rafa” Toro (speaker), Mayor Toro
Related Symbols: Rafael’s Car
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Book of Unknown Americans LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Book of Unknown Americans PDF

Celia Toro Character Timeline in The Book of Unknown Americans

The timeline below shows where the character Celia Toro appears in The Book of Unknown Americans. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...assume are Mexican due to their shortness—move into the building. Rafael Toro asks his wife Celia if the new family has a lot of things—Celia answers that it doesn’t look like... (full context)
Chapter 3: Rafael Toro
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
After meeting Celia on the beach one day, when they were both eighteen, Rafael’s life, he says, was... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...well in school, and their success has made the move “worth it.” Both Rafael and Celia miss Panamá, but Rafael feels it would be “even more unrecognizable now” after so many... (full context)
Chapter 5: Mayor
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...his gym bag conspicuously every morning and tells his parents stories about “practice” every night. Celia longs for a job, but Rafael insists that he is the family’s sole provider. The... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
One day, Celia and Mayor go to the Dollar Tree, where they run into Maribel and Alma. Mayor... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Celia tells Alma and Maribel to stop by the Toro apartment any time—she is almost always... (full context)
Chapter 7: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...and the Mexican grocery store, and sometimes she goes to church to pray. She visits Celia Toro, whom Alma sees as glamorous compared to her friends back in México. Celia gives... (full context)
Chapter 8: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
The Toros and the Riveras grow closer—both families attend the same mass, and Celia often invites the Riveras over to their apartment for lunch afterwards. Celia is a gracious... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...her in order to make her smile. One Sunday, Quisqueya shows up—she is hurt that Celia has not invited her over in a long time, and once she sees that the... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...They almost went back once, for Rafael’s high school reunion—the whole family was excited, and Celia bought new clothes for the trip, but after Rafael spoke on the phone to one... (full context)
Chapter 11: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...to “pass up” the chance to grow close to a girl as beautiful as Maribel. Celia defends Mayor, but Rafael still disapproves. This pushes Mayor even closer to Maribel, who feels... (full context)
Chapter 14: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream 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... (full context)
Chapter 17: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Celia announces to Rafael and Mayor over dinner that her sister has received eighty thousand dollars... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Two days later, Celia reveals that their family will be receiving ten thousand dollars. Rafael counters that their family... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Rafael, Mayor, and Celia go to a nearby used-car lot and pick out a Volkswagen Rabbit. After haggling with... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...herself” when he is around. Alma asks why Mayor does not come over anymore, and Celia tells Alma that Mayor was grounded, but that nothing serious occurred and that he is... (full context)
Chapter 19: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...she wants to be home during the days in case Arturo comes home for lunch. Celia Toro begins teaching Alma basic English, and Alma passes on what she learns to Arturo... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
At the end of February there is an ice storm—Celia calls to suggest that the Riveras join the Toros for some ice skating at a... (full context)
Chapter 20: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 25: Alma
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...she puts on her coat and boots and walks outside. She heads to the Toros’ apartment—Celia is surprised to see her, as the two have not talked since Maribel and Mayor... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Alma becomes afraid that Garrett has somehow taken Maribel, and she makes “an anguished sound.” Celia implores her to calm down and offers to make some coffee while the two of... (full context)
Chapter 26: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss 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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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’... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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... (full context)
Chapter 27: Alma
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Alma does not blame Mayor Toro for what happened, but Celia comes by every day—sometimes twice a day—with food, clothes, and prayer notes from church. A... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Celia comes over the next morning to deliver an envelope—inside are “hundred[s]” of bills, and Celia... (full context)