The Book of Unknown Americans

by

Cristina Henríquez

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Rafael “Rafa” Toro Character Analysis

An immigrant from Panamá and a resident of Redwood Apartments, the volatile Rafa is the patriarch of the Toro family—a role that he sees as both vitally important and constantly threatened. Rafael’s outbursts often frighten and stun his family—mostly Celia, his wife. His strict, domineering ways inspire his son Mayor, who is ashamed of all the ways in which he cannot meet his father’s expectations, to act deceitfully. Rafa comes from a war-torn nation and his survival instincts and drive for success—not just for himself, but also for his sons Mayor and Enrique—are born out of his difficult past. Rafa longs to visit Panamá, but his friends there tease him for being “gringo royalty” and Rafa himself admits that he and his family “are Americans now,” so his fear of returning to a Panamá he can no longer recognize runs deep within him.

Rafael “Rafa” Toro Quotes in The Book of Unknown Americans

The The Book of Unknown Americans quotes below are all either spoken by Rafael “Rafa” Toro or refer to Rafael “Rafa” 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 8: Mayor Quotes

“It’s in you,” my dad assured me once. “You were born in Panamá. It’s in your bones.”

I spent a lot of time trying to find it in me, but usually I couldn’t. I felt more American than anything, but even that was up for debate according to the kids at school who’d taunted me over the years. The truth was that I didn’t know which I was. I wasn’t allowed to claim the thing I felt and I didn’t feel the thing I was supposed to claim.

Related Characters: Mayor Toro (speaker), Rafael “Rafa” Toro (speaker)
Page Number: 78
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:
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Rafael “Rafa” Toro Character Timeline in The Book of Unknown Americans

The timeline below shows where the character Rafael “Rafa” 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
...as the Riveras—whom the Toros 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... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...for Latinos.” Mayor’s older brother Enrique was a natural at soccer in high school, and Rafael is disappointed that Mayor has not even come close to matching his brother’s skill. Mayor... (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
Rafael Toro tells the story of his life Born in 1967 in “a little country by... (full context)
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 “saved.” Rafael got a job at a restaurant and worked hard... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Rafael says that he and his family are Americans now—he is a line cook at a... (full context)
Chapter 5: Mayor
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...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 two are so busy fighting that... (full context)
Chapter 8: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...over to their apartment for lunch afterwards. Celia is a gracious and enthusiastic hostess, but Rafael does not let the Riveras’ presence interfere with his usual Sunday routine of watching soccer.... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...she does the Toros and the Riveras discuss politics—Barack Obama has just been elected president. Rafael Toro is skeptical of what Obama can do for immigrants, but he is hopeful that... (full context)
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...an infant when the Toros came to America, and though he never really knew Panamá, Rafael constantly assures him that the country is “in [Mayor’s] bones.” Mayor feels American, though, and... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
The Toros have never been back to Panamá—Rafael is too afraid to ask for vacation time, knowing that as a line cook “he... (full context)
Chapter 11: Mayor
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Rafael chides Mayor for not being able to “talk to normal girls,” but Mayor refuses to... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
...night and, when he arrives home, finds that his father is home earlier than expected. Rafael asks Mayor why he isn’t in his soccer clothes, and Mayor makes up a flimsy... (full context)
Chapter 14: Mayor
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...out to the school for an hour and a half, and when they come back, Rafael bursts into Mayor’s room, furious, and begins to reprimand him for fighting and for letting... (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 in her divorce... (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 has probably loaned Celia’s sister “almost as much” over the years,... (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.... (full context)
Chapter 20: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Late in February, Rafael comes home from work one evening visibly angry. Mayor steers clear of his parents until... (full context)
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 23: Mayor
The Unknown and The American Dream Theme Icon
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
It is March, and Rafael has secured a job as a newspaper carrier. Tensions in the Toro house have eased,... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
...five in the evening, Maribel and Mayor arrive at their destination—it is the beach that Rafael once took the Toros to. Maribel thinks the beach is beautiful and thanks Mayor for... (full context)
Chapter 26: Mayor
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... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (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’ apartment, where a mountain of... (full context)
Longing Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 27: Alma
Isolation vs. Community Theme Icon
Futility, Chance, and Loss Theme Icon
Two days later, Alma and Maribel leave in a black pickup truck. Rafael has found someone to take them across the border and has, Alma assumes, paid their... (full context)