Yunior is the central character in the short story collection Drown. These nonsequential short stories visit events in Yunior's life from age four until his early adulthood. He is a sensitive young man who is keenly aware of the people and places around him.
Rafa is first presented to the reader in "Ysrael," the first story in Drown. He is 12 years old in that story, while Yunior is 9. Rafa engineers the assault of a disfigured youth in the town of Ocoa. In other stories in the collection, Rafa plays a more minor role. He is a boisterous bully who likes girls and sex.
Mami's (literally: "Mommy") full name is Virta de las Casas, but she is referred to as "Virta" only in "Negocios." Mami is left to raise her children alone while Papi is in the United States allegedly finding a job and a home so the family can relocate. Mami works in a local chocolate factory for little money, and her life throughout Drown is a series of practical hardships, compounded by her marriage to and separation from Papi, who is short-tempered, a heavy drinker, and chronically unfaithful.
Papi's (literally "Daddy") full name is Ramón de las Casas, but he is referred to as "Ramón" only in "Negocios." Papi leaves his family in Santo Domingo when Yunior is four and Rafa is seven, ostensibly to find a job and a home for them in the United States. While away, he marries another woman and fathers three sons with her. Papi's persona in Drown is largely defined by his short temper, drunkenness, meanness, and chronic infidelity.
Tía (aunt) Yrma is married to tío (uncle) Miguel. They live outside the town of Ocoa, a 100-kilometer drive from Santo Domingo. The two take in their two nephews every summer when school is out because Papi is in the United States and Mami, who works long hours at the local chocolate factory, is unable to properly supervise her sons. Three years after Yunior's family has at last moved to America, Yrma and Miguel do the same, settling in an apartment in the Bronx.
Tío Miguel is a very tall man with a semi-Afro hairstyle. He lives with tía Yrma in the town of Ocoa and gives Yunior and Rafa "big spleen-crushing" hugs when he sees them. Three years after Yunior's family has at last moved to America, Miguel and his wife do the same, settling in an apartment in the Bronx.
Ysrael wears a mask because, as a baby, a pig got into his family's home and ate off much of his face. One summer, Yunior and Rafa travel to Ocoa to find Ysrael. They assault him and remove his mask to examine his disfigurement. Elsewhere in Drown, Díaz relates how Ysrael is an outcast in the town of Ocoa, the victim of abuse by townspeople and hated by his own father.
Abuelo (grandfather) sometimes helps Mami with the kids while Papi is in the United States and Mami is at work in the local chocolate factory. He "loans" Papi the money he needs to prepare a home for his family in the United States.