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Tortilla Curtain by T.Coraghessan Boyle
T.C. Boyle's "The Tortilla Curtain" is an engaging novel on the struggles of two couples as they try to achieve the American Dream; one already handed the chance on a silver platter, and the other daring the impossible by crossing illegally into America.
While Boyle shows off the endless possibilities of the cliched American Dream, his novel impresses on his readers only the futility of attempting to live it, rather than the success that countless of immigrants and Americans have found while fulfilling their dreams and destinies.
Within "The Tortilla Curtain" there are various issues intertwining as the characters lives do. Delaney and Candido find themselves brought together by an accident, yet their lives are the extreme opposite. There is an underlying current of envy and distaste between the two. "Wealthy white people like Delaney get ahead by working and living with a go-go-go drive that leaves them too occupied to enjoy anything they've accomplished. These people are dependent on the working poor like Candido for cheap, plentiful labor, but they despise these aliens for the very reason they need them-they work tirelessly, cheaply, plentifully, without paying taxes or being regulated (Nenthiel, 9)."
The title itself refers to a common phrase for the Mexican border and throughout the book there are references to walls, gates, walling people out, and Boyle contrasts the images of an 'Iron Curtain' with the nature of Humans and the plight faced by America and Candido as they try to make a new life for themselves, albeit an illegal one, in the United States.
In an interview with Penguin-Putnam, Boyle mocked the idea of the American Dream by asking," What is the American dream? Well, the American dream is, "you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, you make it, you have a house, you live in the suburbs, and you drive a new car. " What is that? That is a material dream. If you have nothing, then you have material dreams (Interview, 8)."
Interestingly, the Mossbachers have all they could ever want: a lavish housing development and all the trappings of a liberal yuppie lifestyle. Yet, their dream extends. They've fulfilled a dream - similar to Candido and America's- and have replaced it with another.
This seems to be the American Dream to those that abuse its concept. As for Candido, he is forced to struggle to achieve his dream after a car accident that otherwise would have cost Delaney more than twenty dollars to 'get rid of his guilt'.
In November 1994, California passed by a 59% to 41% vote Proposition 187, a bill that denies certain social privileges, mainly welfare, public schooling, and non-emergency medical care, to illegal immigrants. (The New York Times, November 11, 1994)."
Candido is forced to take the money and recover on his own, without medical attention for fear the INS will deport he and his wife. In contrast the Rincons struggle to attain their American Dream for them and their unborn child, while the Mossbachers are doing all they can to protect what they believe to be the American Dream.
Boyle makes use of the coyote throughout his novel, and it is symbolic of illegal immigrants. Delaney refers to the coyote as "trying to survive, to make a living, to take advantage of the opportunities available to him" and that they "keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry and unstoppable."
Here is the perfect example of the Mossbachers view of immigrants and the American Dream. Through his column he speaks about coyotes, which reflects on his subconscious views regarding illegal Mexican immigrants like the Rincons. Slowly Delaney seems to change from the liberal that he is, into a racist and his humanistic side dissolves.
Delaney therefore cannot accept that Candido is not the vandal because essentially it would undermine all that he has come to believe immigrants are, which in turn would force him to review his beliefs and decisions he has made on protecting his version of the American Dream.
In 1995, Clinton addressed the concerns of Americans where he stated "We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it." (Address)." Delaney seems to be taking such a message to the extreme as he tries to protect his family and way of life from the 'coyotes'. I believe this is also out of fear.
Delaney fears that he will lose out to the immigrants, as well as fearing what will become of any opportunities for Jordan and their home should the immigrants stay in California.
For America Rincon, the American Dream is a greater desire for her as she is pregnant, and only seventeen. She is young and believes there is hope for her and Candido. Nevertheless, she finds herself living in a canyon throughout her pregnancy and forced to live by lesser means than she had in Mexico. America scrubs Buddhas with a corrosive liquid (cf. p. 131) and even endures humiliation (cf. p. 127) because she is willing to endure any hardship to achieve her dreams. It is a stark contrast to Kyra's job and way of life.
What Kyra has and experiences everyday, inside her hilltop gated community, America desires and longs for. Fascinated by the stereotype American lifestyle which is conveyed by the movies and novels she has seen and read in Mexico (cf. p. 233), she dreams of living in a typical American neighbourhood with trees, sidewalks, shops and markets (cf. p. 127). She wants modern appliances like a gas range, a refrigerator and a TV and in front of her "clean white house" she dreams of a little yard where she would make a place for the chickens some time (cf.28/29).
While Kyra is able to replace her dream with another one after the Da Ros place has been destroyed by the fire (cf. p. 339), America and Candido eventually have to recognize that everything has been an illusion (cf. p.233). Unfortunately for America, her dreams are shattered and soon she finds herself 'lost and isolated in an alien world [where] she wants to return home to her family, to her own culture where she always has been protected from dangerous situations (cf. p. 325).'
Candido Rincon knows of these situations and does his best to protect his young sister-in-law, and at times he feels he is cursed or unlucky. I don't think Candido suffers from any curse. He is living the stark reality that many illegal immigrants must deal with if they do not have any family or connections to aid them. He desires to find work and to provide a better, and safer living situation, but the accident deals him another hand.
When it's easier for a Jacuzzi or a packet of potato chips to cross a border than it is for a person, common sense suggests a momentary pause to enquire whether this comparison is entirely flattering to people, and what might be done to restore some semblance of sanity to the situation (New Internationalist, 1994)." Boyle shows the barriers facing immigrants from Mexico and questions the motivation behind immigration laws between two countries who are neighbors in a new trade agreement - NAFTA. Candido and America strive for a better life and are capable, honest people, yet they are forced to risk their lives to achieve a better life.
Meanwhile, Delaney turns from being a 'liberal humanist' into a racist that despises the illegal Mexican immigrants and what they are doing to the area he resides in.
His wife, Kyra seems to continue to find her dream though, as she continues in her dream job and home. She doesn't seem bothered by the immigrants, and perhaps has more of a liberal humanist view than her husband.
Boyle himself has said that Delaney is a nature writer and "Well, nature writers are generally very liberal, even radically liberal on all issues except one -- the issue of immigration, on which they are more reactionary than anyone. The reason for this is they argue that there are six billion people on the planet now, and who is the enemy to the environment? Who is the enemy of clean air, clean water, all the dwindling animal species? Well, it's us... Our species (Boyle, 1996)."
In his novel, he brings out Delaney's views as his life intertwines with Candido and the events in the area.
Between the lines is a social commentary on a situation that grows each day with further intensity as a war zone. Boyle reacts in his interview to America's treatment of Mexicans by saying that it is wrong to be "considering all Mexicans, all Guatemalans, all Salvadorans to be bad because they're invading our country as…[continue]
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