The “Other”; in The Tortilla Curtain
Since its very beginnings, the United States of America has been idealized as ‘the land of the free,’ full of new opportunities for people from all around the globe. In The Tortilla Curtain, written by T. Coraghessan Boyle the reader gets an up close view of the border between Americans and Mexican immigrants. Boyle uses satire to confront many trends in modern America today about immigration and separation of class. These problems are highlighted through the books four main characters, Delany and Kyra Mossbacher; rich, well-to-do, upper middle class are paralleled to Cadido and America Rincon; social outcasts, Mexican immigrants living in poverty. Boyle juxtaposes these two couples to address social ills in the modern America of today and open the eyes of his readers to understand how close their contact is, yet the contrasting lives both live.
Even though our country was created by immigrants, as a people, our laws often reject newcomers. With newcomers from another area Americans can become uncomfortable. The “white” race often feels threatened by the “other” unable to define it as friend or enemy. The “other” is unknown and represents danger and lack of control. If one is not fully aware of the “other” and its customs, they have no control over them. From Toni Morrison’s essay Playing In The Dark she writes, “Power- control over one’s destiny- would replace the powerlessness felt before the gates of class, caste and cunning persecution.”(1794). Here she is making an insight to the relief felt by immigrants who come to the United States from the Old World, yet it is still a valid point for today’s immigrant. Many come to the United States as destitute, looking for some kind of opportunity, for a way to accomplish their goals. Another important quote from Morrison states, “To all of these people, the attraction was of the “clean slate” variety, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only to be born again, but to be born again in new clothes, as it were: the new setting would provide new rainments of self…vision of a limitless future…”(1793). Such is the case in this book for Candido and his new wife America, whose ironic name symbolizes the hope they have as a couple trying to make it in this country.
Although this is a land of supposed “equal opportunity” it is often not that at all for Candido and America. Throughout the text immigrants are shown in an inhuman light. They are treated like animals and even described as “wild-eyed.” Delany believes himself to be a sympathetic America somewhat on the side of immigrants, but even in the first few pages we see his hypocrisy. In the first section of the book, Delany speaks on the phone to his wife, he has hit a man passing on the road, “No, listen, Kyra: the guy’s okay. I mean he was just…bruised, that was all. He’s gone, he went away. I gave him twenty bucks. ‘Twenty-?’ (Kyra) And then before the words could turn to ash in his mouth, it was out: ‘I told you-he was Mexican” (15). This lack of human sympathy shows the reader a harsh disregard for a Mexican life. The man is somehow dehumanized by this ethic category; he doesn’t count, even if he was left almost for dead. He couldn’t sue due to his legal status; Delany could remain in his own bubble untouched by the “other.” The situation was under control.
Boyle focuses on a specific region, southern California, for its diversity among the social-economic classes and its closeness to the border. Few places in America are so rich with the immigrant and class divide like this part of California. In the novel, Boyle deliberates southern California as the mirror coating the rest of America and its prestigious land. The Tortilla Curtain is a novel that projects an in depth analysis of the social unbalance in southern California, in all aspects. Boyle examines factors as immigration, racism/discrimination and ethnic classes and their effect on society, as...
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