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Immigrants in “The Tortilla Curtain” by Boyle Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jan 30th, 2021

Tensions related to illegal workers and their role in southern Californian society as depicted in the novel

When the author Delaney Mossbacher (a columnist) knocks Candido Rincon (an illegal immigrant) on Los Angeles highway, a platform is developed for addressing conflicts between the rich and the poor, prejudice of culture, as well as social responsibility. Delaney, Candido and their wives live in Topanga Canyon in Southern California. However, they are always on the opposing ends of the Tortilla Curtain.

The immigrant and illegal workers are theorized as trying to live the American dream. The elite Americans live in the gated community, while the immigrants live in congested camps. In fact, white people consider themselves superior, being in upper middle class like Delaney. Immigrants stand out as irresponsible and exploit America. They wage war on them, which is an irony because the same workers are the ones who provide cheap labor to people like Delaney.

Instead of appreciating them, they view immigrants as “immigrant blight’ infecting America” (Boyle 209). Just like Candido, many immigrants from Mexico want to move to the US to work viewing it as a land of opportunities where they will be free from filth and sickness, free from la chota and immigration (Boyle 27). Because of lack of access to low income housing, Candido and other immigrants are forced to live in makeshift houses in the on “street corner labor markets and bush encampments” (Boyle 209).

Arroyo Blanco residents’ view overlooks the fact that the immigrant offer cheap labor. They want to stay separated from them completely. They feel that the immigrant are polluting the environment and just invading. Delaney feels that the Homeless Candido was living in ‘his’ adored canyon. “He made Topanga state park his, trashing the place and polluting the stream. That place was supposed to be state property’’ (Boyle 11).

Portrayal of the Rincóns and the Mossbachers families in the novel

The novel is fair in terms of portrayal of the viewpoints of the two couples though it can be contentious based on different readers’ interpretations. Many Americans would like the immigrants to leave. However, it is true that the American economy depends on these immigrants. The immigrants also depend on America for jobs and survival.

The immigrants do not demand a minimum wage as American would do. In fact, if American would pay minimum wages to every worker, then inflation would ruin the country. Moreover, the notion of citizenship started by immigrants who fought the Native Americans and then settled to claim the land, hundreds of years later they are afraid of immigrants! Candido understood remarkably well that he was not to enter the gates of Arroyo Blancho.

However, he did not resent to it and neither did it bother him. He was not envious since he did not need million dollars (Boyle 166). He believed that was fate. If he were meant to have that money, he would have won a lottery. All he needed was to work hard, mixing concrete, digging holes and hustling the best he could with plastic and metals to build houses that stood beautifully (Boyle 166).

From this passage, Candido does not suffer entitlement problem like Americans. For instance, Delaney was a liberal humanist, a club member (Sierra club). He also worked for Save the Children where he was a democrat and an activist for National wildlife federation and everyone to Arroyo Blancho read his column (Boyle 43). Definitely, the immigrants helped build the estate. Therefore, determining who is at fault was difficult. Was it Americans for keeping minimal wage too low for a decent life, or immigrants for accepting the meager wages?

Satire in the novel

Their social problems are addressed in a distorted and racist manner by both couples in the novel. At thanksgiving thrown by Homeowner’s association, Jack and Delaney think that the more they provide for immigrants the more they want. Jack posses a question about how they “continue giving them yet California has an unemployment rate of 10%” (Boyle 192). Delaney raises concerns of capitalism dynamics – the floods cleaned up labor exchange. Then, where were immigrants supposed to go? (Boyle 193). Delaney doubted the possibility of returning to Mexico, using a metaphor of how animals reacted to displacement. They would fight. This was a sad fact but true (Boyle 193).

Delaney notes that the fires like the one caused by Candido were normal in the area. It could still have happened without the turkey. Satirically, the rich are safe and are insured. They only watched it on television. “They hoped for reprieve, and hoped they were watching an old footage of the Dresden Bombing” (Boyle 271). Candido wanders before defecating in the stream, “much septic fields from the mountains [Arroyo Blacho]…how many houses packed up were leaching wastes into streams that were used by creeks” (Boyle 53).

He terms a hip of garbage as refuse of the rich. Delaney conversely refers to it as dump in Tijuana. He jokes that Candido would escape disaster by climbing on that trashmore! However, they would not escape flooding of culvert, which would flush them like a waste in a toilet (Boyle 329).

The ordinary taxpayers foot these costs in the aftermath of fires to take care of reconstruction and insurance. This shames both couples to coexist and work together to better Canyon. Pollution shames them against that destroying the environment; rather take it as a joint responsibility to care for it since consequences would affect everyone.

Works Cited

Boyle, Coraghessan. The Tortilla Curtain. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.

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