Instructions: Discuss the three readings as they speak to one another and California history.
What it should be:
Critically analyze and discuss these three books as historical sources that speak to one another on the history of race relations in California. What are the major patterns that you see repeated? What changes over time? What overarching conclusions can we draw about California history from these books?
Discuss each title individually, explaining what it contributes to our understanding, and where it falls short. Tie these discussions together into a cohesive essay by keeping in mind how they speak to one another.
These are the following 3 readings:
THE SQUATTER AND THE DON
The novel begins with William Darrell explaining to his wife what makes him a settler and not a squatter, in his eyes, as an American citizen. From there Darrell heads to Southern California to acquire lands to "settle", build a homestead, and bring his family down south with him. His wife makes him promise not to settle on lands belonging to others and that if he does, pay the rightful owner of that land. Don Mariano was the man on whose land Mr. Darrell had squatted, along with several other American settlers. About this time people were investing heavily in city blocks expecting a huge payoff when the Texas Pacific Railroad was punched through to San Diego. Mr. Darrell's son Clarence had fallen for Don Mariano’s daughter, Mercedes, which began the love story in the novel. Mercedes mother was objected to the pairing, since Clarence was of a squatter’s family, so she sent Mercedes to New York to avoid Clarence. Clarence sought the Don's permission to follow her to New York, in which he did.
Corruption in the government was a revolving door regarding Don Mariano’s land title. The Attorney General had dismissed the squatters appeal on Mariano’s land, only to have a subordinate attorney overturn the appeal so that it would remain in litigation longer. That soon came to an end as the Don's title was proven valid by the Attorney General again. The squatters didn't move off of Don’s land with the news that the title was valid, but did step up their killing of the Don's cattle. The other squatters had influenced Mr. Darrell to confront Don Mariano which led to a sickening rift between not only the Don and Darrell, but between Darrell and Clarence, as well as tearing Mercedes and Clarence apart. Clarence then left and traveled around the US, Mexico, South America, and Europe. The failure of the Texas Pacific Railroad to come to San Diego broke Don Mariano economically and mentally. Don Mariano died of a heart not filled by expectations and a heart trampled on by the US government. Clarence returned to California and married Mercedes and offered to buy the Alamar ranch for a huge sum to lift the burden of the costs off of Dona Josefa's back. The Alamar family then moved and settled in San Francisco.
History has been taught to us in our up bringing as it is told through the voices of wealthy white males. They in turn have created history books full of admiration towards the dominant white race, as the saviors of all beings. There is no mention of how the white capitalistic elitists used the backs of the minorities as a stepping stone to better their positions in society.
This is where Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton steps in to tell a story that a society governed by race and class wouldn't necessarily be exposed to. As a woman born from Mexican-bloodlines, Ruiz de Burton embodies everything about being apart of the previously mentioned minority that was used as a stepping stone. Being a minority allowed her to witness firsthand the atrocities that began to happen to the native Californians after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago. The imperialistic dominant white culture was in no position to see what exactly they were doing to the natives, other than sugar-coating their conquering and settlement to the world. Ruiz de Burton was able to write a novel that, without bashing the white population, was a thorough explanation of what happened, as seen through the eyes of her people. It's as close to the real thing as we'll ever get. It's a voice that would have never been related to such a widespread audience if hadn't been written down. Perhaps this may have been a motivating factor in getting her work published. She told the story as a straight forward, matter-of-fact chronicle of events.
The Squatter and the Don was written to appeal to a wide audience of people, no matter their color, class, or ethnicity. Her intended audience wasn't solely to be that of her own racial ethnicity, specifically because she spoke kindly of the people she must have abhorred the most. She didn't alienate one particular race, but rather showed the underlying humanness of all, be it good and genuine or evil and callus. By reaching out to everybody, Ruiz de Burton is able to comfortably tell her story in a way in which everybody can pull in the information and understand how race and power have walked hand-in-hand in creating the problems that she's writing about. Ruiz de Burton is successful in bringing her points about for several reasons. First of all, she doesn't try to make herself sound like a hero to end all of the problems by trying to incorporate plots to make wrongs into rights. This could have easily been done, but by doing so it would have taken the focus off of what she was trying to accomplish in telling the plight of the native Californians.
Also, she's straight-forward and delivers to us an interesting blend of thoughts that make us realize what the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo actually brought forth upon the Californians population that wasn't white, and the population that was white. The brutality and greed of the government to expand their territory is what stuck out the most though. It's well known that our government has long stepped on people on the way to their imperialistic-capitalism laced grand society. Much is also known about how much injustice the government did to the Native American indigenous population, but little known about how the US government handled the Mexicans. Ruiz de Burton showed through this novel many of the unjust and corrupt acts the US used to keep this population down and pose little threat to their interests. Eyes were opened to problems and actions never thought of or gained from US History textbooks. The final strength was that she used romance as a major theme of the book. A person that isn't interested in a romance novel quickly became interested in following the path of Clarence and Mercedes, making the novel run smoothly and quickly. This is a great book for anyone who isn't aware of the corruption in the government in dealing with aspects of Mexican-United States relations, or how race and power created a constant power struggle and misunderstanding of one another. It provides a conquered viewpoint to the conquered and the conqueror.
Interrogations of Chinese Immigrants at Angel Island Like Ellis Island in New York Harbor, Angel Island in San Francisco Bay were an entry point for immigrants in the early 20th century. The Angel Island immigration station processed small numbers of immigrants from Japan, Italy, and other parts of the world and was the key place of interrogation and detention for immigrants from China ("Angel Island Over View, CD-ROM). Angel Island in 1910 to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 and renewed in 1892 and 1902. Despite Chinese contributions to building the American West before 1880, the U.S. enacted laws prohibiting the migration of Chinese laborers after 1882 and accepting only merchants, teachers, students, and the families of American-born Chinese. These were then 105,465 Chinese in the country, mostly in California. Under the Naturalization Law of 1790, Chinese immigrants were considered "aliens ineligible to cintizenship," but those born in the U.S were citizens under the 14th amendment. Modeled in its procedures on Ellis Island, Angel Island was an outpost to sift the migration stream but also a barrier to bar Chinese save those who fit the exempt categories or were related to U.S citizens ("Angel Island Overview", CD-Rom). Chinese immigration, after being shut down for many years by governmental legislation and an anti-Chinese climate resumed quickly after 1906. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed most immigration records in the city, allowing many resident Chinese to claim U.S citizenship and many others to claim to be "paper sons." Chinese Americans who returned from visits home and reported births of sons and daughters thereby created slots, which were often used to bring in immigrants who masqueraded as sons or daughters. By this strategem, thousands of Chinese skirted intended American exclusion ("Male Detainees at Angel Island", CD-Rom). These paper sons and paper merchants increased the number of Chinese immigrants by an unbelievable rate. It was this supposed population explosion that would lead the United States to investigate all incoming Chinese immigrants. Being wary of the impossibility of so many legitimate children of U.S. citizens of Chinese descent, the department of immigration and naturalization sought out to verify that these people were indeed the true sons and daughters or the actual businessmen that they claimed to be. Therefore it was against this historical background and under these particular auspices that the interrogations at Angel Island were carried out from 1910 to 1940. These interrogations were by no means fair, nor were they based on any other legal or practical precedent. While unreasonable detentions were already the norm, the act of interrogating immigrants to the extent that the Chinese were interrogated was unheard of in history. These interrogations were intricate and detailed, and designed to ensnare unwitting Chinese immigrants seeking entrance into the United States. The interrogations not only presented a hurdle for incoming immigrants by prolonging their detention at Angel Island and increasing the bureaucracy required to process Chinese immigrants, but would deeply scar the Chinese landing in the United States. Moreover, the traumatic experiences at Angel Island coupled with other practices following the detentions such as raids of Chinatown during the Red Scare of the 1950's led to a persistent fear of deportation by landed Chinese. The interrogations were more than just simple interview questions about one's village or parents, rather they were, taken as a whole, another method to exclude the Chinese from America. The entire interrogation was loosely structured, but by no means were they regular or fair. After being held at Angel Island on a writ of habeas corpus, Chinese immigrants were interrogated by a Board of Special Inquiry which was composed of two inspectors, one of which was the Chairman of the Board, a stenographer, and finally an interpreter. This board was not held to technical rules of procedure or evidence as used in other federal courts but rather was allowed to use any means it deemed fit under the exclusion acts and immigration laws to ascertain the applicant's legitimacy to enter the United States (Lai, 20). Like immigrants at Ellis Island, immigrants at Angel Island were put through inspections were more difficult, often extending over several days ("Angel Island Barracks", CD-ROM). Immigrants at Angel Island underwent stringent exams and rigorous interrogations. Any signs of communicable diseases like trachoma or hookworm, both common in Asia, or of undesired traits meant denial of entrance ("Medical Processing", CD-Rom). Chinese immigrants also underwent detailed legal inspections. Officals questioned them about minute aspects of their lives in China, including the number of steps leading up to their houses. Answers given by immigrants were compared with those provided by family members and friends to the same questions. Small discrepancies meant exclusion and deportation ("Interrogation", CD-ROM). To give a general idea of the structure of the interrogation, an inspector gave a brief description of the line of questioning he took: He started by getting the data on the applicant himself: his name, age, any other names, and physical description. Then we would ask him to describe his family: his father - his boyhood name, marriage name, and any other names he might have had, his age and so forth. Then we would go down the line: how many brothers and sisters described in detail - names, age, sex, and so forth. Then we would have to go into the older generations: paternal grandparents; then how many uncles and aunts and they had to be described. Then the village: the district, how many houses it was composed of, how arranged, how many houses in each row, which way the village faced, what was the head and tail of the village. Then the next door neighbors. Then describe the house: how many rooms and describe them What markets they went to. Find out about the father's trip: when he came home, how long was he home, did he go to any special places, and describe the trip from his village to Hong Kong (Lai 112). Therefore it is clear that there was a semi-rigid structure to the line of questioning that the inspectors took. However, within the interrogation structure, inspectors were free to deviate and ask about anything that they felt might elucidate the true status of the immigrant. In the end, applicants were usually asked around two to three hundred questions, but in some cases were asked upwards of a thousand (Chen 107). After interrogating the witness, the board usually sought out other witnesses. These extra witnesses were usually composed of family members or business partners. Often times white witnesses would be brought in to testify for the Chinese immigrant in question. Usually the questions reserved for these white witnesses were notably shorter than the questions asked of Chinese spouses or relatives. After taking the statements of relatives and acquaintances, interrogators brought the immigrant back in and began to examine and further question slight contradictions in statements between family members and the immigrant. "It is suggested that the examining officer closely follow the examination already conducted, clearly developing any variations which may appear"...(Letter from immigrant inspector to Commissioner of Immigration). The time it took to take the testimonies of all parties involved usually ranged from three to four days. The length of the interrogation was exacerbated if the family members were located in some eastern city such as Chicago or New York. In these cases it was necessary to correspond back and forth and have family members or other available witnesses provide testimony to the Immigration Service offices in those cities and transmit the files back to San Francisco (Clauss 65-66). The collective testimony was anywhere from twenty to eighty pages depending on the case but usually averaged forty or fifty pages of typed testimony (Chen 107). By this time if a decision by the board could still not be reached the case would be suspended for ten days, in which more data would be gathered. In this period, letters from acquaintances might be gathered from members of the community who knew the family of the immigrant. These acquaintances would testify to the fact that, indeed the family was expecting a member to arrive on a certain day on a certain ship. However, more importantly, these letters often spoke of the family's good standing in the community. These letters usually written by white businessmen, were written in the hopes that the board would be convinced of the status of the immigrant and allow that person to land. The underlying tone of the message, however, was one of recommendation. The white man was vouching for the Chinese family in these letters, stating his personal knowledge about the family. It was not sufficient for the Chinese family to state that in fact they were expecting relatives to arrive in America. The board required a more trustworthy source - which meant a white man. These letters usually extolled the virtues of the Chinese citizen such as honesty and many times Christianity, which were held in high regard by a white America and especially a white Special Board of Inquiry. After all the supplemental information, including the "letters of recommendation," was received and reviewed a decision was made. If the decision was admittance, the detainee was allowed to land at once. However, if the decision was deportation, the detainee had five days to protest this decision. His or her case would be retried and he or she would be re interrogated. These appellate however, had to stay on Angel Island while waiting for their appeal hearing. It was here that some would stay in upwards of two years, waiting to hear from the board (Claus, 50). What is most striking about this however is that the final decision of allowing Chinese into the country was based not so much on the word of the Chinese family as it was on a "trustworthy" white man. The immigration and naturalization service clearly knew that many Chinese immigrants were using false claims to gain entrance into the United States. Inspectors were already aware of the fact that many of the Chinese entrants after 1906 were fraudulent. ". . . many Chinese began to return to this country and they claimed to be coming back as natives. As a matter of fact, it would have been humanly impossible for most of them to be citizens because there were not many Chinese women over here" (Lai 112). A second reason why the Chinese were interrogated was due to the fact that the new immigrants were all alleging that they were actually citizens or potential citizens, rather than aliens. Therefore the immigration station had to test the validity of these claims of citizenship status (Lai 111). The intent of the Board of Special Inquiry at Angel Island was to deport or exclude as many prospective Chinese immigrants as possible. Under the aegis of seeking out the truth and separating the legitimate immigrants from the spurious claims, the immigration service sought to exclude the Chinese. This is obvious from the type of questions asked and the circumventing of traditional rules of procedure. The type of questions was often based on previous knowledge concerning the village. After these inspectors had worked thousands of cases, they had gained a clear knowledge of what some of the major villages looked like. With this knowledge of the village layout, they asked questions that were purposefully wrong to entrap immigrants. The attention to detail as well as the dubious lines of questioning was merely used as cause for exclusion. A secondary reason motivating the immigration service at Angel Island was performance. The more people they proved guilty of false papers then the more efficient that they seemed. Chinese immigrants being landed would only draw criticism from the public. Therefore they would prefer as many Chinese deported as possible because this would enhance their image as being thorough and completely dedicated gate keepers. The job then provided ample personal motivation to the interrogators to be especially adamant against the entrance of Chinese. This is clearly evidenced by the interrogation process, in which the underlying intent was to not find the truth but to exclude as many Chinese as possible. Interrogators asked questions even after one had said no, or stated that they did not know. In this way they could catch contradictions when they finally answered the same question phrased in a different form. From here they could further question immigrants on why they did not answer the same question the first time. This type of questioning was extremely common for those claiming to be sons or daughters of U.S. citizens or partners in a business. The motive of the interrogation: to trick Chinese immigrants into contradicting themselves and thereby give sufficient reason to have them deported. The usual response to why immigrants had answered wrong was that they did not understand the interpreter the first time. Other interesting excuses were often given, usually stating that the person testifying was extremely nervous. On several occasions, letters were sent to the Board of Special Inquiry by people who had testified, trying to explain a blunder or a hesitation in their testimony as being caused by an accident on the way to Angel Island causing them to be nervous or a sickness in which they were extremely tense and could not think or concentrate on the questions. The lapses in memory usually occurred because of the copious amounts of information many of these immigrants had to memorize from their coaching books. The validity of the excuses cannot be ascertained, but it was more than likely that many of the excuses and letters written to the Board of Special Inquiry attempted to concoct an illness or an accident in which to explain their failure during the testimony. Certainly some of the claims such as misunderstanding the interpreter might have been genuine and there was a definite, palpable anxiety for immigrants before entering an interrogation. However, many of these excuses were used when there were major contradictions dealing with obscure information during the interrogation. It seems unlikely that a sudden bout of illness or anxiety would lead an immigrant to remember every other minute detail about his or her life but forget one and then have the presence of mind to remember that question from the interrogation to write about it in a separate letter. Therefore, the letters and excuses were probably more often used to cover up mistakes made in the interrogation rather than to explain real events causing anxiety or memory loss. Minor discrepancies were not enough to deport immigrants. The length of questioning and the detail contained therein, however, was enough to almost cause a contradiction between the testimony of the intended entrant and the corroborating witness testimonies in every case. Questions asked of relatives concerning the minutiae surrounding the family, village and house were bound to lead to inconsistencies with the testimony presented by the detainee. From this point the Board of Special Inquiry had to determine which contradictions were major or minor. This is a highly debatable and arbitrary subject. With an example such as knowing the names of your neighbors in the village, the board needed to determine whether or not this was a major fact or merely a minor fact. We could argue that this was superfluous information but the board and the interrogators could argue that anybody who is familiar with their own village should know their neighbors. Therefore deportation based on inconsistencies could be seen as an extremely subjective activity. Since almost all cases had discrepancies each case's inconsistent testimony had to be weighed. In the end it would be the subjective nature of the board in determining which contradictions were major and which were minor. This determination of major or minor would serve as a basis for which Chinese could be landed or deported. In a final estimation, it must be said that the Board of Special Inquiry made attempts to be fair and based their decisions on what they felt was a fair evaluation of the evidence. The percentage and number of Chinese that were excluded due to the interrogations was not truly notable. What is of note, however, is the entire debacle that the Chinese had to endure in trying to enter America. The interrogations openly flaunted sacred American principles such as fairness and equality - the Chinese at Angel Island were guilty until proven innocent. Not only did the burden of proof fall on them, decisions concerning their deportation were made using interrogation tactics which were without precedent. The treatment of the Chinese was also in disparity with that of all other immigrant groups. The history of Chinese immigrants at Angel Island compared with that of immigrants at Ellis Island shows a stark contrast in conditions and treatment. The supposed "Ellis Island of the West," Angel Island never copied Ellis Island in all regards as treatment of immigrants diverged greatly. European immigrants at Ellis Island were never suspected of entering illegally. Most importantly they never underwent intensive interrogations like the Chinese did. Many of those at Ellis Island remember the confusion of being rushed through cursory medical, legal, and mental examinations while prospective Chinese immigrants at Angel Island waited patiently for their interrogation dates (Yung 64). Interrogations were never carried out for other immigrant groups in courts of law or in any other immigration station. There was simply no precedent for the type of treatment the Chinese withstood. The significance of these interrogations lies not in the numbers that they turned away but in the scars that they left on the Chinese people. The difficult experience at Angel Island combined with the rigorous interrogations imbued a constant fear of immigration officials. This fear led many Chinese to remain silent about their immigration experience. The difficulty of the interrogations and the treatment of Chinese at Angel Island was but one of the factors which made the Chinese live in persistent fear of deportation. Other immigration tactics continued on after Angel Island was closed such as raids on private homes, restaurants, and other businesses during the 1950's which left many Chinese with a violated sense of privacy and legitimacy as United States citizens (Hong 75). Since many Chinese did have something to hide, and many did enter illegally, and because of the intense level of deportation enforcement directed at them, many Chinese lived in fear and remained silent about their experiences, trying not to incriminate themselves (Hong 75). Therefore Angel Island's legacy did not end once the immigrant was landed, but remained with them throughout their lives. The Chinese were constantly reminded through the immigration and naturalization service's tactics even after 1940 and the closure of Angel Island immigration station that they truly did not belong here. The long lasting impact that the detention and interrogations had on Chinese immigrants is immeasurable, but it had a profound effect on the lives of Chinese immigrants as it led them to alter their lives as U.S. citizens in the hopes that they would not be subject to immigration official tactics or more importantly deportation. The interrogations can be extrapolated out to the level of American governmental policy. After the exclusion acts, America had effectively cut off the Chinese population, but with the resurgence of immigration following 1906, America attempted to seal the cracks in the wall by establishing the interrogations and the immigration station at Angel Island. Looking at the interrogations from this perspective, it is clear that the institution of Angel Island was simply another effort in a concerted plan to exclude the Chinese from America. Even though an accurate measure cannot be made of how successful Angel Island detention center was at deporting paper sons and merchants, due to the uncertainty of who were legitimate sons and merchants and to the interrogators inability to discern the truth, the mere presence of such a detention center was a sign for the Chinese to "keep out." Effective or not, the interrogations bring an interesting and extremely diverse form of exclusion to American immigration policy. By examining the interrogation process and the interrogations, we gain insight into the soul of America's Chinese policy between 1910 and 1940. America would finally end the interrogations when it needed the Chinese in World War II. It was this interim period, from 1910 to 1940, that would be the defining moment for many Chinese immigrants as they discovered first hand through the halls of the detention center at Angel Island and in the hearings of the Board of Special Inquiry, that America did not want them as much as they wanted America.
THE TORTILLA CURTAIN
A compelling story about two extremely different couples, The Tortilla Curtain
by T.C. Boyle demonstrates the cost that the American Dream has upon society. Boyle presents the lives of these two couples in order to explore the relationship between well off Americans to near impoverished Mexican immigrants in the United States. The American couple consists of Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher: he is a liberalist nature writer, while she is an aggressive realtor. Then we have the illegal Mexican immigrants Candido and America Rincon, who fight off the hardships of poor, immigrant life. Boyle is able to illustrate the impact that these two couples have on each other in the form of a car crash between Delaney and Candido. Both individuals' lives will have change from that point on. Candido facing the challenges of nearly becoming a handicap and Delaney having his entire beliefs and ideals completely distorted and altered. Mainly, it is Delaney's attitudes towards illegal immigrants that have change dramatically from a liberal humanist to an enraged racist. First, Delaney's initial attitudes and beliefs over the issue of immigration was one of a moderate and open-minded liberalist. From the very beginning of the novel, Boyle makes it quite clear to the reader what kind of person Delaney is; "a liberal humanist." (Pg. 3) A liberalist is one who is in favor of laissez-faire, the free market, and the gold standard. To favor the individual with civil and political liberties is to practice liberalism and Delaney does this with the issue of immigration. This is evident with the first conversation Delaney has regarding immigration with Jack Jardine, a fellow conservative neighbor of Delaney's. Jack demonstrates his conservative view by stating how "No education, no resources, and no skills" is what consists of immigrants today. (Pg. 101) Also, how they are drain on society in terms of crime and the money needed to provide them with social services. Delaney shares his opposing, liberalist view on immigration to Jack by stating how "Immigrants are the lifeblood of this country and neither of us would be standing here today if it wasn't." Obviously, Delaney has great sympathy for the immigrants in this country and this conservation with Jack illustrates his liberal ideals. Also, the concerning issue with the gate is a recurring element that the author uses to illustrate Delaney's liberalist ideals turning conservative and racist. Most of the people in Delaney's community want a gate in their neighborhood because of the growing fear of gangs and criminals entering their community. Delaney is morally opposed to the gate because he feels that it prevents a natural relationship with society. The author points how Delaney is furious that a gate needed "to be erected at the main entrance and manned by a twenty-four-hour guard to keep out the very gangbangers, taggers, and carjackers they'd come her to escape." (Pg. 39) Delaney thus shows his frustrations by referring to them as fools and idiots. Yet as the novel progresses, the idea of having a gate seems more and more plausible to Delaney. This is apparent at the Arroyo Blanco Community Center when the reader sees a first sign of Delaney's changing ideals. Boyle states how "even Delaney felt himself momentarily distracted from the bloody evidence in his pocket. All of a sudden, the gate didn't sound like such a bad idea." (Pg. 43) With his dog being attack by coyotes, he is further falling away from his liberal humanist ideals ad resorting towards a more conservative, racist mentality. In addition, because of the issue on immigration, Delaney has now transformed from the liberal humanist that he claims he was into an enraged, conservative racist. Throughout the final parts of the book, it becomes very evident that Delaney has disregarded his liberal humanist views. Yet even at the very beginning of the novel, there were signs that he was doomed to reject his beliefs and become a racist. This is demonstrated on the very first page in the book with the car accident involving Candido. Boyle emphases Delaney's thoughts by stating, "because he'd just left the poor son of a bitch there alongside the road, abandoned him, and because he'd been glad of it, relieved to buy him off with twenty dollar's blood money. And how did that square with his liberal-humanist ideals?" (Pg. 13) Already, Boyle is causing the reader to question Delaney's beliefs of whether or not he is a true liberal-humanist. This was just the first sign. Boyle makes the reader question Delaney's ideals again with the scene at the supermarket. Right after Delaney has a deep conversation with Jack Jarding about the issue with immigration; Candido is seen again as a reminder to the reader of what kind of a person Delaney really is. Boyle states how Delaney "felt anger and shame at the same time... and the look of him, the wordless plea in his eyes and the arm in a sling and the side of his face layered with scab like old paint brought all Delaney's guilt back to the surface, a wound that refused to heal." (Pg. 105) The use of the wording in this passage is very significant because it shows the clear, mentality of Delaney. The author describes Candido's face in a manner full of hatred and anger, and this is done to show the racism within Delaney. It is his unconscious thoughts that Boyle is trying to show the reader in this passage that not even Delaney is aware of. By describing the image of Candido face in such a manner, the reader is able to once again see that it is not thoughts of a compassionate liberal humanist that surfaces; it is one of an enraged racist ready to unleash his fury upon Candido. Ultimately, the significant transformation that is apparent in Delaney is the changing of his views on immigration from a liberal humanist perspective to an enraged, conservative racist. For a great change such as this to occur, there must have been a important driving force behind it all. This driving force is represented as Jack Jardine. He is the antagonist in this novel. He is the one who opposes and contends against Delaney with the immigration issue. He is the adversary who ultimately led Delaney towards the path of racism. T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain
is a novel dealing with the controversial subject of illegal immigration in America, specifically dealing with Mexicans crossing the border into California. While this is the overall subject of the novel, there are various themes within the book. One of the most noticeable ones is that of the American dream, where the novel deals with how it is obtained and how people act when they have achieved the dream, and when they are trying to achieve the dream. To comment on this theme, Boyle includes a number of symbols in the novel. Four major symbols seen are the car crash incident, walls and borders, houses, and coyotes. Through the use of these symbols, Boyle shows how those that have obtained the American dream become so busy protecting it that they actually force out everyone else, while not even gaining real joy from having achieved it. Each of the four symbols will now be looked at in turn, while explaining how each contributes to the theme. One of the major events that is symbolic is when Delaney hits Candido with his car. Hodgins (206) describes how events are symbolic because they represent something larger than the single event. In this case, the single event is that Delaney collides with Candido. The larger event this represents is that one who has achieved the American dream is colliding with one who has not. Boyle allows the two to collide by having them involved in a physical collision. In one way, this is a means by which the two characters stories become entwined. In another way, it becomes representative of the conflict between the rich with their home in California, and the poor who are trying to make a home in California. Boyle makes this point, where he describes Delaney and Candido saying, "For a long moment they stood there, examining each other, unwitting perpetrator and unwitting victim" (Boyle). In this sentence, Delaney is the perpetrator because he has hit Candido, and Candido is the victim because he has been hit. And yet, this also suggests something about the relationship between the rich and poor, with it suggested that the rich are responsible for how the poor live. This is later shown to be true, where it is seen that the rich want to keep the poor down to protect their own lifestyles. In short, those that have achieved the American dream want to prevent others from achieving it and taking it away from them. The way Delaney and Candido interact also becomes important for showing the relationship between the rich and the poor, or what a reading guide to The Tortilla Curtain
calls "the haves and the have-nots" (The Tortilla Curtain
's Reader's Guide). The first aspect that is important is how Delaney responds to the accident. As the novel describes, his first concern is with the car: "To his shame, Delaney's first thought was for the car (was it marred, scratched, dented'), and then for his insurance rates (what was this going to do to his good-driver discount'), and finally, belatedly, for the victim" (Boyle). This passage shows that Delaney's concern for Candido is only a last thought. Importantly, it is not even that Delaney is concerned about his own safety. Instead, he is simply concerned about his car and his insurance. This shows a focus on material possessions, with a disregard for other people. This is then expanded on where Delaney shows that he considers Candido more like an animal than a man. He describes Candido as "crouching in the bushes like some feral thing, like a stray dog or bird- mauling cat" (Boyle). When Delaney leaves the car and looks for Candido in the bushes, the passage also reads more like he is looking for an animal he has hit, than for a man. Another animal image is used when Candido is describes as "an insect pinned to a mounting board" (Boyle). These images all suggest that Delaney is looking down on Candido, and looking at him as if he is less than human. While this is occurring as part of the event, the symbolism extends to suggest that all the haves look down on the have- nots. From up on their hill where they live in their fine homes, they look down on the have-nots almost starving in the valley below, and look down on them as less than human. This is emphasized where Boyle adds the descriptions of the cars racing up the hill after Delaney has hit Candido: "Immediately, before he could even catch his breath, he was brushed back by the tailwind of a string of cars racing bumper-to-bumper up the canyon like some snaking malignant train... One after another the faces of the drivers came at him, shadowy and indistinct behind the armor of their smoked-glass windshields. Not a head turned. No one stopped" (Boyle). This passage describes all the haves driving past up the hill. This has two important meanings. Firstly, it shows that none of the haves will stop and pay any attention to the have-nots unless they are forced to. Delaney has been forced to pay some attention to Candido only because he physically hit him. The remainder zip past without paying any attention. The second important meaning is that it shows how keen the haves are to return to their position on the top of the hill. This suggests that the haves are clinging to their lifestyles. The final important point is how Delaney resolves the situation with Candido. In the end, Candido asks for money and Delaney pays him off for money. Delaney takes this action, even though Candido is clearly badly injured. For Delaney, giving Candido money is an easy way out of the situation. This shows how money is used as an easy solution to a problem, where money is used in place of showing real care and respect for other people. This is symbolic of the way that the haves treat money, considering it the solution to all their problems. The next important symbol seen in the novel is that of the house. The house is actually used to represent the American dream. One source describes Candido and America "dreaming of the good life in their own little house somewhere in California" (Farlex, Inc). For the couple, the American dream means having a simple cottage to raise their child in. The same source then describes Delaney and Kyra as having exactly what the other couple want, their own home. In Delaney and Kyra's case, their home is in the Arroyo Blanco Estates, and for the couple, represents that they have achieved the American dream. It is especially noted that for Delaney, his home represents his status. This is seen where Boyle describes Delaney hitting Candido with this car: "It had happened to him, Delaney Mossbacher, of 32 PiA?on Drive, Arroyo Blanco Estates, a liberal humanist with an unblemished driving record and a freshly waxed Japanese car with personalized plates, and it shook him to the core" (Boyle). This passage shows that Delaney considers his home as explaining who he is. The remainder of the description then describes how he wants to be viewed, and the car he owns. This shows how material possessions and appearances have become the measure of people. This is a major part of the reason why Delaney uses money to solve his problems, instead of showing real regard for others. In short, people consider their house as representing their status. This is then expanded on as the novel continues and the residents of the suburb are seen as wanting to build a concrete wall to keep out the illegal immigrants. This represents how the people who have achieved the American dream spend their time wanting to keep others from achieving their dream. Essentially, they see others not like them as trying to intrude and take their lives away from them. One of the most interesting things is that the people show more care for their homes then they show for other people. This is symbolic of how the American dream has created such a focus on material possessions, that simple regard and care for others has been forgotten. The other important point about houses is that they do not seem to actually allow anyone to achieve happiness. Candido and America are longing for a home. Delaney and Kyra have a home far better than Candido and America are dreaming of, and yet this house has not allowed them to achieve any real happiness. The final message this suggests is that the American dream is a false desire, where people cling to it as if it should result in happiness, yet do not ever gain happiness. The next important symbol seen in the novel is that of walls and borders. One way that walls are introduced into the novel is where the residents of the exclusive estate want to build a wall around their estate, as described above. This is symbolic of how those who have the American dream feel the need to separate themselves from those who have not achieved it. This goes as far as looking at have-nots as dangerous and unlawful. For the reader, it can be seen that Candido and America are neither dangerous nor unlawful. Instead, they are simply two people living in poverty and trying desperately to find some kind of reasonable life for their daughter. Considering this, the wall can be seen as representing more than just the rich people's way of keeping poor people physically away. The wall can also be seen as representing how rich people put up a wall and do not even want to understand and acknowledge the life of the illegal immigrants, or of any poor people. While the wall is a physical barrier, there is also a mental barrier, where the rich people want to pretend that the illegal immigrants and the poor do not even exist. This same need to ignore those lower than them was seen in the car accident scene, where the rich people rushed up the hill to their exclusive estate without even glancing at the poor people in the valley. One author describes The Tortilla Curtain
as addressing "illegal immigration and gated communities in Topanga Canyon" (Regardie). This simple summary shows how the gated community is a key part of the novel. This can be seen as representing what the illegal immigrants are striving for. They are living in the valley in a land without borders. In contrast, the rich people are putting borders around their estate and have a gate at the front of their estate, simply to remind them that they do live in an exclusive area. Candido and America are then striving to reach that dream and make their way into the exclusive state. Yet, as immigrants achieve any kind of access to the estate, the residents then make it more difficult by putting up more borders in the form of the wall. The end message is that there may be little hope for Candido and America ever gaining access to the American dream, as the people that have achieved it are always introducing more entry barriers. This use of the gates and the walls in the novel are symbolic of how there will always be barriers between the haves and the have-nots. At the same time, it will always be the haves who have the power to introduce more barriers. While the novel applies gates and barriers to housing, the symbolism extends to other aspects of society. For example, children of the have-nots will not have access to exclusive schools, and so will not be as well-educated as the haves. Have-nots will also not have access to the same level of jobs or of education. In all areas of society, Boyle is showing how the gap between the rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, will only ever widen, as the haves work to protect the advantages they have. The wall is also an important symbol in the title of the novel. Boyle describes the meaning of the title in an interview, saying, The title comes from a common phrase for the Mexican border, The Tortilla Curtain
, and I envision it in this way. We have the Iron Curtain
, which as an image is impenetrable. You picture this wall across Eastern Europe. Then we have the Bamboo Curtain
with regard to China. As I see it, that isn't quite as impenetrable as an iron curtain
. It shatters easily and has gaps in it. It's not uniform. And now we have The Tortilla Curtain
, which is the opposite of impregnable. It's three strips of barbed wire with some limp tortillas hanging on it. The central question of this, and of the images of walls that appear throughout the book--the walls, the gates, walling people out, what do you wall in, all of that--has to do with us as a species and who owns what. Do you really own your own property' Do you have a right to fence people out' Do we have an obligation to assist people who come over that border, that wall, that gate' How is it that Americans are allowed to have this incredible standard of living while others do not'" (Henry). This quote shows how Boyle uses the image of the tortilla curtain
as a way to show how people in society are separated. This quote also shows how Boyle used walls and gates in the novel as symbols of separation and to raise questions about the separation that exists. The final symbol that is seen in the novel is the coyote. This symbol is introduced where Delaney writes about the coyote in his nature column. There, he describes coyotes saying, "The coyotes keep coming, breeding up to fill in the gaps, moving in where the living is easy. They are cunning, versatile, hungry and unstoppable" (Boyle). Delaney also writes that the coyote cannot be blamed for what it does saying, "he is only trying to survive, to make a living, to take advantage of the opportunities available to him" (Boyle). In the novel, the coyote represents the illegal immigrants, where they are also only trying to survive. The important point the coyotes make is how one can believe in something, but may act completely differently when that belief collides with one's own needs. Delaney shows an understanding that the coyote is only trying to survive. Candido is also only trying to survive. Yet, Delaney is not able to extend this same understanding to Candido. Essentially, Delaney is too focused on his own needs and will not do the right thing by Candido when his own needs are involved. This represents who people only act like they are good, caring people on the outside. Delaney does all the right things and considers himself a liberal humanist. Yet, his actions do not match this view of himself. One source describes this created conflict saying, "This novel forces us to confront the dilemma that what we believe in theory we may not be able to support in reality" (Good Books Lately). Delaney shows that his actions in reality have little to do with what he believes in theory. In this way, the coyote becomes symbolic of how everyone may well consider themselves a nature lover, while acting completing differently when animals do what is natural to them. Overall, this shows how people will always put their own needs first, with this a reason for the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. This consideration of the symbolism has shown how each symbol adds meaning to Boyle's view of the nature of society. In combination, these symbols show how those that have obtained the American dream become so busy protecting it that they actually force out everyone else, while not even gaining real joy from having achieved it. In the end, the American dream is shown to be a hollow dream promising happiness, while never delivering it, and while resulting in people becoming focused on appearing like good people but not actually being good people
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