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Racism of Tortilla Curtain

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message 1: by Zohreh (last edited Jun 20, 2010 03:18PM) (new)

Zohreh Ghahremani I read this a long time ago and couldn't help thinking, ".Good writer, bad idea!" Guess what I didn't like was the prejudice throughout. Maybe if I didn't know so many honest and God-fearing Mexicans -- legal or otherwise -- I would have considered it just a story. But after decades of acquaintance with so many, I found the angle from which the author saw them disturbing. How frightening it is to point an ignorant finger at a people whose majority are innocent. They eat cats? In fact, steal our pet cats, eat them and while barbecuing set fire to our homes? If this was meant to be satirical, it didn't make me laugh, if it was serious, I didn't buy it and, was it entertaining? Only if you consider anger a good pass-time. No question, he's a good writer, but of all the subjects to pick, did it HAVE TO be THIS?!


Melissa Great post! I read this a while ago as well when I lived in San Diego. Unfortunately this type of racism is pervasive down there but causing the fire was extreme. I thought it read like a made for tv movie.


message 3: by Zohreh (new)

Zohreh Ghahremani Thank you, Melissa, for showing me I'm not the only one who saw this.


Melissa I realized after reading your post that racism, and that the story in general, disturbed me so much that I never recommended the book. The book was given to me by my parents who read it in their book club. They were just so shocked that anything like that could happen. The next time they flew into San Diego I told them to really look at all the shanty towns hidden in the trees, cliff sides, and under freeways. What people should really address is the deplorable conditions some people will live with just to get a smidgeon of what most of us take for granted.


message 5: by Zohreh (new)

Zohreh Ghahremani I am forever cursed with paying attention to the small print! Sometimes I wish I didn't read every word in every book and just enjoyed the story as most readers do. :-)


Melissa You and me both! That is what fluff books are for I guess:) Or we are cursed with the ability to truly see...


message 7: by Zohreh (new)

Zohreh Ghahremani I don't EVER pitch my book, but this correspondence makes me curious as to whether or not you've read my recent novel - Sky of Red Poppies - and if so, I'd love to hear the thoughts of such a critical reader on it.


Melissa I haven't read it but just added it to read. It looks really good and something I am definitely interested in. Thank you!


message 9: by Zohreh (new)

Zohreh Ghahremani Exciting! Now I can't wait to hear your comments!


Chic2SD Justzohreh wrote: "I read this a long time ago and couldn't help thinking, ".Good writer, bad idea!" Guess what I didn't like was the prejudice throughout. Maybe if I didn't know so many honest and God-fearing Mexica..."

Interesting take on this subject matter. I think he almost had to write the hard ship of illegal immigrants life in the worst way so people understand what conditons they have to live in.


Yolanda Garcia Chic2sd, I agree with you. I didnt see it in the way Melissa or Justzohreh saw it, probably because I'm a graduate in Chicano Studies and was reading from the perspective of an immigrant. Hearing first hand stories of immigrants, a lot of what was written in this book is sadly true.


Melissa I do think it is true, know it is, I have witnessed it. Don't you think it perpetuates stereotypes though?


message 13: by Zohreh (new)

Zohreh Ghahremani In this world, there are only two types of people: Good and bad. I am a half-breed!


Yolanda Garcia Melissa, honestly it's been a while since I've read it. I'll have to re-read it over the summer. However, I do feel that IF the events that took place in the book are true, or a combination of events experienced by different people, then it is not perpetuating stereotypes as much as it is educating the public.


Melissa Justzohreh wrote: "In this world, there are only two types of people: Good and bad. I am a half-breed!"

I agree, we are all half-breeds.


Melissa Yolanda wrote: "Melissa, honestly it's been a while since I've read it. I'll have to re-read it over the summer. However, I do feel that IF the events that took place in the book are true, or a combination of even..."

You're right, I didn't think of it like that. I guess I don't like how the stereotypes are presented to "those" who may not get the point.


Geekonabike I though it was Satire, Written from the racist point of view that is so prevalent in the West.
P.S. I liked it.


Melissa Geekonabike wrote: "I though it was Satire, Written from the racist point of view that is so prevalent in the West.
P.S. I liked it."


Where are you from? I have lived on three continents and as racist as some in the U.S may be, there are far worse places.


message 19: by Geekonabike (last edited Nov 04, 2011 05:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Geekonabike True there are far worse places in the world, but none that hold themselves up as examples for the rest of the planet. I'm from the South & now live in Arizona, two bastions of racism.


Joanne The camps under bridges and in the woods do exist, so does the racism. The lives of the immigrants in this book were relentlessly hopeless, and for many, life is like that. People who live comfortable lives don't give much thought, if any, to who is mowing their lawn, or scraping their dishes at a restaurant. Hopefully the book made a few people aware.


Neliza Drew I agree that it is satirized and the character's are built around certain stereotypes for a purpose. The end was a bit much, but often book have endings that are either a bit much or a bit of nothing. I think his point was to illustrate the basic feelings surrounding the immigrant population and I think he did well for a novel of its size. There are the people who are so distant from the realities, they can't relate and don't want to. The well-meaning granolas who don't know what to do when faced with reality. There are immigrants scratching by in marginalized, nearly invisible ways and those who have carved out a slightly-less marginal existence. These various types, though, rarely come in contact with one another (and if they do, they don't know it). In order to force the matter, Boyle had to take a few coincidental liberties.


Melissa I agree with you Joanne and appreciate some really good points from Neliza. I wish people would just open their eyes!


message 23: by Alexis (new)

Alexis I would have to disagree with this. The book did not show only racism against the Mexicans. Half was about racism, but the other half was about the hard life of the Mexican immigrants. I found myself feeling more sorry for them than feeling angry towards them. The author tried to show the point of view of both racist white people and of the illegal mexican immigrants. The author said in an interview that his intention was to let the people decide for themselves which side to be on, and i believe that. I didn't see the whole book as being racist and against mexicans.


message 24: by Troy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Troy I teach English in a bilingual school in Mexico, and my students read it. We had amazing discussions, and interestingly, my Mexican students were more impressed with how exaggeratedly narrow-minded, shallow and materialistic Boyle portrayed Americans. So, if anything, Boyle portrays a balanced satirical criticism. Perhaps Americans just don't see how ugly they are in the eyes of the world. "Tortilla Curtain" readers who consider the way the rich American families live, think and treat each other throughout this novel as normal or OK really need to reevaluate their values. So, the answer is, it's just as racist towards the Americans as the Mexicans; sadly, you just don't see it.


Melissa Troy wrote: "I teach English in a bilingual school in Mexico, and my students read it. We had amazing discussions, and interestingly, my Mexican students were more impressed with how exaggeratedly narrow-minde..."

Like!


Danielle I read the book a few years ago and I thought the point of the book was to point out the racism suffered by the illegal immigrants? I don't remember the barbecued cat, but was the cook homeless and hungry? Iam Australian & never been to the US, but I wasn't surprised about how the Americans were portrayed in the book. Maybe the rest of the world sees their true colours but Americans themselves have trouble with it? I hope I don't offend anyone by saying that..


Melissa Danielle wrote: "I read the book a few years ago and I thought the point of the book was to point out the racism suffered by the illegal immigrants? I don't remember the barbecued cat, but was the cook homeless and..."

Thank you for your honest opinion. However, I think that you over generalize about Americans. Yes, the attitudes portrayed in the book do exist but we do not all agree with that behavior.


Joanne Too many do however. Personal recent experience speaking.


message 29: by Mollie (new)

Mollie Danielle wrote: "I read the book a few years ago and I thought the point of the book was to point out the racism suffered by the illegal immigrants? I don't remember the barbecued cat, but was the cook homeless and..."

Not all Americans are like that. I am an American and found the American couple in the story to be just as foreign to my sensibilities as the Mexican couple. I do know people that the Mossbachers remind me of, but those are not people that I would willingly associate with. Stereotypes exist everywhere.


Geoffrey There is a considerable difference between an author expressing his own racist feelings towards his characters and his fictional characters expressing those attitudes. I evince no evidence whatsoever the Boyle himself was a racist but that he clearly depict many Anglos as such.
Would John Steinbeck be a superior snob by writing about impoverished Oakies?


Kelly Waldschmidt I finished this book a few weeks ago, but came upon this discussion earlier today. I find many of your thoughts intriguing and I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts on the book and its main characters. Nobody I know has read this book and I am somewhat eager to talk about it.

I don't think that Boyle is racist, I think that he was showcasing an honest look at two extremes. I feel that these extremes had to exist in order to the book to resonate with the reader. Boyle doesn't make any aspect of his novel easy. I disliked the characters, and he gave me many reasons to, but he also showed their inner struggles and desires, which somewhat contradicted their outward behavior and personality which then forced me to look at them somewhat differently. It is complicated.

Take Delancy: He has money, doesn't need to work for it due to parental inheritance and his wife brings in big cash. He has the freedom to do whatever the hell he wants, but yet---- the community in which he voluntarily placed himself into begins to dictate how he lives his life. He doesn't have as much control as he thought he had. He is a nature lover and is severe in his attempts to keep his environment clean, but is it out of love for his world, or that he simply cannot stand clutter in his immediate space? He judges quickly and has no spine. Ok, but then I said earlier that I found something positive within these characters. Maybe I am wrong with Delancy. I feel his only quality that I somewhat admired was his noticing how his wife's son was too plugged in to his technology.

Delancy's wife. Playing with gender roles, Boyle could have flipped them completely against the stereotype of the stay at home dad, but he gives Delancy the inheritance; so really, she is not the breadwinner. However, she is intense and is focused on her job. She however, in doing her job, is ignoring her son completely. She uses her position as power over the Mexicans and thrives off it, until she realizes that her power is really non existent.

I felt like the struggle of America and her husband was extremely well written. I felt for her so badly, but also was angry that she left her home. I CANNOT believe how things ended for them, but wonder what happened after our access to their lives was over. Does Delancy help them? Do they return to their homeland? Do they survive, as they did, on their own, with limited work?

I do realize now that I wandered in my discussion and really didn't stick with my main thought process. I guess I just wanted to throw my thoughts down.


Melissa Kelly wrote: "I finished this book a few weeks ago, but came upon this discussion earlier today. I find many of your thoughts intriguing and I just wanted to share a few of my thoughts on the book and its main ..."

Like!

You made some great character analysis. I was also most intrigued with America and was really rooting for her to not be overcome by her environment. I don't see much hope for any of them at the end of the book.


message 33: by Grady (new)

Grady Hart I also just finished this book, literally 2 minutes ago, and wanted to see what other thought about it.

One thing that I think is being overlooked for the most part is how each 'side' (The American couple and the Mexican couple) is both the victim of, and guilty themselves of, overgeneralizing the other 'side'.

From Delaney and Kyra's side, they group together the Mexicans who, like Candido and America, are legitimately just trying to survive, with the 'bad people', like the Mexican with the hat and (ironically) Jack Jr., the son of a fellow resident of Arroyo Blanco.

On the other 'side', Candido and America group together the Americans who, like Delaney and Kyra, are generally (at least initially) not hateful towards them so much as just misunderstanding of them, with the 'bad people'. This is evidenced when, towards the end, Candido makes a statement about how crazy Delaney acted earlier in the day, to which America says that Delaney hit him with the car on purpose before, and then sent his (Delaney's) son to 'harass' them (when in fact it was not Delaney's son).

The ultimate irony is that while Delaney's crime against Candido and the 'Mexicans' (the car accident at the beginning of the book), as well as Candido's crime against Delaney and the 'Americans' (the fire) were both accidental, each 'side' became increasingly critical and pessimistic about the other even as the purposely malicious crimes were committed by their own 'side' (the rape in the case of the 'Mexicans' and the graffiti in the case of the 'Americans'). Yet, because by that time each of the featured couples had begun to lump all of the crimes of the other side together as intentional, their stances were hardened into an irrational hatred for the other 'side'.

The main theme that I got out of this is that generalizations, such as with racism, are often inaccurate because they fail to take into account the specific underlying circumstances and motivations of the other 'side'. Each of the featured couples, particularly by the end of the book, made baseless (or loosely based) assumptions about the other 'side' by lumping their actions together as one people while ignoring the malicious actions of their own 'side'.

Since we as the readers from the 3rd person omniscient perspective had the advantage of seeing that the assumptions made by the couples were often incorrect, we can see that judging an entire population on a single action or set of actions can lead to irrational hatred based purely out of the ignorance of the other's specific circumstances.

The characters, however, do not enjoy this omniscient viewpoint, just as we in real life do not have the advantage of understanding the motives and circumstances of others in the world. Thus, the lesson is that we should not assume the worst about people we deem to be different from ourselves; rather, we should strive to understand their circumstances prior to judging them. What's more, we should understand that our appearance does not dictate who is like us and who is unlike us. For instance, I would argue that Delaney and Kyra are more similar to Candido and America than to Jack and Jack Jr. and Candido and America are more similar to Delaney and Kyra than they are to the Mexican rapist.

This comes full circle when, despite the despair Candido feels at losing his daughter, he reaches in to save the man he knows virtually nothing about (despite his being on the other 'side') - The Mexican rapist would not have done this, and nor would Jack Jr. or his father have reached in to save Candido in the same situation. Ultimately, what makes the two featured couples different from the other individuals on their 'side' is that they do not, by nature, hate the other 'side', but simply wish to survive - This is why each couple is so relatable to most of us, because regardless of our skin color we share the baser instinct to survive and even to help others around us survive (as Candido proves in the final line of the book).


Geoffrey And after you have finished TORTILLA CURTAIN, go ahead for another greeeeaaaaaat read by T.C., RIVEN ROCK. He deals with the racism and ethnic intolerance but in a more secondary thematic approach. He`s a brilliant, fascinating writer and I am glad to have discovered him. He`s one of the best on the current literary scene.


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