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Are We a Melting Pot, a Salad Bowl or Tupperware C
I really don?t know where to begin. This is a life-changing book ? a story that will put you in the shoes of people we see everyday ? but don?t really see. The book follows two parallel stories ? one of a poor, illegal immigrant couple who have landed in Southern California in desperate search for a better life. The other is that of a comfortable, white couple thriving in the suburbs. What is most interesting as these stories unfold is the disparity between what each couple worries about and struggles with on a daily basis.
For the immigrant couple the daily worry is in finding safe shelter, food, employment; security of any kind. The suburban couple worries about getting a bigger commission, saving the trees and where they should eat out for dinner ? the pressures do not revolve around survival, but rather around maintaining ? and expanding ? their comfort and luxury.
This is a tale of our times.
The story is not told in a manner that condemns the suburbanites ? but, instead, demonstrates that this is who they are, how they have been raised culturally ? they are a product of our mad dash to the security of a white-picket fence in the suburbs ? the result of isolation, cut off the real suffering of others, making these things seem less real, less human.
One must ask ? why do we worry more about stray animals and trees than the suffering of people in our own nations and around the world? Is it because we have cut ourselves off from their need ? because it is too painful to witness and we feel too helpless in changing their circumstances? Or are we so safe in our hermetically sealed communities that we forget that others are not doing so well.
Immigration is not a new challenge to our nation. We have never, truly done a good job of assimilating new arrivals ? they have often been discriminated against and discouraged by any means from thriving. We all fear, we have always feared, that our nations cannot possibly hold another soul ? or that this new group will work for less and take our jobs. The irony is, that our jobs are being sent over seas ? much of the work done by immigrants is work we feel is beneath us ? menial. But, honestly, that is neither here nor there.
Our failure, on so many levels, is in not recognizing every one of these people as just that ? people. They are fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers ? doing everything they can to survive. Many of us, if we go back a couple generations, have a plumber, farmer, factory worker or mechanic in our family tree. Go back a couple more and new probably have some newly arrived immigrants ? lost in a new world trying to make a better life.
Do we know where we come from? Do we know what our ancestors experienced ? the discrimination and struggle ? that has resulted in our comfortable lives? They wanted a better life ? the question is ? do we know when we have arrived, or is it always a pursuit for more? Reading this book made me uncomfortable. It made me feel ashamed for the dissatisfaction I have felt for my car, my TV or my cell phone ? I realized how much I have to be grateful for and that my comfort should be utilized to help others ? not create ever more luxurious comforts.
Peace & God Bless!
May 1, 2008
Great book club choice - we discussed it for hours
Just an in the novels and movies of the 30's and 40's,in which the heroes and heroines were often architects, developers, and other interlopers, "Tortilla Curtain" offers the reader chance to live in the new California of the Builders, Delaney and Kyra, ambitious Americans running to the pristine corners of the nation and transforming as they go. Of course, these Masters learn hard lessons about Nature and Humanity and the evils of not being Green. But what separates "Tortilla" from the earlier works and makes the book especially provocative are not the hard lessons learned , but the honest 3-dimentionality of the characters.
Especially successful are the characters of Candido and America who have come to California as newlyweds to escape the poverty of Mexico and who also plan to build a new life. Boyle helps us know the souls of the silent immigrants who work all around us, trapped into caution by fear, language, and a culture of self-sufficiency. In the layered biosphere Boyle creates in Topanga Canyon, a proud young husband, a frightened 17-year-old girl, and the Americans who are forced to see them, all construct their homes. The collision of their various dreams and realities reveals the characters' depths and their faults, but never overwhelms their humanity.
The archetypal Californians of the Mid-20th century saw themselves as walking on a completely untrod ground. In the books and movies, even in Hitchcock's "Vertigo", the only reference to the Native Americans and Spanish who were there when we arrived is an occasional reference to a fiesta, a visit to a club where people are happily dancing the flamenco or the tango, or the noble lineage of a powerful and evil family descended from Spanish Grandees. "Tortilla Curtain", although embracing the myth of the newness of California, suggests that there are many more stories to tell.
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