Every day when I drive to work, I see them standing to the side of a strip mall parking lot. Every time I go to the community park in the morning for tennis, they’re clustered near the entrance. They are day workers, almost certainly every one of them in the country illegally.
Thinking about them brings me to the next installment in the 30 Days of Books list.
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Before I moved to San Diego from less temperate and tolerant climes, I’d hadn’t given much thought to illegal aliens in the U.S. Like many, I’d thought “It’s easy. Deport ‘em all!”
It didn’t take many months living here to see how intricately entwined illegal immigrant labor is in Southern California and how easily and conveniently blind-eyes are turned. About the same time, I read T.C. Boyle’s book The Tortilla Curtain.
The book covers the lives of two couples: Candido and America Rincon (who have entered the country illegally in hopes of starting a better life, especially since America is pregnant) and Delaney and Kyra Mossbacher (well-to-do suburbanites that live in a gated community on Topanga Canyon outside of LA). The Rincons are living in the canyon when Delaney accidentally hits and injures Candido with his car, and the two couples’ lives become entangled.
Boyle adeptly juxtaposes the luxury liberalism of the Anglo couple against the ambition and fear of the immigrants – including Candido’s illiterate machismo. Their interactions are an avalanche of miscommunications and incorrect assumptions. The whites don’t trust the latinos, even while thinking of them paternalistically from their compound home. The Rincons distrust any interactions with Americans, certain they are ready to arrest and deport them.
As with his most recent book When The Killing’s Done, Boyle presents a complex subject that has no easy answers and tells a story that is populated with flawed, complex human beings.
I think about The Tortilla Curtain fairly often as I drive past clusters of day workers and it always reminds me that what goes on here is more complex than any pundit or politician bothers to portray it.
This book should be required reading for anyone that moves to Southern California.