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T. C. Boyle’s novel, The Tortilla Curtain, can cause even the most heartless person to empathize more with the ever-pressing issue of illegal immigration, and with the illegal immigrants themselves as real people. This novel paints the perfect picture of the American Dream, and how it can mean something different to people who are not similarly-situated politically, socially, and economically. The interconnected lives of the "haves" and "have-nots" is a compelling way to infuse such a current and politically-charged topic into a story that is bound to affect one’s view of the issue in some way.
For the majority of Americans, the end of a long work day means driving home through congested traffic, pulling into your garage, and opening the door to your home, only to find your spouse and children looking at you with large, hungry eyes, and saying "what’s for dinner?" before you can even kick off your heels and set your briefcase down. At this time, you promptly whip up something to eat, ask how everyone’s day was, and sit down to watch the evening news. Regardless of what news channel you’re accustomed to tuning into, whether local or national, you’re likely to see some story regarding the issue of illegal immigration, and the effect that the so-called "illegals" are having on America’s economy. The news story will usually refer to these illegal immigrants in such a way that makes them less than human. In fact, it seems that oftentimes we forget while sitting in the comfort and safety of our enclosed homes that these are real people, and regardless of their status in the country, they feel, taste, smell, hear, and see just like the rest of us.
Now, picture this: instead of driving through congested traffic, you walk through inclement weather conditions, in the brush alongside a highway, with hoards of cars whizzing by. Not only do you have to avoid becoming road-kill, but you also constantly fear that someone will call the police due to their lurking suspicion that you may not "belong here." If you were lucky enough to find work that day, you are also lugging grocery bags in order to satisfy the hunger pains that slowly eat away at the lining of your stomach. If you eventually make it safely to your "home", which consists of sleeping bags on the hard ground, you have just enough time to whip up some type of meal that must hold you over until the next evening (if you are lucky). You promptly go to sleep, because tomorrow will be here before you know it, and the hike to the labor exchange is a long one.
Next, we’ll explore the issue of illegal immigration through the eyes of the "haves" and the "have-nots" in The Tortilla Curtain.