This book kind of destroyed me.

I have had it in my to-read pile for over a year, I bought it on one of my lazy, dazed visits to Small World Books at Venice Beach, where I spend too much time in the bookstore and buy too many books that I do not need.

tortilla curtain

This book by T.C. Boyle tells the intersection stories of two families in Southern California, a white, seemingly liberal, affluent couple and a recently immigrated, trying-to-make-it-a-new-country, Mexican couple. This book is set close to the new millennium, at a time where racism appears to be a thing of the past and progressivism is reigning free.

There was a time when I thought racism did not exist anymore. I failed to see it’s covert hold and was proud of us as a human race for overcoming our sordid past and moving forward from the overt atrocities done in this country’s history.

Unfortunately, I have been shown differently. Recently, in my own personal life, I have been appalled by some of the racism that I realize is occurring in my own small world and sometimes even personally affecting my life. I have heard far too many accounts lately of blatant racism still running rampant, and it has burst my optimistic bubble.

This story brings the this struggle to the forefront. It describes how harmful even covert racism can be and how it can quickly lead to dangerous, overt racism. It slowly reveals how negative emotions can breed thoughts, which can create attitudes, which slowly lead to small actions, which can blossom into bigger actions, and when done by those who are privileged and in power, can lead to outright discrimination and oppression.

The progression of the story horrified me. Boyle does an excellent job of describing the subtlety and danger of the process. I found the story realistic and accurate based on my own personal experiences and experiences I have heard from others. I found the voices of both couples accurate and poignant.

This is not a happy tale, but one so important for us all to read. It struck an extremely personal chord with me, because sometimes I feel like I am caught between the two worlds of these couples.

I have grandparents who immigrated from Mexico. I know their struggle was real and poignant. However, being generations removed from and having a much easier life than they did (because of the sacrifices they made) I often forget or do not appreciate the impact of their choices.

Ashamedly, sometimes I did find myself relating with the seemingly liberal, more affluent U.S. citizens of the book. My own privilege and position of power was brought to my consciousness and I needed to acknowledge and sit with what that meant, even though I identify as a Mexican-American.

I think Boyle does an excellent job of bringing these issues to light and forcing his reader to grapple with their own position on subjects of immigration, legality, assimilation, privilege, fear, human rights and adaptability to change.

Anyone who is the descendant of immigrants should read this book. Anyone who lives amongst immigrants or descendants of immigrants should read this book. I think that covers us all.

What book has struck a personal chord with you lately?