An illegal immigrant from Tepoztlán, Mexico, Cándido has spent his whole life trying to realize the American dream. He was married once before to América's older sister, Resurreción. However, his marriage to her, and arguably his life, fell apart after he caught her cheating on him with a "Sancho," or a man who preys upon the wives of the men who leave their wives at home while they earn money in the United States. The "Sancho," Teófilo Aguadulce, humiliated him in a fight, and Cándido's embarrassment and rage turned him into a drunkard. However, after begging for months in the border city of Tijuana and returning to live with his aunt in Tepoztlán, he ran into América once more and ran away with her to the United States, promising her a better life. As the novel goes on, he begins to realize how much his actions are affecting América and their unborn child, and by the end, he is coming to grips with just how unreachable the American dream really is.
América, who, like Cándido, grew up in Tepoztlán, is only 17 years old and the youngest sister of Cándido's first wife. She runs away with him after falling in love with his promises of a bright life in the US. However, it does not take long for her to realize that these may have been just empty promises, and the longer she and Cándido lived their subhuman life despite how hard the two of them work, the more she grows to hate him. She constantly misses her mother and her sisters, and soon she wants nothing more to return home. She mourns the loss of her dignity and the loss of her morals as she and her husband resort to stealing and trickery to stay alive. She even demands that Cándido get her money to take their baby, Socorro, back to Tepoztlán. Despite all of this, however, she still loves her husband. She is simply too worn out to handle the many stresses and hardships that come with trying to make it in America.
Delaney lives with his wife Kyra, her son Jordan, their Siamese cat Dame Edith, and their two dogs, Osbert and Sacheverell. Their home is in the white, middle-class neighborhood of Arroyo Blanco Estates in Los Angeles, California. Delaney is an avid hiker and nature lover, so much so that he writes a column called "Pilgrim at Topanga Creek" for the nature magazine Wide Open Spaces, a column which discusses daily observations from a naturalist's point of view. He strongly values having a strong connection and proximity to nature, which is why he chose Arroyo Blanco to live and and why he so strongly opposes the building of the wall around the neighborhood. He also claims to be in favor of immigrants and immigrants' rights; however, this supposedly strong value of his comes into question and begins to crumble as soon as he hits Cándido with his car. By the end of the novel, this value of his has completely disappeared, to the point where he refuses to believe photographic evidence that a white teenager vandalized the wall, choosing instead to believe that Cándido did it, despite having no proof of that whatsoever.
Kyra is a moderately successful real estate agent who, like Delaney, is very concerned with health and fitness as well as nature. Her insistence on Jordan's high-fiber, whole grain diet, her daily running regimen, and her and Delaney's memberships in the Sierra Club, Save the Children, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Democratic party reflects these priorities of hers. However, she makes her distaste for the illegal immigrants seen around L.A. much more obvious than Delaney does and has a much easier time abandoning her pretenses of treating all people equally, especially when these immigrants threaten to bring down the value of her properties. Kyra has a stereotypical American workaholic attitude, spending too much time at work and not enough time with her family. She also has a unique view of sex as a therapeutic act, using it to relieve her stress and tension as opposed to express her love and passion.
Jordan is Kyra's son and Delaney's stepson and has a major distaste for the diet his mother has him on. He is constantly watching television and playing computer games, showing little of his parents' interest in nature and exercise. Delaney at one point expresses his confidence that Jordan will turn out just like Jack Jardine's son: a bigoted, cruel teenager.
Jack is the Mossbachers' family friend and, often, legal consultant. He is also the president of the Arroyo Blanco Estates Property Owner's Association. Jack is the epitome of the successful, upper middle class, white American, and he walks the fine line between outright racism and self-righteous concern of the welfare of his fellow neighbors with ease. The building of the fence around Arroyo Blanco Estates was his pet project, claiming that it was necessary to protect its residents from the dangers of criminal illegal aliens. He has a a wife and son, Jack Jardine, Jr.
Jack Jardine, Jr.
This six-foot tall, gangly, red-headed teenager is the novel's representation of violent, anti-immigrant sentiment. Readers first encounter him destroying the Rincón's camp and ruining their few possessions, and it is later found out that he is vandalizing the newly built wall around Arroyo Blanco and escaping blame, since everyone thinks that it is the Mexicans who are responsible. He may even be responsible for the vandalizing of the Da Rosa house, one of Kyra's favorite properties. Delaney finds his actions revolting, yet in the end his own actions are not much different, for he ends up destroying the tiny home the Rincón's built for themselves as well as all of their possessions.
The secretary of Arroyo Blanco Estates Property Owner's Association, Jack Cherrystone is a small man, only 5'6" tall, with a very distinctive, booming voice. He works as a voice actor, doing Hollywood movie trailers. He, like Jack Jardine (with whom he interestingly shares a name), claims to be a liberal in favor of equal treatment for all yet is quick to point out the dangers presented by Mexicans in the name of safety. His job and values give him the characteristics of being the novel's voice of the American middle class.
Another resident of Arroyo Blanco, Jim is a very fat man who hires América to shine Buddhas for him. Like Jack Jardine and Jack Cherrystone, Jim is a strong proponent of the fence being built around the community. He is often the source of terrifying, hyped-up stories of crimes committed by immigrants.
Described as having skin so pale that he could pass for an American if not for his dark brown eyes, Navidad always wears his cap backwards and is described by both the Mexican characters and the white characters as dirty and highly suspicious, accepted by neither race. In his first encounter in the book, where he speaks to América and even gives her coffee, he acts very inappropriately and makes her very uncomfortable. He goes on to rape her, not only humiliating her but also giving her an STD which may have caused Socorro's blindness. However, interestingly, this is the only crime which we as readers know for sure that he committed, and it was against fellow Mexican immigrants, not against the white middle class people in the vicinity. Furthermore, he is falsely accused several times throughout the novel of crimes which he definitely did not commit. Thus, even this character, who represents the dangerous members of the illegal immigrant population, cannot be completely deserving of the racism which many of the characters display. In fact, it may be their fault that América describes him as, "damaged somehow...in the way of a man who has to scrape and grovel and kiss the hind end of some irrecusable yankee boss." He can often be seen with a friend wearing a poncho or a sarape, a stereotypically Mexican article of clothing.
Dominick, or Dom, as he is referred to by his friends, is a highly wealthy businessman who, according to Jack Jardine, got tangled up in some unwise investments that landed him on house arrest for three years. As a result, he wears a house arrest ankle bracelet. A very slick and manipulative character, he likes to throw social events to distract himself, and it is at one of these that he meets Kyra's mother, Kit. He takes advantage of her clingy nature and attraction to wealthy men, eventually cutting off his ankle bracelet and slipping it into Kit's purse before running away, probably to Mexico. Despite his incarceration, he has considerable power in the community, and, when Kyra and others expressed their distaste for the massive groups of immigrants hanging around the post office, he made the call that resulted in the labor exchange, the life blood of the Rincón's and other immigrant families, being shut down.
América meets Mary on her first day at the labor exchange, and she describes her as very big, "dirty," "smelling of poverty." She speaks very little Spanish, though she tries to communicate with América for her own entertainment. Her presence at the labor exchange alarms América, for if an American cannot even make it in her own country, then how could she and Cándido do any better. Mary tries to steal América's first job offer and manages to get the employer to take both of them. However, it is clear that her work ethic is very lacking, and by the end of the day, all she is doing is drinking and complaining, while América, on the other hand, proves herself to be a very hard worker. It is later revealed that Mary does not live in the wealthiest of neighborhoods, but América finds it "charming" and would long to have a little cottage like hers.
Candelario is the unofficial leader of the labor exchange, the place where immigrants like América and Cándido go to find jobs with people willing to hire anybody as long as they work for cheap wages. He acts as the liason between the immigrants and the American employers.
An attractive, well-built man and resident of Arroyo Blanco, Todd is a vehement opponent of the gate and, later, the wall being built around the Arroyo Blanco community. His actions and vocalness regarding this issue tend to reflect the values that Delaney claims he has yet often fails to act upon.
This is the man who employs Cándido after the labor exchange closes. Cándido does construction projects for him around his house and considers the man to be a genius. Based on the projects that he has Cándido working on, Señor Wilis is indeed a very intelligent man, although he does go on frequent drinking binges. He pays Cándido very well, allowing him to build up his savings - however, after the fire, Cándido does not hear from him again.
The annoying salesman at the Acura dealership with whom Delaney deals every time he has car issues. He has a very loud, distinctive laugh and often makes very racist remarks during his long-winded speeches.
The Tortilla Curtain Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Tortilla Curtain is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Part I of the novel opens with Delaney Mossbacher, a middle-class, white American and nature enthusiast, hitting thirty-three year old Cándido Rincón, an illegal Mexican immigrant, with his car as the latter was crossing the road in Topanga...
Though the Mexican is badly injured, he simply accepts twenty dollars from Delaney and the two part ways. Delaney, extremely shaken up by the incident but confident that the whole affair is over, gets his car fixed and goes back to his highly...