In The Tortilla Curtain T. Shortchanges Bayle tackles an issue which haunts much of the Western world: illegal immigration. Alternating between two couples, one white American, the other Mexican, the novel explores both sides of this difficult question, confronting racism, fear and the moral dilemma of the liberal conscience. Delaney Mossback’s lives on the Arroyo Blanch estate with his wife, Kara, and her son, Jordan. Delaney is a naturalist working from home and caring for Jordan. Kara is a real-estate agent, driven by her work, always promising herself more time with her family.
Delaney prides himself on his liberalism but when he injures C;indigo, an illegal Mexican immigrant on his way back to his pregnant wife at their makeshift camp, the incident triggers a fearful anger in him. Despite Delayer’s reluctance, Arroyo Blanch becomes a gated community. Although happy to use the Mexicans as cheap labor, most of the residents fear them and want them excluded. When a coyote seizes one of Sara’s dogs, there is further reason to shut out the world. First a fence is erected, followed by a wall when the coyotes continue to invade. Meanwhile C;indigo and AmRica try desperately to raise a deposit for somewhere to live.
Already robbed and beaten while crossing the boarder, they face a seemingly endless round of setbacks. Their one piece of good luck, a free Thanksgiving turkey, becomes a disaster when the fire C;indigo lights to cook it results in an inferno. Forced to seek shelter when her waters break, AmRica gives birth in a shed. Since the accident, Delayer’s anger has smoldered, fanned by his and Sara’s encounters with two Mexicans apparently up to no good on the estate. His liberal conscience has been sorely tried and when he sees C;indigo again he begins a pursuit that ends in tragedy but with a hand outstretched in help.