Mexican-American Relations and T.C. Boyle’s "Tortilla Curtain"

Examination Thesis, 2015

70 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1 Introduction

2 Historical Background: Mexican-American Relations
2.1 The Mexican-American War of 1846-
2.1.1 Causes of War: Annexation and Revolution
2.2 The 20th Century: Waves of Migration and Economic Integration

3 The Case of Mexican Immigration to the United States: Then and Now
3.1 Chasing the American Dream: Historical Abstract of Numbers and Policies
3.1.1 Poverty and Disparities: The Situation of Mexican Immigrants
3.1.2 The Case of Mexican Women
3.3 The Border: A Place of Transition

4 T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain: Socio-Historical Implications
4.1 Family: Origin and Class as Determinants for Success
4.1.1 Liberal, Upper Middle Class Perspectives: The Mossbachers and Friends
4.1.2 At the Bottom of Society: The Rincóns
4.2 The Mex(Amer)ican Way of Life
4.2.1 Labor: Self-fulfillment and Necessity for Survival
4.2.2 Issues of (No) Food Choices and Consumption
4.2.3 Housing
4.2.4 The Rincóns and the American Dream
4.3 Encounters

5 Conclusion

1 Introduction

The relations between the United States and Mexico have always been and still are of utmost importance for both nations. As Garcia points out, “there exists a deep and well-established relationship between Mexico and America” (22) due to its substantive relations on multiple levels. Massey outlines the general impact of this specific neighbourhood as follows: “[T]he USA has invaded Mexico three times; it annexed one-third its territory; it is the primary source of capital for Mexican investment; it is Mexico’s largest trading partner and Mexico is the second most important trading partner for the USA” (67).

Even though focus of US foreign policy has shifted significantly towards the Middle East in the recent past, especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks of 2001, Mexico still plays a key part for the United States in that it affects multiple domestic as well as foreign policy dimensions such as economy, criminality, and security policy (Käss 48). For one, the sheer numbers of people of Mexican descent living in the United States make it an issue.1 The huge impact Mexico has on the USA in general becomes, further, obvious considering recent census projections which claim that by 2050 almost a third of US residents will be Latino, with the predominant majority being of Mexican descent (Garcia 22). Undoubtedly, this dramatic development will profoundly affect both US society and politics. Nowadays, the importance of Mexico finds expression in the presidential campaigns of both the Democratic as well as the Republican Party since importance and influence of Latino voting blocs are on the rise and make it inevitable for presidential candidates to focus on them. For instance, Nevarez suggests that the Republican presidential candidate will “need at least 40 percent of the Latino vote to win an election” (n. pag.), thereby highlighting the enormous significance Mexican immigrants will continue to have in US politics. Even though pundits doubt a significant impact of Latino voters in the 2016 election, there is broad agreement among scholars on their importance in future elections (e.g., Scherer 24; McGraw n. pag). Subsequently, it is very likely that US foreign and domestic policy will strengthen focus on Mexico in the future, given the Latino voters’ interests.

In the current US presidential primary race, immigration from Mexico has already played a significant role and, so far, “has dominated the Republican presidential campaign” (Goo n. pag.). Political discourse was predominantly marked by discussions surrounding Donald Trump’s remarks on Mexican immigrants, labelling them rapists, drug dealers, and criminals (Scherer 23; cf. chapter three). Notably, his remarks did not spark too much of a backlash, considering his still high approval ratings. In general, the issue of immigration, especially from the South, is of high importance for many Americans and “at the centre of today’s immigration debate” (Rosenblum, Kandel, Seelke, and Wasem ii). With the ongoing debate about whether comprehensive immigration reform is needed and rising flows of migration across the globe, the issue is unlikely to vanish from political agenda any time soon. Besides, President Obama took executive action in November 2014, announcing plans to relieve the otherwise strict deportation policies. Even though major parts of those are still blocked in courts, the President’s Executive Orders might still “effectively offer a degree of protection to the vast majority — 87 percent — of unauthorised immigrants now residing in the United States” (Rosenblum 2). While a majority of Americans oppose deporting all unauthorised immigrants, the vox populi tends to rather support two measures, namely a barrier along the Southern border and a change of the Constitution to ban birthright citizenship (Goo n. pag.). In addition, there is “wide partisan divide in overall views of immigrants’ impact” on the United States (ibid.). While Republicans majorly consider immigrants a burden to society, Democrats tend to highlight the advantages in terms of immigrants’ allegedly exemplary work ethic and their multiple talents (ibid.). Notably, the importance of the subject matter is spurred by the fact that Mexican immigration to the United States represents the largest migration flow in the world (Rosenblum et al. ii; cf. chapter three).

Thus, the enormous importance of Mexican-American relations in both domestic as well as foreign policy matters should be already obvious. Further, the Mexican population represents a part of US society that has a socioeconomically unique characteristic in that it seems to comprehensively fail to succeed socially, as Garcia suggests:

This unique population has displayed an undeniable inability to succeed within such a complex and volatile economic situation in many instances. This group usually is ineligible for public assistance, unable to secure high paying or desirable jobs, and for the most part relegated to the slowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Additionally, this is a group that maintains a very high employment rate despite the fact that they earn the lowest wages of all workers in the labor force. Their incidence of poverty is substantial and does not seem to be lessening even in light of sufficient assimilation time. (22)

While this applies to both legal as well as unauthorised immigrants, this paper will predominantly focus on the state of the latter, as presented in T. C. Boyle’s 2 novel The Tortilla Curtain.

The main goal of this paper is to address the question if there is any type of socio-historical narrative surrounding the state of Mexicans in the United States that might have developed from the very beginnings of Mexican-American relations up to contemporary US society and, further, might find its expression in contemporary American literature, using the example of The Tortilla Curtain. While the main approach of this paper will be of sociological nature, one cannot forgo an examination of the respective political background and events, which mostly go hand in hand and show interdependencies.

Notably, related research on this field is relatively scarce. Most major works dealing with Mexican-American relations and the state of Mexicans within US society focus on specific time periods or address specific contemporary socioeconomic issues of immigration and immigrants, but rather lack a comprehensive view that might combine the different strands and lead to a widely spanning narrative about Mexican immigrants in US society. The works of Vargas (1999), Martínez (2003), Russell (2010), and D. Weber (1988) have laid a solid foundation concerning the general history of Mexican-American relations, while Rives (1913) specifically focuses on the pre-war period and the Mexican-American War itself. Undoubtedly, there has been done a lot of research on the socioeconomic situation of unauthorised immigrants, given that they are constantly part of political discourse, as mentioned above. Major works on the history of Mexican immigration include Durand, Massey, and Parrado (1999) as well as Romo (1993), Ganster and Lorey (2008), and Käss (2008), while Rosenblum, Kandel, Seelke, and Wasem (2012) connect the history of immigration to the respective policies. Further, Garcia (2011) probably provides the most extensive and detailed study on immigrant poverty, which Hall, Greenman, and Farkas (2010) supplement with a conception of causal relations between immigrants’ legal status and resultant wage disparities. Additionally, A. Chomsky (2014) and Skerry (1993) outline changes of immigrants’ identity and the public perception of who is considered “illegal”. The Pew Research Centre provides an excellent data record on historical as well as current migration flows and numerous public-opinion polls on that matter. As for literary examinations, important works include those of Hicks (2003) and Schröder (1997), which focus on Boyle’s social criticism as well as on aspects of “Whiteness” as inherent in the novel, while Paul (2001) explores the literary depiction of immigrants. Eventually, Kleven (2009) points to a major topic of the novel in identifying zoning ordinances in the United States as a key cause for race and class division, thereby shining light on the sociocultural and -economic aspects of housing.

In general, I will try to develop a narrative that follows the overall course of events in Mexican-American history, which chapter two will comprise. Here, I will specifically depict the Mexican-American War as an origin of the boundaries we know today and will further provide an in-depth study on the 20th century and its waves of migration. Chapter three will look at the specific history of Mexican immigration to the United States and will then provide an overview of the contemporary situation of immigrants. Subsequently, chapter four aims to merge the findings of chapters two and three and examine contemporary literary expressions in Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain. Out of the many aspects to be found within the novel, I will mainly focus on those relevant in sociological terms. Lastly, I will try to combine the paper’s findings to a potential narrative and discuss the political and sociological future of Mexican- American relations.

2 Historical Background: Mexican-American Relations

In order to get an understanding of what laid the groundwork for the current state of Mexican-American relations, it appears inevitable to retrospect at least 170 years of both nations’ common history. Since the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 can be considered the main event leading to the borders present today, the following chapter will specifically mention the preconditions and course of this war. Further, I will look in detail at the aftermath of the war, that is, many Mexicans becoming US citizens, but at the same time losing their land (Rives 591). I will then continue by examining the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and the resultant flood of nearly one million Mexicans seeking refuge in the United States. The third part, dealing with the post- war years, will then provide an in-depth examination of the post-war era and the overall easing of Mexican-American relations. I will depict the modern history of Mexican-American relations as a narrative and follow its historical origins until today.

The focus of this chapter will be on those events affecting the latter relations. Hence, I will not illustrate domestic or foreign policy 3 aspects that are not connected with this specific relationship. It should, finally, become evident that, at the very core, Mexican-American relations have always been revolving around questions of territorial expansion, the border itself, and, eventually, issues of identity. It might further be noted that this chapter focuses on the general political and economic relations between the United States and Mexico, while chapter three will put specific focus on the history of migration. Given the high degree of both issues’ interconnection and interdependencies, I am aware of the fact that it will be difficult to completely separate those complexes from each other. However, a differentiation seems helpful due to purposes of systematisation.

2.1 The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848

The Mexican-American War largely set the conditions for the boundaries of today. Since the focus of this paper is on the specific relations of Mexico to the United States, the time before Mexico gained independence, namely the period of Spanish colonisation, will hardly be taken into account. Thus, I will rather focus on the prior events and preconditions leading to the War of 1846, even though the main focus should be laid on the War itself and its aftermath.

2.1.1 Causes of War: Annexation and Revolution

Following years of brutal oppression with many being killed by the Spanish conquistadors and their successors, Mexico could not entirely gain formal independence from the Spaniards until 1821, enduring a ten-year struggle for independence with “a tenth of the population, mostly young men of fighting age” (D. Weber 135) losing their lives. Soon, the United States approved of the newly found first Imperio Mexicano and even diplomatic ties were established between both nations (ibid.). Nonetheless, the question of rightful ownership of Texas remained unanswered and paved the way for “the border-focused conflict in the first half of the nineteenth century” (Martínez xiv). Claiming that Texas was part of Louisiana, and thus rightfully acquired as part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase from the French, the US considered it their territory (Del Bene 51). Initially, the dispute saw an apparent easing of tensions, with both nations acknowledging Texas belonging to Mexico and newly defined borders as part of the Adams-Onís Treaty 4 of 1819 (ibid.).

In the 1820s, with large numbers of Americans beginning to settle in eastern Texas, migration for the first time emerged as a major cause of conflict between the United States and Mexico, leading to Texas declaring independence from Mexico in 1836 and, eventually, to the 1845 Annexation of Texas, thereby making the Republic of Texas the 28th state of the United States 5 (Malone 545). The latter events, depicting the very eve of the Mexican-American War, represented “a turning point for Mexico and the United States” (D. Weber 133) and further laid the groundwork for the narrative of modern Mexican-American relations. As D. Weber further suggests, “[f]or Mexico it seems to mark the beginning of a series of dismal setbacks that culminated with the United States invasion of 1846 and that resulted in the loss of half of Mexico to the United States” (ibid.). Meanwhile, on the American side, the narrative of “America’s mission to redeem and remake the world in the image of America” (Miller 120), namely the Manifest Destiny, was continued in these events since they “marked a turning point in the American’s long and unsuccessful efforts to purchase Texas from Mexico and another large step in the fulfillment of … a continental nation with harbors on the Pacific” (D. Weber 134).

2.1.2 The War: Questions of Territory and Boundaries

As a consequence of the Texas Annexation, Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the United States and further declined President Polk’s offer to purchase New Mexico and California and, further, to draw the border along the Rio Grande, which would have meant an official cession of Texas by Mexico. At this point, one might again depict the border as a leitmotif in Mexican-American relations. Following initial deployments of US troops to the Rio Grande, both the US and Mexico officially declared war in the spring of 1846 (Haberle 23; Elsea and Weed 4). Subsequently, major military offensives led to an intense US invasion (Rives 308). During the War, Mexico experienced severe losses with thousands of casualties, which made the War become a horrendous disaster for the Mexicans (Russell 195). After the 1847 seizure of Mexico City, it eventually appeared inevitable for Mexico to surrender. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 sealed the US victory and established “[t]he Boundary Line between the two Republics” (Art. I, S. Exec. Doc. No. 52, 1847), thereby Mexico “was to surrender Texas with the Rio Grande as a boundary, and also all of New Mexico and Upper California” (Rives 602). Furthermore, Mexicans living in territories previously belonging to Mexico were given the opportunity to become full US citizens and thus gain “all the rights of citizens of the United States according to the principles of the Constitution” (Art. IX, Sen. Exec. Doc. No. 52, 1847). Also, in compensation, the US agreed to pay “the sum of fifteen Millions of Dollars” (Art. XII, Sen. Exec. Doc. No. 52, 1847) to the Mexican government. In the War’s aftermath, many Mexicans took their chance and became US citizens, but most lost their land by US force. Further, the California gold rush prompted gold seekers to push out Mexican landowners and, too, robbed them of their land. At this point of history, the borders we know today were then established, being only expanded by the Gadsen Purchase of 1853, with the United States under President Pierce paying $10 million for lands across the Mesilla Valley, thereby resolving the last border dispute with Mexico (Holt 55).

2.2 The 20th Century: Waves of Migration and Economic Integration

Fleeing the nationwide turmoil of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), in the 1910s and 20s, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans were migrating to the United States each year, even though some of them later returned to their homeland 6 (Romo 115). During said revolution, two major events turned diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States to the worse.

First, the Tampico Affair of 1914 almost served as another casus belli for the United States. As Wallenfeldt notes, it was close to a severe political crisis when “some crew members of the U.S.S. Dolphin were arrested” after their ship had docked (40). Following diplomatic negotiations, even involving representatives of the Argentinian, Brazilian, and Chilean administrations, the irritations could eventually be settled and “war was averted” (ibid.). Not only did this incidence show how fragile the bilateral relations were at this point, but it also exemplified the power structure between two disparate neighbors.

Second, marking the first military strike on US soil since 1812, Mexican General Pancho Villa7 led a group of hundreds of followers in a raid of the US city of Columbus, New Mexico in 1916, “burning the town and killing some 17 inhabitants” (Wallenfeldt 41). President Wilson reacted with sending a military expedition into the far backcountry of Mexico, an act that nearly provoked a war since there were at least two incidents of military confrontation between Mexican and US troops: “full-scale war was averted only when Wilson withdrew [the] column some months later” (ibid.). Nonetheless, tensions were easing when Wilson granted de jure recognition to Carranza’s new regime in April 1917. Thereafter, Wilson persistently rejected all suggestions to intervene in Mexico (42).

The 1920s, especially, were marked by major disagreements on geostrategic policies, namely on oil. Initially, the Mexican administration, under President Alvaro Obregón, sought to resolve all of the problems resultant from the previous century’s upheaval (besides oil, compensatory damages were the major issue), resulting in the 1923 Bucareli Treaty (Rippy 91). However, following another change of government in Mexico, the treaty was soon rescinded by newly declared President Plutarco Elías Calles. Soon, American oil companies demanded an immediate military response of their government, aiming to secure their economic interests (ibid.). Resisting the powerful lobbies, President Calvin Coolidge managed to solve the conflict diplomatically, even though his dominant demeanor caused slight irritations within the Mexican people and further fostered the notion of US imperialism (92).

Albeit, US Ambassador to Mexico Dwight Morrow’s smart and diplomatic demeanor made for a substantial improvement of the image Mexicans had of their northern neighbor and, as Brescia and Super suggest, “Morrow charmed Mexicans with his grace and respect [and] treated Mexicans as equals and understood the sensitivity of issues affecting Mexican sovereignty” (102). Not only did Morrow take a key part in ending the Cristero War8 of 1929, but he balso changed the sign in front of the US embassy from “American Embassy” to “United States Embassy”, recognising that the United States was not the only American nation, and therefore making an unusually empathetic and, too, highly significant and symbolic gesture (ibid.).

With the Great Depression and its anti-immigrant ambiance having thousands of Mexican return to Mexico, tensions increased on a micro-level. However, then- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in implementing his Good Neighbor Policy, caused a serious improvement of US relations to South America and further helped foster “the loyalty of Latin American countries to the Allies during World War II” (Olson and Mendoza 274), thereby ensuring to refrain from any future military interventions in the region. However, due to the steadily increasing extent of foreign investment in Mexico, resentment to the US within the Mexican society flared again, with slogans such as “Mexico for the Mexicans” being reported (Olson and Mendoza 102). The growing tensions, eventually, resulted in President Lázaro Cárdenas closing off Mexican markets by implementing trade barriers and nationalising British and US oil companies operating in Mexico, an event that is still celebrated as a civic holiday nowadays (ibid.). Aiming to avoid an invasion at all costs, Roosevelt managed to drive forth the Mexican-American General Agreement of 1941, thereby ensuring Mexican support in the immediate wake of US entry into World War II (Brescia and Super 102). Facing severe labor shortage due to the war deployments, the US, in settling the Bracero Program with Mexico in 1942, tried to compensate the increasing number of missing workers in the railroad and agricultural industry. The program, conducted until 1964, laid the groundwork for the immigration of about 4.5 million Mexicans, while “about 5 millions were returned as illegal immigrants” (140)9. Representing another important landmark in Mexican-American relations in terms of common security policy, the Rio Treaty (also Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance) codified the causa foederis, establishing the principle that an attack against one nation is considered an attack on all member states (Achilles 19)10.

As was mentioned previously, diplomatic relations between Mexico and the United States saw an overall easing in the aftermath of World War II. Thus, focus within the relations was turned more and more towards transnational governance issues, namely unauthorised immigration to the United States and drug trafficking (Gooberman 2). With growing drug trafficking alongside the border, the US administration under President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1969. As Gooberman highlights, the new policy called “for a 100 percent inspection of all persons and vehicles crossing into the United States”, with no exceptions allowed (ibid.). Since this approach had been conducted only unilaterally, discontent soon emerged on the Mexican side, eventually resulting in a more bilateral approach in tackling the issue. Nonetheless, the rather arrogant and predominant US attitude in this case is another vivid example of how power relations between the two nations have always been imbalanced.

Throughout the late 80s, Mexico opted for opening up its markets again and abolished major trade barriers stemming from the Cárdenas era. Eventually, this trend found its outcome in the trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Mexico and Canada, making the region evolve into one of the largest trading blocs worldwide (Dávila-Villers 120). After the severe devaluation of the Peso and resultant economic difficulties, the US administration under President Bill Clinton in 1994 finally found a way to help out in lending $ 20 billion to Mexico. Clinton further strengthened relations by visiting Mexico and committing to a cooperative strategy as regards drug trafficking, thereby fostering bilateral and balanced cooperation (ibid.). In 2001, with George W. Bush taking office, Mexico, again, became a distinct partner in US foreign policy: “Mexico is an incredibly important part of the United States’ foreign policy. It is our most important relationship, because Mexico is our neighbor, and neighbors must work together” (Bush, as qtd. in Government Printing Office 1078). However, this approach was overshadowed by the subsequent events of September 11, 2001, which turned US foreign policy upside down since focus was put on the Middle East and Islamist threats. With drug trafficking issues becoming even more evident, the United States passed the 2008 Merida Initiative, providing Mexico with an annual $400 million in assistance (Seelke 5). However, drug-related killings have since continued to soar. In December 2008, a US Justice Department report claimed that Mexican drug traffickers pose one of the biggest organised crime threats to the United States (Department of Justice iii). Subsequently, US and Mexican authorities introduced a new stage in addressing the problem, focussing on a more bilateral approach, as opposed to the rather unilateral US strategy of the past. The measures taken were acclaimed as “Merida 2.0”, referring to the aforementioned 2008 initiative. Thus, the United States, again, expanded financial aid to Mexico to fight drug trafficking. However, this time focus was not on improving Mexican military and police structures, but tended towards improving social and economic conditions in Mexico, thus alleviating the allure for farmers and workers to participate in drug production (Lachicotte 7). Again, it might be noted that US efforts were not spurred by charitable intentions to help Mexico get rid of the drug problem. The United States did not actually care about drug trafficking until it started to become a domestic problem and, thus, deeply affected its society. As Lachicotte points out, the United States has, since then, become subject to “a spillover from Mexico’s internal drug war” (ibid.), bringing domestic problems of Mexico right into US society. This attitude might, again, highlight the inherent power structures in Mexican-American relations and the pragmatic attitude on the US-American side since it can be considered disputable whether the USA would have intervened if Mexico’s drug problems had not affected US society at all.

Despite the multiple measures taken, in the recent past, drug-related criminality has increased yet again, with drug trafficking still posing one of the biggest problems in Mexican-American relations, especially since cartels have mutated to globally operating corporations, with a single cartel earning annual revenues “of some $3 billion — comparable in terms of earnings to Netflix, or … Facebook” (Keefe n. pag.) while “operating in more than a thousand U.S. cities” (Lachicotte 7). Further, the sheer numbers of drug trafficking-related deaths seem almost unbelievable. According to Beittel, there have been “at least 80,000 homicides linked to organized crime since 2006” in Mexico alone (ii). Besides, Mexican cartels have, in recent years, continued to gain control over the US drug market and “are the major wholesalers of illegal drugs in the United States and are increasingly gaining control of U.S. retail-level distribution” (6).

As I have mentioned before, the history of Mexican-American relations is marked by a distinct power structure that finds its expression in the overwhelmingly unilateral approaches the United States has taken. Further, the US attitude toward Mexico can be described as predominantly pragmatic in nature. As long as Mexican problems did not affect US domestic or foreign policies, the USA did not intervene.

3 The Case of Mexican Immigration to the United States: Then and Now

History and geography have given Mexico a unique status in the U.S. immigration system, and have made the Mexico-U.S. migration flow the largest in the world. (Rosenblum et al. ii)

As I have shown in chapter two and Rosenbaum et al. highlight, Mexico and Mexican immigration has played an important role in nearly every US administration’s agenda and has always been of utmost priority for the United States (1). According to Huntington, “[c]ontemporary Mexican … immigration is without precedent in U.S. history” (33). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Mexican immigration is still a key subject in political discourse, being “an ongoing subject of congressional attention in recent years and a topic of concern for the U.S. public at large” (Rosenblum et al. 1). Most recently, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump drew attention to the topic in claiming that he would build a wall at the Southern border “nobody is going through” (as qtd. in Scherer 21), and that Mexico was sending “mostly rapists, criminals and drug users across the border” (Scherer 23), thereby causing heated debates amongst political camps and the media. In the following chapter, I will take the above-mentioned narrative one step further and focus on the subject of Mexican immigration itself. It will therefore be necessary to briefly outline the historical development of Mexican immigration to the United States and thereby connect its history to the general history of mutual relations (cf. chapter two). Hereof, I will discuss my assumption that both histories are deeply connected and intertwined. This chapter, especially 3.2.1 and 3.2.2, will introduce important themes to be found in Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, which will then be dealt with in chapter four. Thus, chapter three will prepare the novel’s examination and provide crucial background information and data that will be inevitable for a proper analysis of the novel. Finally, a very distinct issue and relatively new field of study, border studies, will be considered and might provide an identity-oriented approach, thereby adding to the groundwork necessary for chapter four.

Initially, it seems crucial to differentiate between the existing terminologies. When talking about Mexicans in the United States, there are basically four major categories that will be important in the following. First, Naturalised Citizens are persons born as non-citizens who were then granted US citizenship; LawfulPermanent Residents are non-citizens with permission to permanently live and work in the United States; Refugees are non-citizens permitted to stay due to a “wellfounded fear” of (e.g., religious or political) prosecution; and, finally, UndocumentedImmigrants, as mentioned previously (Dinan 2005: 3).

3.1 Chasing the American Dream: Historical Abstract of Numbers and Policies

Below, I will outline the history of Mexicans immigrating legally or illegally 11 into the United States and the domestic policies the numbers might be connected with. I will show that both fields are deeply intertwined and, further, exemplify the largely unsuccessful US approaches towards Mexican immigration.

While large-scale permanent immigration between Mexico and the United States is, historically, rather “a recent phenomenon” (Rosenblum et al. 4), seasonal migration into the US agricultural sector can be dated back to the 19th century (Romo 115). In the early 1900s, with Chinese workers being excluded from entering US grounds, the US railroad industry had a huge demand for Mexican workers. Soon, the latter represented nearly 60 percent of America’s railway labor force at the time (ibid.).


1.According to recent governmental estimates, there are, approximately, 5.5 million unauthorised Mexican immigrants living in the United States, as opposed to 35 million legal residents or US citizens of Mexican descent (Passel, “Immigrant Population” 4).

2.While his actual name is Tom Coraghessan Boyle, with Coraghessan being part of the surname, I will, for reasons of simplification, use the common abbreviation “T.C. Boyle”.

3.Throughout this paper, I will employ the widely used concept of politics, polity, and policy in order to differentiate between the different dimensions of “Politik”, which is the most common concept in the field of political science (Palonen 171).

4.Also known as the Transcontinental Treaty, it “added Florida, but ceded claims to most of Rocky Mountain West and Oregon” (Del Bene 51).

5.It is interesting to note that the question of “Texan annexation had long been a taboo subject” (Wilentz 560) for both parties in Congress, due to fears of a war with Mexico and, by potentially adding a huge slave state, inflaming the political dispute over slavery once more (558).

6.For the specific history of Mexican immigration to the United States, cf. chapter three.

7.The United States supported the Constitutionalists under Venustiano Carranza, as opposed to Villa’s División Del Norte (Katz xiii). With both groups being revolutionary movements, the former was, notably, “one of the few revolutionary movements with which a U.S. administration in the twentieth century attempted, not only to come to terms, but even to forge an alliance” (ibid.).

8.President Calles put into law severe secularist measures against the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, e.g., declaring “worship illegal under the Constitution” (Buchenau 129), thereby causing a civil war in many Mexican states over three years (ibid.).

9.Cf. chapter 3.

10.Interestingly, as Achilles notes, subsequent foreign-policy treaties, such as the North Atlantic Treaty, “drew heavily on the Rio Treaty” (19), especially in terms of the causa foederis.

11.The labelling of undocumented immigrants as “illegal” is subject to sharp criticism. Aviva Chomsky notes that “[i]llegality as we know it today came into existence after 1965. In the decades before 1965, the media rarely depicted immigration in negative terms” (1). Further, Noam Chomsky concurs in claiming that in the United States “everyone is an illegal immigrant — everyone except the people in Indian Reservations. This is an immigrant society. The native population didn't have the power to prevent them from coming in, so they came in. Until the late 19th century, entry was free. Then restrictions started being put in because the people who had already taken the country wanted to keep it their way” (n. pag.). Thus, I will use the terms “undocumented” or “unauthorised” instead.

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Mexican-American Relations and T.C. Boyle’s "Tortilla Curtain"
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