A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 27, 2006
Tortilla Curtain & Cactus Curtain

After World War II, Winston Churchill declared that an “iron curtain” had descended upon Eastern Europe. Later, there would be a Berlin Wall. The purpose of the iron curtain and the Berlin Wall was to prevent people from the East escaping to the West.
In 1961, Cuban leader Fidel Castro built a “cactus curtain”  around the United Stated naval base at Guantanamo, so Cubans couldn’t escape to United States soil there. The “cactus curtain” term was also (briefly, beginning in 1966) applied to the border between the United States and Mexico.
“Tortilla Curtain” began to be used in 1966 in isues regarding Mexicans and Americans. In 1978, a “tortilla curtain” was proposed and then later made to separate the cities of El Paso (Texas) and Juarez (Mexico). It was largely ineffective.  In 2006, a much-larger wall between the United States and Mexico (rarely called “tortilla curtain,” however) became an issue in the Texas governor’s race.
“Tortilla Curtain” was a popular 1995 novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle, who applied the term to racial segregation in California.
Wikipedia: Iron Curtain
The “Iron Curtain” was the boundary which symbolically, ideologically, and physically divided Europe into two separate areas from the end of World War II until the end of the Cold War, roughly 1945 to 1991. The term was coined by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and made famous by Winston Churchill. 
Analogous terms
A variant of the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain, was coined in reference to the People’s Republic of China. A field of cacti surrounding the U.S. Naval station at Guantanamo Bay planted by Cuba was occasionally termed the “cactus curtain”. As the standoff between the West and the countries of the Iron and Bamboo curtains eased with the end of the Cold War, the term fell out of any but historical usage.
Digital Dissertations (UTEP)
Penetrating the ‘Tortilla Curtain’: A linguistics-based reading-readiness guide for teachers of Mexican-American children on the pre-first grade level
Patricia Ann Groves, University of Texas at El Paso

Date: 1966
Subject Area:
31 May 1959, New York Times, pg. BR21:
Jose Luis Cuevas, a painter of crushing pessimism, refers to the official art attitude in Mexico as the “Cactus Curtain,” and has written an intelligent open letter (reprinted in the Evergreen volume) for the widely read cultural supplement of the Mexico City newspaper, Novedades: “What I want in my country’s art are broad highways leading out to the rest of the world, rather than narrow trails connecting one adobe village with another.”
29 December 1961, Austin (TX) Statesman, pg. 10, col. 3:
Encircled By
Cactus Curtain
WASHINGTON (AP)—First the iron curtain. Then the Berlin wall. Now comes the Cuban variety of cold war obstacles—a “cactus hedge.”
19 March 1962, Los Angeles Times, “U.S. Provocation Charged by Cuba,” pg. 2:
Recent reports from the base said large areas on the Cuban side of the fence had been cleared and that a “cactus curtain” had been planted.
(At the Guantanamo naval station—ed.)
5 April 1962, New York Times, “Cubans Sow ‘Cactus Curtain’ at Guantanamo” by Jack Raymond, pg. 2:
Although the Cuban regime repeatedly has charged that the United States plans to invade the island from the base, it appears to Navy observers here that the cactus fence was built to keep Cubans from seeking refuge there.
25 September 1966, Los Angeles Times “Mexican-Americans and the Leadership Crisis” by Jose Antonio Villarreal, pg. W50:
When that day comes we will see what is being called the “Cactus Curtain” come up from the surrounded Mexican, when illiteracy and poverty can be successfully overcome, and prejudice is obsolete.
16 October 1966, Los Angeles Times, Letters, pg. W10:
The article in West (Sept. 18 & 25) very accurately describes the Mexican-American, his plight and slow acceptance not only in California but throughout the West and Southwest. Mr. Villarreal clearly demonstrates that the “Tortilla Curtain” (or as he calls it the “Cactus Curtain”) erected by both the “Anglo” and the Mexican-American is at long last only beginning to crumble. But one fact remains. Not until more articles of this nature are written by persons with English surnames, both critical yet understanding la raza, will that “Tortilla Curtain” eventually and completely disappear.
Mrs. Sandra Gonzalez Devereaux
Los Angeles
22 February 1971, Los Angeles Times, pg. A20:
“Mexicans,” said Steve, “are entitled to cross the ‘tortilla curtain’ virtually at will, with their blue or pink (work permits) cards.” (These are still called “green cards,” curiously.)
25 May 1972, Los Angeles Times, “The Employer SHould Pay a Penalty for Hiring Illegal Aliens” by Sheldon Greene, pg. D7:
Creating a Cactus Curtain on our long, open border with Mexico is unrealistic.
16 August 1976, Chicago Tribune, “‘Cactus curtain’ denied by Mexico,” pg. 13:
MEXICO CITY (AP)—President Luis Echevarria and other Mexican leaders have rejected a reported accusation by 76 United States congressmen that Mexico is going Communist and will create a “cactus curtain” along the Rio Grande.
24 October 1978, Washington Post, pg. A6:
6 1/2-Mile-Long “Tortilla Curtain” Planned
To Stem Tide of Illegal Mexican Aliens
By Jim Schutze
Dallas Times Herald
EL PASO—The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service plans to begin work in 50 days on a 6-1/2-mile-long, 12-foot-tall steel and mesh barrier to separate this city from Juarez, Mexico.
Dubbed the “Tortilla Curtain” by critics, the barrier is defended by the INS as a valuable tool for curbing illegal entry into the United States.
24 December 1978, Washington Post, pg. A3:
U.S. and Mexico Embroiled in Dispute Over “Tortilla Curtain”
28 March 1982, Chicago Tribune, section 1, pg. 8:
Illegal immigrants chew away
at border’s “Tortilla Curtain”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • Wednesday, December 27, 2006 • Permalink

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