Julissa Arce is an activist and author of My (Underground) American Dream and Someone Like Me. A reductive version of the complaints about American Dirt claims that the novel’s detractors believe that a white woman should not write about the experiences of Latino migrants. To learn more, review our Cookie Policy. Gurba said she does believe an outsider can successfully write about a community other than their own, but the underrepresentation of Latinos means books like “American Dirt” can get published with large inaccuracies. American Dirt, published on Jan. 21, chronicles the journey of a Mexican woman and her son who flee to the United States together as undocumented immigrants. Not all of these errors are unforgivable; perhaps we can look past the good Mexican Samaritan who tells Lydia the border “has to be ten, fifteen miles from here,” as she looks for a migrant shelter while making her way to “el norte” — even though anyone in Mexico would give the distance in kilometers. Published on Jan. 21, the book has been accused by critics of being a harmful act of cultural appropriation, riddled with cultural inaccuracies and stereotypes about Mexico and … And that is one of the many problems with American Dirt, according to several critics. Early in American Dirt, we learn that Lydia has stocked her store with books she loves as well as books “she isn’t crazy about but knew would sell.” Perhaps Cummins was telling us something. Let me be clear: because American Dirt contains multiple inaccuracies and distortions, the White US readership in particular will come away with a stylized understanding of the issues from a melodramatic bit of literary pulp that frankly appears to have been drafted with their tastes in mind (rather than the authentic voices of Mexicanas and Chicanas). There … There have been tweet threads and essays, all arguing that the book deploys harmful stereotypes. Cummins confided in the book’s afterword that she didn’t know if she was the right person to write the book. As a Latina writer, my petitions were for us to be seen, heard, and understood. Esses Cookies nos permitem coletar alguns dados pessoais sobre você, como sua ID exclusiva atribuída ao seu dispositivo, endereço de IP, tipo de dispositivo e navegador, conteúdos visualizados ou outras ações realizadas usando nossos serviços, país e idioma selecionados, entre outros. Her goal, she said, was to humanize migrants by presenting their stories in an intimate way. As author Reyna Grande has poignantly written, “Unfortunately for us immigrants, the trauma doesn’t end with a successful border crossing. This is the opening scene and a cultural error that is a sign of things to come. For our talent to be recognized and our stories to be honored — for our lived experiences to create a better reality for our community. It’s something I fight for every day. Cummins confided in the book’s afterword that … Despite its entertainment value, American Dirt is an extremely inaccurate representation of the real situation of a real country—every bit as bad as my own phony imitation of the Received Pronunciation. Most of my pain as an immigrant came long after I entered the United States. Flatiron Books In the last week, you may have noticed a new book becoming the topic of many heated conversations. The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Now we see through a glass, … American Dirt has been called “determinedly apolitical,” precisely because of these decisions to gloss over the political forces behind the circumstances of its characters. Want to see what's on deck? When the “sicarios” have emptied their clips and the “gunfire slows,” Luca can hear “a woman’s voice announcing ¡La Mejor 100.1 FM Acapulco!”. The Problem With American Dirt Is Not Its Author’s Background I couldn’t care less if Jeanine Cummins is white, but her book is a failure. Cummins confided in the book's afterword that she didn't know if … The pain of not being able to travel to Mexico when my father fell ill is something I will never recover from; I didn’t get a chance to see him before he died. Cummins received a seven-figure advance for this book. Posted on January 29, 2020, at 10:05 a.m. The protagonist of the book is Lydia, a Mexican mother fleeing with her son, Luca, from drug cartel hitmen in the city of Acapulco. Cummins wants her readers to see immigrants as “regular people,” as “fellow human beings,” and to do this, she created a middle-class mother who somehow speaks near-perfect English without ever having visited an English-speaking country. But later, as the migrants approach Arizona, a “young, politicized liberal” tells Lydia about Arivaca, a town where “vigilante militiamen murdered a nine-year-old girl and her father years ago.” Here, when Americans are the ones being criticized, the author challenges such broad demonization, assuring us through the coyote’s dialogue, “There are good people in Arivaca, too.” Deciding to be silent on matters of policy is in itself a political stance. However, its multiple inaccuracies of Mexican culture still bring into discussion the possibilities of whitewashing, cultural appropriation, and unfair stereotypes in the novel, having yet to settle the controversies surrounding the novel. American Dirt never fully addresses — or even tries to address — the real reasons why migrants come to the US, and the conditions they encounter when they arrive. "They got played,” Gurba said. We use cookies to understand how you use our site and to improve your experience. American Dirt, the high-octane story of a Mexican mother who crosses into the US with her son, was published this week. a survey of North America conducted by Lee and Low Books, A therapists' network supports immigrants, advocates during pandemic, BLM is increasingly a voter issue for Latinos in Georgia, Trump, Biden battle for Latino vote in Arizona, How Puerto Ricans in central Florida may decide the US election, How Biden's Keystone XL Pipeline cancellation could test US-Canada relations, French Polynesia’s pearl farmers combat climate change with sustainable practices, Biden seeks to extend US-Russia arms deal; Controversial tweet from Iran's supreme leader; Honduras set for permanent abortion ban, Amid cancellation talk, Tokyo Olympics 'focused on hosting', After 2020 election, first-time Latino voter worries about a divided US. So let me set the record straight: No Mexican family would have a mere 16 people at a quinceañera, and no Mexican family would be listening to the radio at a quinceañera. The criticism of “American Dirt” is swirled with matching criticism of opportunities for Hispanics and Mexicans in the writing, editing and publishing worlds. By León Krauze. And it's harmful, appropriating, inaccurate, trauma-porn melodrama. Contrary to what Kathleen Parker says (column, “Write for your race, culture,” Feb. 5), the issue with the book “American Dirt” isn’t writing about a culture not one’s own. DACA recipients still await their fate in this country as the Supreme Court argues. “American Dirt” has been recognized for its telling a unique and wild story of two undocumented immigrants. The novel is filled with these types of characters. Oprah selected the book as her latest book club pick, calling it “a remarkable feat, literally putting us in the shoes of migrants and making us feel their anguish and desperation to live in freedom.” Barnes & Noble also selected the book as its storewide book club title. Latino critics say ``American Dirt″ contains stereotypes, incorrect regional slang, and cultural inaccuracies. There are still tens of thousands of immigrants in detention. American Dirt is a work of fiction, but it’s not fantasy; Cummins has a responsibility to accurately portray the context she places her characters in, especially since, as an author, she felt she had “the capacity to be a bridge.” I do believe that books, films, and TV shows have the ability to ignite cultural change, which can in turn create political change. Just this week, the Supreme Court voted to allow Trump’s “public charge” policy to go forward, which would reject permanent residency applications from low-income immigrants and keep them from using public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps. But the reality is that for many immigrants, the journey starts anew when we set foot in the US. Quinceañeras have a special place in my heart, because I always dreamed of having one in my hometown of Taxco, Guerrero, just four hours north of Acapulco. But when American Dirt was finally released in January of 2020, it came with an overwhelming outcry from Latinx writers and readers. That way, Gurba said, publishers will put out books that more accurately and authentically reflect the community portrayed in works of fiction. ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence has confirmed that if the DACA programs ends, DREAMers can be deported. “Had there been Mexicans around, they wouldn't have gotten fooled.". American Dirt has been hailed as the book everyone should read if they want to understand the plight of so many immigrants looking for safety in the United States. ET. That perspective feeds into many Americans’ fears that immigrants want to come to the US to have “anchor babies.” Never mind that in real life, the Trump administration will instruct consular officers to deny visas to pregnant travelers. But even before Cummins’ novel hit book stores, some writers of Latin American background pointed to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in its portrayal of modern-day Mexico and the harsh realities thousands of migrants face. Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt — or “The Grapes of Wrath for our times,” according to author Don Winslow — is neither the dream I had hoped for nor the vehicle that is going to create the type of change our community deserves. It’s even possible one might not notice the erroneous use of “mordida,” which is what Cummins calls the payments shop owners must make to cartels in order to operate their businesses. PRX is a 501(c)(3) organization recognized by the IRS: #263347402. The American Dirt mud-slinging contest: how Oprah’s favourite book turned toxic The most-anticipated American novel of the year is on the verge of being 'cancelled'. Many people felt that Cummins, who identifies as white and Latina, furthered harmful stereotypes about migrants from Mexico and Central America, that her novel included several cultural inaccuracies, and that the marketing campaign surrounding her … (L) The cover of "American Dirt" and (R) author Jeanine Cummins. Problem 1: The Author. And the author is Jeanine Cummins, a New York City novelist who identifies as white and Latina (her grandmother is Puerto Rican). The controversy comes NOT because a non-native wrote American Dirt, but because so many people feel that the book is done poorly, filled with stereotyped characters, inaccuracies … "American Dirt," the new novel by Jeanine Cummins, traces the journey a mother and son make to the US, after … A new novel about migration to the US stirred controversy as soon as it hit bookshelves this week. American Dirt pretends to humanize the immigrant who has no other choice but to cross illegally into the US, but instead of doing the difficult work to breathe life into complicated people, Cummins — being, as she mentions in the author’s note that concludes the book, “more interested in stories about victims” — goes to great lengths to make her characters small, helpless, and predictable. In the author’s note, Cummins says she wrote this book in part because “the conversation [surrounding immigration] always seemed to turn around policy issues, to the absolute exclusion of moral or humanitarian concerns”— but we cannot divorce the political from the human condition of immigrants. A denaturalization force has been created to take away the citizenship of naturalized citizens for minor discrepancies in their applications. Cummins explains in the author’s note that she wants to help readers see immigrants as fellow human beings, rather than as an “invading mob of resource-draining criminals” or “a faceless brown mass” — but she takes us on a journey that not only perpetuates those very stereotypes so often found in fiction (and Donald Trump’s speeches) but also portrays immigrants as helpless people carrying baggage full of pain and problems. She feels “that screaming into the echo chamber wasn’t working.” But those of us who are “browner,” who have written these books, aren’t screaming. "American Dirt," a novel that is Oprah Winfrey's latest book club pick, has sparked a bitter controversy over its author's identity and portrayal of Mexican migrants. Latino critics say ``American Dirt'' contains stereotypes, incorrect regional slang, and cultural inaccuracies. "American Dirt," a novel by Jeanine Cummins and an Oprah's Book Club selection, is seen on the shelves at a Barnes & Noble store in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 30, 2020. While the book continues to sell, and we continue to have these discussions, let us not forget that the government still can't confirm if more families were separated than reported and if they have been reunited. Ao continuar com a navegação em nosso site, você aceita o uso de cookies. Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt is not what I was hoping for. Latino critics say ``American Dirt″ contains stereotypes, incorrect regional slang, and cultural inaccuracies. For that kind of conversation to take place, it would help to have greater diversity in book publishing, Gurba said. We are fighting, advocating, and using our art to break down walls. At least 25 immigrants have died while in ICE custody during Trump’s presidency. The angst of becoming a citizen, going through endless background checks, interviews, lawyers, court dates, took such a huge personal toll that my marriage ended. Then Latinos called it out as a stereotype-riddled act of appropriation. We are supposed to believe that a well-to-do Mexican family does not have passports and that, with tens of thousands of dollars at her disposal and having made it to the Mexico City airport, Lydia has no option but to board the most dangerous form of transportation. Become a BuzzFeed News member. A mordida is what Lydia should have paid to get the document she needed to board a plane with her son — but she is not resourceful in the way real immigrants are, and instead she boards the very dangerous “La Bestia” train instead. The story you just read is freely available and accessible to everyone because readers like you support The World financially. Your donation directly supported the critical reporting you rely on, the consistent reporting you believe in, and the deep reporting you want to ensure survives. Cummins earned a seven-figure deal with Flatiron Books for the novel, according to Publisher’s Weekly, and the novel has been promoted by Oprah Winfrey’s book club — an endorsement that has sent many books to bestseller lists. SUBSCRIBE NOW $1 for 3 months. "American Dirt" is compelling and timely, but it is a shame that a novel like this was not written by someone who understood the culture better. But when I was 14 years old, my visa expired and I became undocumented in the United States, unable to travel to Mexico to celebrate my 15th birthday with family and friends. Cummins also gets many cultural cues wrong, she added. Much has been said about the cultural inaccuracies of the text, the cartoonish use of Spanish, and even the low quality of the writing. The book affords its readers a safe distance between real immigrants and the caricatures presented in the book. Cummins writes in her author’s note that she wishes “someone slightly browner” had written this book. We are fighting, advocating, and using our art to break down walls. I believe that for the rest of your life, you carry that border inside of you.”. The World is a public radio program that crosses borders and time zones to bring home the stories that matter. The wall continues to be built. And yet when it comes to Mexico, it’s not new for outsiders to misrepresent the reality of the country, said David Miklos, a Mexico City-based novelist and a professor at CIDE, a university in Mexico City. “Yeah, all the migrants wear the same uniforms, right?” a Mexican child named Beto tells Luca during their journey. Those of us who are “browner,” who have written these books, aren’t screaming. Migrants and refugees haven’t been afforded due process because of Trump’s "Remain in Mexico" policy. On the back cover of Cummins’ book, publisher Flatiron Books’ blurb promises, “American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed.” But when readers are presented with characters that poorly reflect the real lives of people who are affected not just by the dangers, economic conditions, and violence they are fleeing, but also the inhumane, anti-immigrant laws they encounter once they cross the border, how can they truly be transformed? Instead the book takes its fictional protagonist, Lydia Quixano Pérez, on a perfectly crafted obstacle course with a neat ending that is rarely, if ever, the one real migrants encounter. But the controversy centers around who gets to tell such a story, and the people who get to make that decision in America’s book publishing industry. American Dirt is not the book I dreamed of, but the stereotypical Latinx story in its pages certainly sells. “I have no problem with fiction about current events in Mexico,” Miklos said. How can she? American Dirt has been the subject of controversy and criticism since 2019, ... We’re just being outspoken about the inaccuracies of what this book represents.” “American Dirt,” a fictional story, was published to immediate acclaim and hailed as a present-day “Grapes of Wrath.”. Critics say she did not achieve that goal, given how much she got wrong throughout the text. Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt is a novel about a Mexican bookseller who has to escape cartel-related violence with her son, fleeing to the US. Almost 80% of the people in it are white, according to a survey of North America conducted by Lee and Low Books in 2015. “What we really need to be talking about are Mexico’s migration policies, and how the Trump administration has influenced them.”. Deciding to be silent on matters of policy is in itself a political stance. A new novel about migration to the US stirred controversy as soon as it hit bookshelves this week. No, the freedom I now feel didn’t come from stepping foot into the US. The earliest and most scathing critique came from author and self-professed Chicana, Myriam Gurba. The publishing industry ensured her book’s success with a vast publicity push — dinners for booksellers and celebrity endorsements, including from big names like Oprah — that most novelists … The publishing industry ensured her book’s success with a vast publicity push — dinners for booksellers and celebrity endorsements, including from big names like Oprah — that most novelists can only dream of. Cummins has defended the book by saying she conducted five years’ worth of research for it. Every morning, the editorial team at public radio’s international news show The World meets to plan what they'll cover that day. Let me be clear: because American Dirt contains multiple inaccuracies and distortions, the White US readership in particular will come away with a stylized understanding of the issues from a melodramatic bit of literary pulp that frankly appears to have been drafted with their tastes in mind (rather than the authentic voices of Mexicanas and Chicanas). After being kidnapped by Mexican immigration officials, Lydia and Luca earn their freedom by paying their own ransom, but they are told by “el comandante” that they should not care about the other immigrants because “most of these are bad guys anyway.” Echoing Trump, he continues: “They’re gang members, they’re running drugs. In the piece, Gurba argues—among other things—that “American Dirt” essentially amounts to “trauma porn that wears a social justice fig leaf” and reduces Mexicans to shallow tropes. Our “policy issues” are a direct consequence of our moral and humanitarian shortcomings. Her third novel, American Dirt, secured a seven-figure advance, an Oprah Book Club pick and a huge publicity campaign (waste of money; last week the Guardian alone gave the book a scale of promotion that its publisher Flatiron Books could never afford, although the paper’s worthies are sure testing that maxim about no publicity being bad). After 378 pages, we arrive in the United States and it seems all is right with the world. American Dirt fails to humanize immigrants because its author was unwilling to face the real forces behind migration and the very real challenges migrants meet once they arrive in the United States. When I immigrated to the US at the age of 11, I came here on a plane; I never crossed the border illegally, because at that time my family had financial resources that many immigrants lack. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies and Privacy Policy. Want to see more stories like this? ●. "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins was celebrated by many critics as the great immigrant novel of our day. She creates a plot that seems impossible to someone like me — a Mexican immigrant who, like Lydia, lived a middle-class life in Mexico and whose family has suffered at the hands of cartel-related violence. It’s harder to move past the echoes of racist assumptions about immigrants, the kind that can make an actual immigrant’s skin crawl. Thank you all for helping us reach our goal of 1,000 donors. In a viral review for the literary blog Tropics of Meta, writer Myriam Gurba argues “American Dirt” is a tourist’s version of what Mexico might look like, and is symptomatic of the lack of diversity in America’s book publishing industry. “It’s a collection of gross stereotypes intended to be consumed by a white audience with a sweet tooth for Mexican pain,” Gurba told The World. We couldn’t have done it without your support. The success of American Dirt has reiterated the message that the real-life experiences of Latinos, and immigrants, are only valid when they are packed with digestible, familiar stereotypes, as told through the lens of white, or white-passing, storytellers. Looks like your browser doesn't support JavaScript. “Dirty jeans, busted shoes, baseball hats.”. Utilizamos cookies, próprios e de terceiros, que o reconhecem e identificam como um usuário único, para garantir a melhor experiência de navegação, personalizar conteúdo e anúncios, e melhorar o desempenho do nosso site e serviços. Luca goes to school; Lydia cleans houses — because of course she does. As a formerly undocumented Mexican immigrant, I’ve longed for more books telling our stories to be published and celebrated. Cummins’ migrant tale “American Dirt” sparked a raging storm of controversy over the past few weeks. Para saber mais sobre nossa política de cookies, acesse link. Take, for instance, a scene in which hitmen fatally shoot Lydia and Luca’s family at a quinceañera, a coming-of-age party that in Mexico would typically be large and fancy. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Caso não concorde com o uso cookies dessa forma, você deverá ajustar as configurações de seu navegador ou deixar de acessar o nosso site e serviços. Jan 31, 2020 1:30 PM. But when these mediums perpetuate dangerous stereotypes, they do not build bridges; they tear down the ones we’ve been working to build. Sure, we celebrate birthdays with cookouts and playlists; we don’t have a mariachi or banda at every pachanga — but this was a quinceañera! ... started to attack the book, describing it as “trauma porn” and pointing to factual inaccuracies (none of them major). The … She has told The Associated Press she spent extensive time in Mexico and met with many people on both sides of the border. “The description sounds like a casual American backyard gathering, not like the quinceañera, which is formal, and which you put a great deal of effort into making elegant,” Gurba said. But despite the Latinx community coming together to raise critical problems with the book and the publishing industry at large, sales numbers so far suggest that the book will likely land at or near the top of the bestseller list. But the book has also received piercing reviews from Latino authors, journalists, and immigrant rights organizations. Gurba and many others who joined the conversation are calling for a transformation of the book publishing industry. Sign up for our daily newsletter TOP OF THE WORLD and get the big stories we’re tracking delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. But in the book, it’s depicted as a small cookout where the father grills steaks. “Your baby will be a US citizen,” Lydia tells Soledad, a Honduran migrant whose beauty is described as “an accident of biology” and who has become pregnant after being raped. They’re thieves or rapists or murderers.” The narrator doesn’t comment on the racism or inaccuracy of these words. I should have been more specific in my wishes and prayers. "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins. Let me be clear: because American Dirt contains multiple inaccuracies and distortions, the White US readership in particular will come away with a stylized understanding of the issues from a melodramatic bit of literary pulp that frankly appears to have been drafted with their tastes in mind (rather than the authentic voices of Mexicanas and Chicanas). The phrase Cummins should have used is “cobro de piso,” which is like a tax for avoiding crime; a mordida is more like a bribe, something you’d pay an official who won’t give you a desperately needed birth certificate. American Dirt fails to humanize immigrants because its author was unwilling to face the real forces behind migration and the very real challenges migrants meet once they arrive in the United States. The story begins when Lydia, a bookstore owner, is celebrating her niece Yénifer’s 15th birthday, and a new cartel — the subject of Lydia’s journalist husband’s recent exposé — shows up to take revenge, killing everyone except Lydia and her son Luca. By all accounts, she isn’t wrong. As a formerly undocumented Mexican immigrant, I have long wished for books with Mexican immigrant protagonists, squarely centered on our immigrant experience, to receive critical acclaim — to be celebrated with awards, to appear on required reading lists, and to have their authors receive advances that raise an eyebrow. The reality that college was not an option for undocumented students like me, no matter how well I had done in high school — I graduated in the top 5% of my class — stung deep in my heart. Mexican citizens can fly to many countries around the world without the type of visa restrictions the US imposes — among them Canada, France, Italy, Colombia, and Spain. 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