Book ‘American Dirt’ doesn’t do the immigrant experience justice

"American Dirt"

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In what amounts to the Holy Grail for authors, Oprah Winfrey has announced the latest selection for her book club, “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins. The novel, about a Mexican woman and her young son fleeing to the U.S. to escape drug cartels, has won ecstatic reviews and endorsements from Stephen King and John Grisham. The film rights have already been sold.   

But “American Dirt” has generated an intense and deserved backlash. Cummins’ book is problematic in myriad ways, from her appropriation of the migrant crisis for storytelling purposes to her depiction of Mexico as a violent hellhole. Latino writers have called her novel “Non-Mexican Crap” and “trauma porn.” Meanwhile, books by Latino authors rarely receive such attention or recognition.   

In her book, Cummins explains that she wrote “American Dirt” because she was shocked at the way Latino migrants were characterized in public discourse: “At worst, we perceive them as an invading mob of resource-draining criminals, and, at best, a sort of helpless, impoverished, faceless brown mass.” In fact, most Americans think immigration is a good thing, according to Gallup polling, and view migrants with compassion, as evidenced by the outrage over family separations. If Cummins herself sees Latino migrants as a “faceless brown mass,” then she is not the right person to write about them. 



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