The Problem With Jeanine Cummins’ ‘American Dirt’ Migrant Novel Is Pretty Obvious

Jan 21, 2020
2:40 PM

Author Jeanine Cummins’ book American Dirt tells the story of a Mexican mother and son fleeing Mexico. It has been praised by critics (mostly white) and others in the literary field as “a breakout hit of the year” and was just announced as the next selection for Oprah’s Book Club. However, Cummins is under fire from Latino authors and others on social media for a line she wrote on the novel’s foreword where she says, “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it,” and for seemingly pretending to be Latina. (Yikes!)

For many, claiming that “someone lightly browner” should write it erases the work of many Latino authors who have written extensively about immigration, and overlooks the publishing industry’s bias against POC authors.

Late last year, author Myriam Gurba wrote a piece where she called out Cummins for claiming whiteness in a New York Times op-ed about four years ago. At the time, Cummins wrote, “I am white. The grandmother I shared with Julie and Robin was Puerto Rican, and their father is half Lebanese. But in every practical way, my family is mostly white.”

Not surprisingly, Gurba is not a fan of the novel.

“Cummins bombards with clichés from the get-go,” Gurba writes in her December piece. “Chapter One starts with assassins opening fire on a quinceañera, a fifteenth birthday party, a scene one can easily imagine President Donald Trump breathlessly conjuring at a Midwestern rally, and while Cummins’ executioners are certainly animated, their humanity remains shallow. By categorizing these characters as ‘the modern bogeymen of urban Mexico,’ she flattens them. By invoking monsters with English names and European lineages, Cummins reveals the color of her intended audience: white. Mexicans don’t fear the bogeyman. We fear his very distant cousin, el cucuy.”

Others are saying the book content itself doesn’t reflect them or their views, and that this is an example of how, “They want our stories, our food, our culture, and our language, but they don’t want us.”

The controversy gained traction over the weekend. And Tuesday, after the Oprah recommendation, many expressed their disagreement.


Avid book reader Natalia Martinez (a co-host of the Con Sabor Reading Challenge) took to the opportunity to call on Latinx authors to share their upcoming books. Check out the thread here:

Gurba did the same, asking writers to share their stories of being Brown under the Trump administration:

Why do we think this very necessary conversation is not going away? Think people are “overreacting?” Check out the first five pages of the . How many tropes can you find?