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.
Yes, the publishing industry will throw shit tons of money at a white woman who has rebranded as Latinx to capitalize off of other white people waking up to the atrocities in our immigration system and at our border. But that doesn’t mean we won’t cause a fucking ruckus.
— Tina Vasquez (@TheTinaVasquez) January 21, 2020
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 language they use to describe our oppression and erasure is just so telling.
"faceless brown mass"
"broken black bodies"
Idk if this is the word I'm looking for, but it feels very masochistic
— justice for gastineau girls (@kublakhanya) January 21, 2020
I am an immigrant. My family fled El Salvador with death pounding on our door. The terror, the loss, the injustice of this experience shaped everything about me. I see no part of myself reflected in #AmericanDirt, a book white critics are hailing as the great immigrant novel.
— Esmeralda Bermudez (@LATBermudez) January 20, 2020
This "American Dirt" porquería reeks of discursive & material colonization.
— aléxandros! (@bodega_gyro_ao) January 21, 2020
This American Dirt controversy is another sad showing of Latinos not having a platform to tell our stories. Our stories are told through someone else's perception.
They want our stories, our food, our culture, and our languages, but they don't want us.https://t.co/8F5V6GbMn3
— Obed Manuel ? (@obedmanuel) January 21, 2020
Thread on #AmericanDirt fr a reader/ journalist who's scurried different parts of th migrant trail for 30 years. Where you see "profound achievement" the me who 1rst saw Salvadoran refugees bombed in the 80s & 90s sees profound ignorance & shallow opportunism. (pic I took in 91) pic.twitter.com/TCXpqfJS6U
— Roberto Lovato (@robvato) January 19, 2020
The controversy gained traction over the weekend. And Tuesday, after the Oprah recommendation, many expressed their disagreement.
#Americandirt is now an @oprahsbookclub selection. As a Mexican immigrant, who was undocumented, I can say with authority that this book is a harmful, stereotypical, damaging representation of our experiences. Please listen to us when we tell you, this book isn’t it.
— Julissa Arce Raya (@julissaarce) January 21, 2020
Oprah, please no https://t.co/2Pj87sJTtT
— inorganic african feminist (@ztsamudzi) January 21, 2020
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:
If you are a #Latinx author and you have a book coming out this year, please share it below! Kid lit, MG, YA, Adult they all count! I want to make sure to include as many as I can, dont want to miss anyone! Pls Retweet to reach more authors! #indie #latinx #big5 #writeLGBTQ pic.twitter.com/E5uN5R4co2
— Natalia Martinez ???️??? (@NataliaDeJesusM) January 19, 2020
Gurba did the same, asking writers to share their stories of being Brown under the Trump administration:
BROWN WRITERS: DROP LINKS ?? TO STORIES *WE* HAVE WRITTEN ABT LIFE WHILE BROWN UNDER TRUMP. THIS IS US IN OUR OWN WORDS. I'm gonna start. I wrote about what it's like to be a Chicana high school teacher in a Brown and Black city under Trump. https://t.co/IOKUdITsdm
— Myriam Chingona Gurba de Serrano (@lesbrains) January 20, 2020
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?
[…] official release day of American Dirt, a novel written by Jeanine Cummins which has already been surrounded by controversy. The plot involves a middle-class Mexican mother and son who flee to the U.S. after their family […]
[…] a Wednesday story posted by LitHub.com, author Jeanine Cummings was asked about the controversy surrounding her American Dirt novel. Cummings was at Baltimore’s Winter Institute during an […]
[…] would help give migrants, thought of as a “faceless brown mass,” some humanity. As Latino Rebels notes, Cummins wrote, “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.” As if […]
[…] is no doubt that with all this controversy behind the publication of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, author Myriam Gurba was the key spark […]
[…] now you must be all familiar with the controversy surrounding Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt. From social media hashtags to almost daily news […]
Could the problem be that the grouping Latino is too big and broad? The author is Latino…but not Mexican…or Guatemalan etc. Even if she was completely Puerto Rican, would a Puerto Rican be any more an insider about issues faced by Latino immigrants than any other US American?
Another part off the problem will be that too many US Americans think of latino as being a race and not a broad cultural grouping. Imagine if people tried to act like every everyone in any country colonized by Great Britain were all the same race. Yet that is exactly what we do with Spain’s former new world colonies.
[…] Thursday, Flatiron Books, the publishers of American Dirt (yeah, you know, that book that was caused an uproar before a global pandemic happened) announced that Nadxieli Nieto was […]
[…] with the plans to cover Latinx books for Latino Rebels. Following exploitation of our stories with the release of American Dirt and the calls for reform of the publishing industry by #DignidadLiteraria, I had hoped to spend a […]