“American Dirt” is the classic tale of a Mexican woman who witnesses the cartel execution of her family, as is common apparently, and proceeds to Google how to be Mexican all while describing how seeing dead people in the streets is just as common as stray dogs.
It’s not enough that the author claims the book speaks on behalf of undocumented people, but that she got the most basic of things wrong. Our main character is somehow surprised by the beauty of the Mexican landscapes and buildings, and then calls the gorgeous color palettes “cartoonish”. Go to Guanajuato or Tepotzotlán and tell me with a straight face the city’s colors are cartoonish.
Our character then proceeds to be shocked and delighted by the Mexicans she comes across in her journey, and by this point it’s been established that there’s simply no way this character is Mexican or even from Mexico, or that the place she’s living in is in no way really Mexico. It’s a trope of Mexico, it’s a stereotype. Jeanine Cummins’ trip to the border for her “research” only solidified her idea of what she thinks Mexico is, and then proceeded to write a story she acknowledged she had no place in writing.
After amassing a 7-figure upfront pay from her publisher, lying about threats that her publisher has now said were non-existent, canceling her book tour as a PR ploy, and then almost immediately selling the film rights for an undisclosed amount, Jeanine Cummins has sold neo-Liberal white people on the same trope the latest Rambo flick espouses: Mexico is a sepia-toned cartel infested hell hole that needs saving by white people.
Flatiron could have published such works by notable authors like Valeria Luiselli or Marcello Hernandez Castillo, but instead decided on the white granddaughter of a Puerto Rican. We know the grandmother is Puerto Rican because until recently Jeanine Cummins had gone on record to say she is, in fact, a white woman, but then to push the sale of her toilet paper she says is a book suddenly the lady has a token ethnic person in her family and magically identifies as “Latinx”.
And the publisher hid the fact that they’re also publishing Oprah’s memoir, so now it’s just a full blown plot of a white woman writing a mediocre tale for an audience who will continue to view Mexico as a stereotypical nation needing saving by the white faux-woke saviors of America, published by a house working closely with Oprah who then placed it on her “prestigious” bookclub, and amassed so much cash for an undeserving novel.
The author, in her own words, said that she is not an authority on the topic but decided that she was to be the voice of the voiceless all while drumming up the tired and racist dialogue of Donald Trump but in a neat package for her painfully white readers to digest. American Dirt is irresponsible and only further disenfranchises writers of color in an industry sorely lacking in equality and justice.
In summary, “American Dirt” is the literary equivalent of that white couple at a Trump rally holding signs that read “BLACKS FOR TRUMP”.