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American Dirt is a 2020 novel by Jeanine Cummins, published by Flatiron Books. It is about a Mexican bookseller who is forced to flee as an illegal immigrant to the United States after her journalist husband exposes a local drug kingpin. It was a New York Times best seller, selling over 3 million copies worldwide in 37 languages. However, it also gained criticism from Mexican-American authors for its alleged cultural exploitation.
American Dirt was praised by Oprah Winfrey, Sandra Cisneros, Polly Rosenwaike, Maureen Corrigan, Jacob M. Appel, Myriam Gurba, and David Bowles. It received glowing reviews from Mexican-American writers Sandra Cisneros, Polly Rosenwaike, Maureen Corrigan, Jacob M. Appel, Myriam Gurba, and David Bowles. However, Myriam Gurba’s negative review of the protagonist gave the impression that Lydia is not a credible Mexican.
Daniel Olivas argued that American Dirt is an insult to Latinx writers, and that it is not about censorship. A group of Latino writers formed a campaign and hashtag to demand greater representation of Latino writers and investigate discriminatory practices in the publishing industry. It is criticized for its choice to position the main character as “forced” to illegally cross the border, which makes it easier for white American readers to sympathize with the plot.
Two reviews of the book were published in the New York Times, with Parul Sehgal panned and Lauren Groff panned. Guillermo Arriaga praised it, saying that neither he nor anyone he discussed It with in Mexico felt that the author was out of bounds.
Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco and runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, and a husband who is a journalist. When Javier, the jefe of the newest drug cartel, is revealed to be the jefe of the cartel, Lydia and Luca are forced to flee and join the countless people trying to reach the United States. American Dirt is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity, and is one of the most important books for our times.
One day, a man enters the shop and buys two of her favorite books. When Lydia’s husband’s profile of Javier is published, Lydia and Luca are forced to flee and join the countless people trying to reach the United States.
Luca Delgado, 8, and his family are celebrating their cousin quinceaera in Acapulco, Mexico when assassins come looking for Sebastian. Lydia Quixano hides in the shower and tells Luca to leave. Lydia meets Javier Crespo Fuentes as a customer in her bookstore and they become friends. During the warring cartels in Acapulco, La Lechuza is Javier and Lydia confides in Sebastian about her friendship with him. Lydia and Luca arrive at a migrant shelter in Huehuetoca, Mexico, where Padre Rey, his helper Nestor, and Sister Cecilia provide them with food and a place to sleep. Lydia is a church counselor and pays the required bribes, but is stopped at a roadblock and some boys carrying AR-15s check the vans. Lydia then decides to fly to a city near the northern border, but does not have Luca’s birth certificate. She then decides to walk to the border, arriving in Huehuetoca and being fed and given a place to sleep.
Lydia’s plan is to head north until the border, find a coyote to cross the border, and then take a bus to Denver. She meets two migrant girls, Soledad and Rebeca, who show them how to board La Bestia via overpasses. The girls explain that they left Honduras when a gang leader took a liking to Soledad, who was raped and pregnant. They arrive at a migrant shelter in Celaya, where a priest warns them to turn back if possible.
Luca spots the man who got kicked out for assaulting the girl at the first shelter and his tattoo identifies him as one of the Los Jardineros. Lydia confronts Lorenzo, who informs her that Javier’s daughter Marta killed herself after finding out the truth about her father. Outside Guadalajara, Lydia and Luca arrive at a shelter, but immigration officials arrive and they are rounded up and taken to a warehouse in Novalato. Luca demands that they save Soledad and Rebeca, and Lydia gives up the rest of their money to save them. Beto, Lydia, and Luca travel southbound from Tijuana, where it used to be easy to cross the border. They arrive at Nogales and contact El Chacal, but Lydia needs to withdraw money from her mother’s account to pay. Paola gives her all the money in her mother’s account and Beto pays the $6,000 to cross.
Luca is standing in the bathroom of his abuela’s bathroom when one of the first bullets comes in through the open window above the toilet. Mami is there and Luca trips on the raised tile step and falls forward onto her hands. Mami shoves Luca into the corner of the bathroom, where there is no door or curtain. Luca’s back is wedged, his knees drawn up to his chin, and Mami is clinched around him like a tortoise’s shell. The door of the bathroom remains open, which worries Luca, but he doesn’t know that his mother left it open on purpose.
Luca’s mother pulls her head up to look him in the eye and covers his ears. Outside, Papi is grilling carne asada and Luca’s favorite chicken drumsticks. Luca’s cousin Adrián is wearing cleats and his Hernández jersey. Luca’s mami rocks in her squatting position, checking the house.
Luca and Mami are trapped in Abuela’s bathroom, with the man in the hallway using his AK-47 to open the door. They stay there, fixed in their tight knot of arms, legs, knees, chins, and clenched eyelids. Luca is in a bad dream, but he always wakes up with relief. This is the modern bogeymen of urban Mexico, where even parents cannot prevent their children from talking to one another. Despite their courage, Luca knows this day will come, but it does not soften its arrival.
Luca’s mother removes the clamp of her hand from his neck, and he experiences a brief, lurching exhilaration at the fact that he is alive. Luca touches the cut on his lip and understands that if this was a dream, he would not taste blood. Luca obeys his mother’s directive, as he doesn’t want to see his family in Abuela’s backyard. Luca and Adrián are four months apart, but Luca is an only child. Abuela criticized Luca, but Mami was always on Luca’s side. Outside the window, Luca hears Mami’s tentative footsteps, a solitary gasp, and a quickening of sound as she crosses the patio with purpose.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins has been the most talked about novel of the new decade. It has been accused of being a one-dimensional portrayal of Mexico and exploitative, and has been accused of factual inaccuracies and an over-reliance on stereotypes. However, it is still a good thriller with plenty of chases, suspense and action. The novel “La Bestia” is a result of diligent research.
It includes details such as conditions on a freight train and the impact of Programa Frontera Sur, a joint U.S.-Mexican funded initiative to keep migrants off the train. However, the book has some issues, such as questionable plot decisions and characterizations. The protagonist Lydia is particularly saintly and stupid, and her husband is a murderer/rapist. The cultural inaccuracies that have been pointed out by reviewers. These include Lydia’s “foreign gaze” when she journeys through Mexico, the repeated references to “brown” skin, and the stereotypes about Mexico that are pervasive throughout the book. Additionally, the characters wonder why a gang leader is nicknamed “La Lechuza”, which means “the owl”, since owls aren’t scary in Mexican culture for thousands of years. Literature is rife with inaccuracies and inaccurate portrayals of places or people, and reviewers should be more honest about what they don’t know. Writers must be able to write about people outside of themselves, but the burden of doing the work to portray them accurately and responsibly is especially high for sensitive topics.
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