Between the Lines: ‘American Dirt’ is American trash


Ethan Gullet

Illustration by Ethan Gullett

Paris Cantu, Staff Writer

“American Dirt” is written by a white author who appropriates the undocumented immigrant’s struggle and portrays Mexican immigrants with racist stereotypes.

“American Dirt” is hardly an attempt at representing the largest minority group in the U.S. The plot is a cheap thrill and makes a farce out of the immigrant’s plight. In chapter four, “Mami” is flirting with the head of a cartel, and I laughed because it reads like a poorly funded telenovela.

Jeanine Cummins, the author of “American Dirt,” is not Mexican, nor is she an immigrant. However, her book is about a mother and son who cross the border while running from the cartel.

In her author’s note, which is seven pages of tried validation, she writes, “I wish someone slightly browner than me would write it.”

Cummins is not brown. If she were “slightly browner,” she’d have a light tan. Brown people have written these books: “The Lost Children Archive” by Valeria Luiselli and “The Devil’s Highway” by Luis Alberto. It is unfair to accuse brown people of their lack of representation when Cummins is a precise demonstration of the problem.

In an NPR interview, Cummins says she is aware of her privilege and lack of cultural understanding, and she claims “that’s not a problem that [she] can fix, nor is it a problem that [she’s] responsible for.”

No single person can solve misrepresentation, but she is not bringing light to the issue by appropriating the Mexican immigrant experience. She received a barbed wire manicure in celebration of her book release, and her book release party had centerpieces adorned with actual barbed wire. A historical symbol of tyranny is not a decoration. It is ignorant — just as ignorant as her book.