What 'American Dirt' Gets Wrong

13 min
 (Lupita Reads)

Many Latinx writers, including here in the Bay Area, have expressed frustration with American Dirt, a new book by Jeanine Cummins that has been called the next great American novel. Oprah even selected it for her book club.

But it's also been criticized for an inaccurate, stereotypical depiction of migrants who are trying to cross the US-Mexico border.

"If it had been published and kind of billed as, 'This is our romanticized view of the border and its just for entertainment,' there's room for that on the shelves for whoever wants to read that story," said Ingrid Rojas Contreras, author of Fruit of the Drunken Tree.

"To call it the novel of Las Americas and to put this much attention on a book that is actually erasing the politics at the border, I think, does more harm than good," she said.

And all the hype surrounding the novel's release - including a seven-figure advance for Cummins - has raised questions about which stories about migrants get attention, and which ones don't.

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"Look where we're at," said Oscar Villalon, managing editor of the journal Zyzzyva. "If it hasn't been driven into your skull by now, clearly, not all Americans are valued the same."

Guests: Ingrid Rojas Contreras, author of Fruit of the Drunken Tree, and Oscar Villalon, managing editor of the journal Zyzzyva

Oscar Villalon's Recommendations:

"The Devil's Highway: A True Story" by Luis Alberto Urrea
"The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail" by Oscar Martinez
"The Distance Between Us: A Memoir" by Reyna Grande
"The Faraway Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life" by Lauren Markham's
"By the Lake of Sleeping Children: The Secret Life of the Mexican Border" by Luis Alberto Urrea
"The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story" by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

Ingrid Rojas Contreras' Recommendations:

"Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions" by Valeria Luiselli
"Retablos" by Octavio Solis
"Unaccompanied" by Javier Zamora
"Tears of the Trufflepig" by Francisco Flores
"Signs Preceding the End of the World" by Yuri Herrera
"Lost Children Archive" by Valeria Luiselli