A Response to American Dirt: Books about Immigration to Read Instead

by    /  April 3, 2020  / Comments Off on A Response to American Dirt: Books about Immigration to Read Instead

In January, when Oprah announced the addition of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins to her book club, Twitter caught fire with disappointment and anger. The novel soon became widely panned as people began to share a scathing takedown written by Miriam Gurba.

After Gurba’s review  — which had previously been flying under the radar — it became clear to anyone skimming the jacket copy that Cummins’ novel cheapens the immigrant experience by romanticizing Mexican immigration to the United States. The novel (which I have not read — nor intend to) focuses on a fictional mother and son’s expedition across the border as catalyzed by an attack from a drug cartel. And before long, after the online dust-up, Cummins’ book gained more notoriety for its controversy than for its prose. 

American Dirt retreads the same stereotypes and tropes commonly used to marginalize Latinx people. These tropes and stereotypes alone highlight how Cummins’ novel is a work pushing far into cultural appropriation. After all, the author — herself  — said in a 2015 New York Times op-ed that she has identified as white throughout her life, despite being born in Spain. Additionally, she tried to bolster American Dirt’s release by sharing that her husband was once an undocumented immigrant. Cummins, however, failed to disclose that her husband was from Ireland, not Mexico or somewhere else in Latin America as most would assume.

This novel and its attention — positive and negative — are dangerous for its alignment with such a fraught, hostile time for United States immigration. Despite its high misrepresentation and central use of minorities as pawns within the narrative, the novel still stands high on Amazon’s Most Sold Book Charts. Which is why we’re happy to present our list of alternative reading suggestions below.

Considering our mission to uplift freedom of expression and representation for underrepresented groups, the staff of Sampsonia Way felt a vital importance to respond to American Dirt with a list of books that illustrate the ever-expanding history of immigration and the wide range of immigrant narratives. 


Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

The Refugees by Việt Thanh Nguyễn

The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú

Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother by Sonia Nazario

Tropic of Orange by Karen Tei Yamashita

And as always — and we know this goes without saying — we recommend you use your local bookstores to scoop up your title of choice. Our favorite is City of Asylum Books! 

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