Things That Matter

Here’s Why The Oprah Winfrey-Promoted Book ‘American Dirt’ Is Getting So Much Heat

Whether or not you follow Oprah’s Book Club, you’ve likely heard about the controversy surrounding the most recent novel on her list: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. The book follows protagonist Lydia Quixano Pérez, a middle-class Mexican bookseller who escapes Acapulco with her 8-year-old son, Luca, after a drug cartel massacres their family at a quinceañera. When Lydia and Luca flee to the US on a freight train, the story unfolds as a chronicle of two migrants’ dangerous journey across the border.

On the surface, American Dirt appears to draw much-needed attention to the experience of countless people seeking safety and prosperity in the US—and while many folks are debating whether or not the book actually succeeds in doing this, it was definitely marketed that way.

After igniting a bidding war between nine publishing houses, American Dirt was ultimately sold to Flatiron Books for seven figures in 2018. With its topical and pervasive subject matter, the publishers assumed that the book would be a hit—and at first, it was. It was endorsed by major writers and celebrities, from Stephen King to Salma Hayek, and it received glowing reviews from several Latina authors, including Sandra Cisneros, Reyna Grande, and Julia Alvarez. Preorders from booksellers were so abundant that Flatiron increased its first printing from 300,000 copies to 500,000. And, of course, Oprah announced that the novel would feature as her Book Club’s first read of 2020.

But with all the hype that preceded American Dirt’s January 21 release came questions about its validity.

Credit: Youtube / CBS News

In May of last year, Flatiron held a book promotion dinner honoring the novel, and the event featured floral arrangements wrapped in barbed wire—an aesthetic choice that sparked a fair amount of early skepticism about the book (on Twitter, the decor was decried as “border chic”). Several prominent figures in the literary world are accusing Cummins—who referred to herself as “white” in a 2015 New York Times essay, but now identifies as “white and Latinx”—of cultural appropriation, asserting that she is capitalizing on the suffering of a group that she doesn’t belong to (though one of her grandmothers was Puerto Rican). Many Latinx writers have expressed disdain for the publishing industry’s tendency to support white authors telling the stories of marginalized groups, rather than elevating authors who actually identify with those groups themselves. Others are simply critical about the prose, lamenting Cummins’ clumsy reliance on racial stereotypes and use of a Spanish not typical of Mexico.

And although several Latinx folks are either actively critiquing or distancing themselves from the book, others remain optimistic about its effect on pop culture. Cristian Perez, a 25-year-old teacher who is Mexican-American, told the New York Times that he” had not heard about American Dirt or the controversy, but he was glad to see a writer using her ‘privilege’ to ‘bring light to the misfortunes of other people.’”

Mexican-American poet and novelist Erika L. Sánchez had initially said that the novel was written with “grace, compassion, and precision,” but recently mentioned in an interview that she wouldn’t have supported the book so fervently if she had known it would cause so much tumult. Still, she added, “I hope this book inadvertently opens up doors for people of color.”

Cummins insists that her aim was to do just that—to highlight the very real, very urgent plight of Latinx immigrants, though she realized she may not be the best person to do so. In the afterword to the novel, Cummins wrote that she wishes that “someone slightly browner than [her] would write” this story—another statement that has not sat well with her critics, as it seems to dismiss the many excellent Latinx authors writing this type of story every day.

Credit: Heather Sten / The New York Times

In regard to the controversy, Cummins stands by her book and the creative decisions she made while writing it. “I do think that the conversation about cultural appropriation is incredibly important, but I also think that there is a danger sometimes of going too far toward silencing people,” she told the New York Times. “Everyone should be engaged in telling these stories, with tremendous care and sensitivity.”

As the contention surrounding American Dirt runs its course, all eyes are on the publishing industry, which continues to fumble its attempts to make the literary landscape more inclusive. A 2015 study showed that white people made up 79% of the industry overall, with only 6% of the industry comprised by Latinx folks. Let’s hope that after the conversation sparked by American Dirt, 2020 looks a lot different.

And in the meantime, here’s a quick list of books by Latina authors that you should read right now! Thanks to our Instagram followers for the recommendations!

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende

With the Fire on High, by Elizabeth Acevedo

In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez

Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina, by Raquel Cepeda

The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros

Dominicana, by Angie Cruz

Malinche, by Laura Esquivel

In the Country We Love, by Diane Guerrero

Juliet Takes a Breath, by Gabby Rivera

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika L. Sánchez

 

An 80-Year-Old Man Was Beaten And Robbed At A Grocery store

Things That Matter

An 80-Year-Old Man Was Beaten And Robbed At A Grocery store

KTLA / Twitter

Roberto Flores Lopez, an 80-year-old man, who was grocery shopping with his wife in Lancaster, California was assaulted last Wednesday when he went to the restroom. Now police officials in the area are seeking information on his assailant while his family awaits his recovery.

Last week, Lancaster deputies received a 911 call around 8:30 a.m. in response to an assault that occurred with a deadly weapon at a grocery store.

The assault, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lancaster Station, took place in the 1000 block of East Avenue J and occurred in the bathroom of a grocery store. At the time, Lopez and his wife had headed to the store for a shopping trip when he went to the restroom. According to Lopez’s son, Francisco Ordorico, his father was found “inside the bathroom and he was bleeding on the floor.”

When police arrived on the scene, Lopez told them that he had been assaulted while inside the store’s restroom by someone who repeatedly punched and kicked him and then stole his wallet. According to witnesses, said the suspect, who is described as a Black man between the ages of 22 to 25, left the store while on foot. The suspect was seen in a white T-shirt and blue shorts and at almost 5 feet, 8 inches tall he potentially weighed 250 pounds.

According to KTLA Lopez “was transported to Antelope Valley Hospital and is currently being treated for facial injuries and several broken ribs.”

Ordorico told the outlet that his father had been “rushed to the hospital and placed in an intensive care unit.” KTLA also reports that even after Lopez gave the attacker his wallet, he continued to kick him and punch him in the head to the point that Lopez had to beg for his life.

“At this time, there is no evidence indicating this is a hate crime and seems exclusive to be a robbery,” the sheriff’s department wrote in a statement. According to officials, investigations into Lopez’s attack are ongoing and anyone with information about the incident or the suspect are asked to contact station detectives at 661-948-8466.

A 9-Year-Old Was Tragically Shot Four Times While Making TikTok Videos With His Siblings

Things That Matter

A 9-Year-Old Was Tragically Shot Four Times While Making TikTok Videos With His Siblings

Javonni Carson / GoFundMe

Javonni Carson, a 9-year-old boy from Atlanta, was making TikTok videos with his siblings when he was shot four times. The incident occurred last week, during a drive-by shooting that injured several other people.

Carson was shot four times in a drive-by shooting while he was making TikTok videos with his siblings.

Carson’s mother Keyona told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that her son was supposed to enter into the fourth grade this year and that he had been filming videos for TikTok with his siblings when the incident occurred.

Medical providers attempted to save his life during surgery for injuries that happened to his leg. According to Keyona, he is expected to recover. “My other two kids were there, too, and they saw everything,” Keyona explained. “Someone just drove by and started shooting… My 11-year-old said he was trying to crawl over to [Javonni], but there were already so many people on the ground.”

Keyona went on to explain that Javonni’s father rushed her son to the hospital and that she “didn’t know anything until I got to the hospital. I just knew he’d been shot.”

Two adults, who remain alive, were involved in the incident and were also shot according to an incident report.

According to the incident report, the shots were fired into a crowd in a parking lot, causing people to run and hide behind cars.

The shooter who was driving in the car has not yet been identified. Family members have set up a GoFundMe page to pay for Javonni’s recovery. According to the page which has  raised $8,749 out of its $20,000 goal, Javonni is an ” honor roll student at Deerwood  Academy also a striving football player and rapper he is loved by many because [of] his character and personality.”

“Thank for all the support for my family from families that don’t even know us and I send my own personal condolences to the other families that also felt this pain that no family should have to face,” the GoFundMe concludes. “Pray and Love on your families because they can be taken away at any moment.”