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

 

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People Are Calling Demi Lovato Entitled For Threatening a Frozen Yogurt Shop

Entertainment

People Are Calling Demi Lovato Entitled For Threatening a Frozen Yogurt Shop

Photos via Getty Images

We can all agree that Demi Lovato has been through a lot. She had a rough childhood, a troubled adolescence, and an adulthood filled with addiction and eating disorders. But, going through a lot doesn’t excuse disrespectful behavior. And this time, the source of her wrath was…a frozen yogurt shop.

Earlier this week, Demi Lovato caught major heat for publicly calling out a small frozen yogurt chain for being “diet culture vultures.”

Lovato took to her Instagram to blast local LA fro-yo shop The Bigg Chill for having sugar-free and gluten-free frozen yogurt options.

“Finding it extremely hard to order froyo from @thebiggchillofficial when you have to walk past tons of sugar free cookies/other diet foods before you get to the counter. Do better please,” she wrote on her Instagram stories.

She continued: “You can find a way to provide an inviting environment for all people with different needs. Including eating disorders—one of the deadliest mental illnesses only second to [opioid] overdoses. Don’t make excuses, just do better.”

As soon as Demi’s Instagram story went up, people were annoyed that Lovato was tagging a small chain with a lot less power and followers than her.

Demi also posted DM screenshots between her and the frozen yogurt shop, where some interpreted Demi as being rude to the business owners. The owners tried to defend themselves, saying that they were not “diet culture vultures”, but Demi refused to hear it.

“Not just that. Your service was terrible. So rude. The whole experience was triggering and awful,” she wrote back. “You can carry things for other people while also caring for another percentage of your customers who struggle DAILY just to even step foot in your store.”

To make matters worse, TMZ got their hands on some other screenshots between Demi Lovato and the frozen yogurt shop that showed Demi low-key threatening them.

“Don’t keep going with this,” the screenshots say. “You don’t want to mess with me. You’re in the wrong and the customer is always right. You already know this, listen to your customer and do better.”

Needless to say, it didn’t sit right with some people that Demi Lovato, a high-powered celeb, was using her power to possibly blackball a small business.

“Demi Lovato using her army of millions of followers to target a small business for daring to offer healthy ice cream options is really pathetic,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Imagine threatening a small business like that,” wrote another. “This is the real her and exactly why I don’t buy her victim narrative. ‘You don’t want to mess with me’ or what? You’re going to burn down someone’s business and livelihood??”

After the immense amount of backlash, Demi Lovato apologized. But some people felt that the apology was more “Sorry, Not Sorry” than from the heart.

Demi Lovato addressed the controversy in an Instagram video. “I’m sorry that I got the messaging wrong. I’m sorry that I may have disappointed some people,” she said.

“I’m not coming after a small business as someone with a lot of followers. That’s not what I’m doing here,” she continued. “I walked into a situation that didn’t sit right with me. My intuition said, ‘Speak up about this.’ So I did, and I feel good about that. What I don’t feel good about is…how the message has gotten misconstrued.”

But as of now, fans and casual followers alike aren’t convinced. “I fully wish her well in her mental health and eating disorder struggles,” wrote one Twitter user. “But even after the initial message and backlash…she kept going. And kinda threatened them. She’s came off as a rich, entitled Karen.”

Here’s to hoping Demi lives and learns for the better.

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Ecuadorian Sisters, 3 And 5, Dropped By Smugglers From 14 Ft High Mexico-US Border Wall

Things That Matter

Ecuadorian Sisters, 3 And 5, Dropped By Smugglers From 14 Ft High Mexico-US Border Wall

New York Post

A recent video shared by a border patrol agent highlighted a shocking moment of smugglers literally dropping two little girls over a 14-foot high fence in the New Mexico desert. Right in the dead of night.

In the disturbing video, the smugglers can be seen climbing the fence and then dropping the two 5-year-old and 3-year-old sisters to the ground.

El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez shared that the incident occurred “miles from the nearest residence.”

The two little girls (Yareli, 3, and Yasmina, 5) were rescued after agents spotted them during a virtual surveillance sweep. The two sisters are from Ecuador and were dumped by human smugglers at the border wall according to an official.

“[US Immigration officials] need to verify the identity of the parents and confirm they are the parents and make sure they are in good condition to receive the girls,” Magdalena Nunez, of the Consulate of Ecuador in Houston, explained to The New York Post on Thursday. “It’s a process … We’re working to make sure it’s an expedited process and the girls spend as minimal time as possible separated from their parents.”

“Hopefully it can happen soon, in a week or two, but  it can take up to six weeks. We are working to make sure sure it happens as quickly as possible,” she explained before noting that the two sisters are “doing very well.”

“We have been in contact with them and confirmed they are in good health,” Nunez shared. “Physically, they are perfect — emotionally, obviously, they went through a hard time, but I guarantee you right now they are in good health and they are conversing. They are very alert, very intelligent.”

In a statement about the incident, the Ecuadorian consulate confirmed that the two girls had been in touch with their parents, who live in New York City.

“The Ecuadorian Consulate in Houston had a dialogue with the minors and found that they are in good health and that they contacted their parents, who currently live in New York City,” explained the consulate.

In a statement from the girls’ parents sent to Telemundo, the girls’ parents had left their daughters behind at their home in Jaboncillo, Ecuador, to travel to the US. The parents of the two girls have been identified as Yolanda Macas Tene and Diego Vacacela Aguilar. According to the New York Post, “The girls’ grandparents have asked President Biden to reunite the children with their parents. Aguilar paid a human smuggler to take his kids to the border — though the grandparents didn’t know how much they paid.”

“[The parents] wanted to be with them, their mother suffered a lot, for that reason they decided to take them,” paternal grandfather Lauro Vacacela explained in an interview with Univision.

It is still uncertain as to whether or not the girls’ parents are in the country legally.

Photos of the girls showed them having snacks with Agent Gloria Chavez.

“When I visited with these little girls, they were so loving and so talkative, some of them were asking the names of all the agents that were there around them, and they even said they were a little hungry,” Chavez told Fox News. “So I helped them peel a banana and open a juice box and just talked to them. You know, children are just so resilient and I’m so grateful that they’re not severely injured or [have] broken limbs or anything like that.”

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