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

 

You Can Still Watch Kobe And Gianna Bryant’s Tearful Memorial Service

Entertainment

You Can Still Watch Kobe And Gianna Bryant’s Tearful Memorial Service

CNN / Twitter

It was a sad and reflective day at the Staples Center today as fans and friends of the late basketball player Kobe Bryant gathered to celebrate his life as well as that of his daughter Gianna Bryant. The memorial held in their honor saw guests speak about their lives, passion for the game of basketball and love for the people they left behind.

Here’s a look at the top most emotional moments from the memorial today.

Christina Aguilera’s “Ave Maria” performance

The six-time Grammy Award-winning singer Christina Aguilera took the stage at Staples to perform “Ave Maria” for Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial service.

Shaq reflected on his rivalry with Kobe.

Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant’s long time competitor, opened up about life as his teammate.

“We fought and we bantered back and forth with offhanded remarks, but make no mistakes, and you folks thought we were on bad terms, and when the cameras were turned off we would wink at each other and said, ‘let’s go whip some ass.'”

O’Neil also shared a sweet anecdote about their relationship as teammates. “Kobe and I always maintained a deep respect and love with one another. The day Kobe gained my respect was when the guys were complaining, and they said, Kobe’s not passing the ball. I said I will talk to him. I said, Kobe, there’s no “I” in team, and he said, I know, but there’s a “Me” in that m**********r.” Shaq recalled he returned back to his other teammates and said “Just get the rebound, he’s not passing.”26 min ago

Michael Jordan described Kobe’s death saying “a piece of me died.”

Michael Jordan had long been attributed to being Kobe Bryant’s inspiration for his successful basketball careers. Speaking about learning about Bryant’s death, Jordan said “When Kobe Bryant died, a piece of me died.”

Kobe’s wife Vanessa brought the stadium to tears with her speech.

Though Kobe’s wife Vanessa gave her speech early on during the memorial, her’s was by far the most sentimental and emotional. Speaking about her daughter Giana, Vanessa recalled how she was “very thoughtful and always kissed me good night and kissed me good morning. There were a few occasions where I was absolutely tired from being up with Bianka and Capri, and i thought she had left to school without saying goodbye. I text and say, ‘No kiss?’ And Gianna would reply with, ‘Mama, I kissed you. You were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.’ She knew how much her morning and evening kisses meant to me, and she was so thoughtful to remember to kiss me every day. She was daddy’s girl, but I know she loved her mama, and she would always show me and tell me that she loved me. She was one of my very best friends.”

Speaking about her husband Kobe, Vanessa recalled how “A couple weeks before they passed Kobe sent me a sweet text and mentioned how he wanted to spend time together, just the two of us, without our kids, because I am his best friend first. We never got the chance to do it. We were busy taking care of our girls and just doing our regular everyday responsibilities. But I’m thankful I have that recent text. It means so much to me. Kobe wanted us to renew our vows. He wanted Natalia to take over his company and he wanted to travel the world together. We talked about how we would be the fun grandparents to our daughters’ children. He would have been the coolest grandpa..”

I Have $150k in Debt — Here’s What Financial Experts Told Me To Do

Things That Matter

I Have $150k in Debt — Here’s What Financial Experts Told Me To Do

Suriyo Hmun Kaew / EyeEm / Getty Images

Money is a topic that is difficult to talk about. Traditionally, society has told us that there are three things that we should not talk about in polite company: religion, politics, and money. Well, politics seems to be the only thing anyone talks about these days. As for religion, well, I’m of the “to each their own” policy. But money is something that we often still ignore — especially when it comes to frank discussions about debt.

Nobody likes to admit that they have debt. Whether it’s credit card debt, student loans, or paying off cars, most of us have something that we’re keeping quiet about. According to CNBC, 70 percent of college students are graduating with a “significant amount of loans” which total $1.5 trillion in debt for the over 44 million Americans who have student loan debt. In fact, a recent survey revealed that two-thirds of millennials have at least $10,000 in student debt and more than a third admitted to over $30,000 in debt, according to Inc.

Even worse, 42 percent of those that had more than $30,000 in debt were women and 11 percent of millennials have over $100,000 in student loan debt. Unsurprisingly, credit card debt is actually even higher for millennials (at 46 percent) and car loans come in just behind student loans (at 34 percent). Then there’s also medical debt to think about, as well as the 20 percent of millennials who actually have a mortgage.

Some of us, like me, have debt in all of the categories.

When my husband and I met and moved in together just six weeks into our relationship, we did it because we were in love and knew we wanted to be together for the long haul.

ehplusmoney/Instagram

However, what we didn’t know at the time (and came to learn very quickly) is that we both came with a heaping amount of debt. Now, two and a half years into our relationship and nine months into our marriage, I can tell you that our debt has only increased: Collectively, we have around $150,000 in debt — about $100k of that in student loans, $40k in car loans, and another $10k in credit cards and medical bills. Add to that the fact that we just bought our first house and, well, our financial situation has gotten a bit more complicated.

It’s not easy to talk about finances, and it’s especially not an easy thing to do with someone you love. Sadly, money is often cited as a common cause of marriages falling apart — which is precisely why my husband and I are trying to tackle these issues sooner than later. I know that we won’t get out of debt any time soon, but having a secure financial plan is a good way to step into our future, together. So, shortly, after getting married, we decided to speak with some financial experts about how exactly to tackle our $150k in debt… WITHOUT driving each other crazy or stopping some of our other personal goals (like traveling together or having kids in the next couple of years).

Nora Dunn, a former Certified Financial Planner and blogger behind the financially savvy travel site, The Professional Hobo, told us that a lot of it depends on what we as a couple are earning and what our goals are. Dunn advised that my husband and I evaluate the importance of each of our goals. Was buying a house more important than taking vacation? How much did we expect to spend on a house based on the market in our area? According to her, it was all about taking an ‘everything in moderation’ plan, where we would examine our take-home income and expenses, and then divide our disposable income between different goals, depending on how our goals are prioritized.

After some discussion, we decided that prioritizing goals, and dividing our income accordingly, definitely seemed like a good place to start. In fact, Shana Bickel, CPA and Financial Coach, mirrored that advice when she told me that “it is not for me to tell the couple how to prioritize their financial goals.” The important thing, she says, is “to identify and get very clear about those goals and then develop a plan to pay off debt while saving for a home and allowing travel that makes sense for their financial health and well being.”

Another financial expert took a more straightforward approach.

black_girl_success/Instagram

“Sell those cars!” said Lynne Somerman and The Wiser Miser. “If you’ve got big financial goals like this, there’s no situation where I can recommend $40K in car loans when you can buy a reliable used vehicle for $10K. Even assuming you still need two cars, that’s $30K that you’ve now got towards a down payment. After that, it would depend on the type and interest rates on the student loans. If they’re private loans, go aggressively after them. If the interest is higher than about 4-5% on the student loans, they’d be my next priority. If their income is high enough, you could do both here.”

However, David Rae, a Certified Financial Planner based in Los Angeles, has a more realistic approach.

“Get those cars paid off and drive them forever!” he advised. “You don’t need a new car every two or three years. My car is paid off, and I plan to drive it forever. Each of those car payments is like a trip to Europe each year. Would you rather have a brand new car or a trip to Europe?”

He’s definitely right about that, which is why we have made paying off our cars our #2 priority (after paying off our credit cards), since we’d also like to save for an international trip in the near future. Rae also reminds me that, although student loans are important, so is saving for retirement.

“The student loans are going to take a long time to pay off. Get serious about them, but make sure to contribute to your retirement at least enough to get a company match,” he said. “This will be like free money from your boss, and the government will give you break on your taxes.”

Meanwhile, Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, a money coach who runs The Fiscal Femme, said that it is all about opportunity cost.

“We can only use or spend each dollar we have once, no matter how much or little money we have,” she reminds me. “How can we use it in a way that will maximize our joy per dollar in the shorter and long-term? It’s about looking at each option and choosing consciously. If a couple is paying down their debt and that’s really important to them but they also want to travel, they might decide to let go of expenses in other areas to make that work. What expenses aren’t bringing them much joy? Would they rather live in a less expensive apartment for the time being so that they have more money to travel? When we take a look at each expense annually (including our bills) it’s much easier to see where our money is going and decide if we want to allocate it any differently.”

Taking a look at our overall finances, my husband and I were able to use this advice to devise some financial goals, set some priorities, create a payment plan, and figure out what we want to save for.

barefootbudgetmama/Instagram

It took some serious negotiating but we came away with a clearer picture of our finances. It’s not going to be easy, mind you. Having debt as a couple is difficult, but unfortunately, something that almost all of us face these days. If you don’t have student loans, then you might have a car payment or credit card debt or medical bills from that time before ACA when you didn’t have health insurance and ended up in the hospital (guilty!). But ultimately, the best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to your finances, whether you are coupled up or not, is to do the work to figure it out.

As Rae put it, “Get serious about your finances now — it won’t get easier when you have kids. You may make more money but you will be busier and tired. Parenting is hard. Just saying.”