The Uproar Over American Dirt
You’ve probably heard about the uproar over the author Janine Cummins. The one that identifies as Latina but white as well. She wrote the new book called American Dirt. The one that Oprah and her book club are going gaga over right now. Oprah even taking to Twitterverse and praising the book as “a page-turner you can’t put down”.
Some folks are furious that Cummins, a white Latina by self-expression, is “misappropriating” a culture. “They” – got to love the all-encompassing “they”, as if “they” know everything and all – are all upset that she may not be representing the Latino\Latina culture, what they call “the real” story of crossing the border. Now, the question is – who is the “they”.
Is it the media banging that be all, end all “gotta get the clicks” drum? No controversy, so make some controversy. Is it a PR campaign by the author’s publishing house (Penguin Random House) with the help of Oprah and her book club? Is it real people? A combination of all of the above?
Look at the woman to the right. No, really look at her. You can tell she is Latina or at least has Latina roots. Did she come from Mexico and crosses the border, say as Cesar Millan did (yes that Dog Whisperer)? No, no she didn’t. She was BORN in SPAIN!! The motherland, A Spaniard from Spain. She studied creative writing at Towson Uni before moving to Belfast, then moved to New York where she worked in publishing for 10 years. Despite all of that – she is still Latina. Not a Mexican who crossed the border herself, but then Stephan King isn’t a gunslinger and Anne Rice isn’t a vampire, and I’m certainly not a serial murderer (Bone Jar). She didn’t misappropriate anything, she took what she saw, heard – what moved her and wrote about it in a fictional book. There’s nothing controversial about pulling a Charles Dickens by writing about what you’ve seen, heard, sometimes what you’ve felt, and what you may not have gone through but others stories have moved you. That’s the primary job of an author, a writer isn’t it?
Look, we can all die on this hill of semantics or we can share in the rich, global culture of being a human being. She took something that moved her that’s all over the media, being talked about by both sides of the border crossing “debate” and wrote a fictional story about it. I’m all for write what you know, with how connected we are these days with the internet, everything is at our fingertips (sic keyboards, screens, devices, and so forth), and writing what you research thoroughly is as good as writing what you know. Most, if not all authors write because there is a means behind their purpose. Sometimes it’s to show that we can overcome misery (Margret Atwood, Handmaid’s Tale), fight for the world (Stephen King, pick a book, anyone), fight for justice (Nancy A. Collins, Sonja Blue Collection), or just plain entertain.