Nowadays, no opinion thermometer is more accurate than social networks. Especially Twitter, where the hottest debates can even determine a White House presidency.
This time it was the response to Jeanine Cummins’ new novel American Dirt that triggered a series of viral posts under the hashtag #writingmylatinonovel a trend that rejects commonplaces and the perpetuation of the Latino stereotype from privileged white literature.
Although Oprah Winfrey incorporated Cummins’ book into her latest Book Club selection, criticism from the Latino community over the past few days has been relentless.
The story tells the journey of a mother and her son who must flee Mexico and try to find refuge in the United States and, despite the fact that the author claimed to have documented the process of creating the characters for four years, the distance between her voice and the reality that the immigrant community in the region is experiencing has become palpable.
We no longer speak of a white person talking about the experience of excluded minorities, but of the alleged appropriation of the narrative and experience of others when it is economically convenient.
While authors such as Stephen King, Ann Patchett, Sandra Cisneros, and Julia Alvarez have praised the text — the book has already sold the rights to a film — other critics, such as Mexican–American author Myriam Gurba have had more to say.
In a column for Tropics of Meta, Gurba attacks Cummins’ work for reinforcing the color difference within Latino culture.
Writing in Spanglish, the writer describes American Dirt as a “obra de caca” that “belongs to the great American tradition of doing the following:
- Appropriating genius works by people of color
- Slapping a coat of mayonesa on them to make palatable to taste buds estados-unidenses and
- Repackaging them for mass racially “colorblind” consumption.
Gurba goes even further saying: “Rather than look us in the eye, many gabachos prefer to look down their noses at us,” referring to the colonialist remnant of seeing otherness as an appropriable phenomenon.
“Rather than face that we are their moral and intellectual equals, they happily pity us. Pity is what inspires their sweet tooth for Mexican pain, a craving many of them hide,” she furiously adds. “This denial motivates their spending habits, resulting in a preference for trauma porn that wears a social justice fig leaf. To satisfy this demand, Cummins tossed together American Dirt, a ‘road thriller’ that wears an I’m-giving-a-voice-to-the-voiceless-masses merkin.”
But since literature has many voices, perhaps it is better to let the public speak and really see how stereotypes are dismantled, one tweet at a time.
Writing my Latino novel: Vamos al El Noa Noa, Noa Noa /Aaaay Papi, you are so guapo y happy / I brought a box of conchas / Conchas? Greasy conchas?/ Si, Mami. Brown conchas, brown like our tanned immigrant childhood Remember? / ¡ que Delicioso rico! https://t.co/epQ5jD2yOV
— Esmeralda Bermudez (@LATBermudez) January 22, 2020
Writing my Latino novel: “Bullets ring through the air. Mi aBuELa making arroz con pollo. I always watch Home Alone: Lost in New York when I’m sick. ‘Mijo, the volume is too high,’ she says in Spanish. More bullets. Merry Christmas ya filthy animal, he says. Feliz Navidad indeed” https://t.co/oU6gzdPEho
— Zoraida Córdova (@zlikeinzorro) January 21, 2020
Can't wait to start teaching next week just to draw examples from #writingmyLatinonovel thread. What a great recourse for teaching/research Latinx representations in literature, media and cultural studies. You are all geniouses.💫
— Arlene Dávila (@arlenedavila1) January 22, 2020
#WritingMyLatinoNovel: "I left my casa after kissing mami and eating a carnitas taco, my tío's favorite, also known as La Parca, head of the Zapopan Cartel. He used to buy piñatas for us as kids. I looked back on the barrio, thinking of what I'd leave behind. La luna was full." https://t.co/10cxIjOUlF
— Camila Cienfuegos (@Camblebod) January 22, 2020
This writer wrote a fake ass social justice book. Don't read it because it a) the pinche book sucks and b) it will turn you stupid. Do, however, read my bitchy critique https://t.co/WAaR3ZGs6Y
— Myriam Chingona Gurba de Serrano (@lesbrains) December 12, 2019
Writing my Latino novel:
I joined The Los Locos gang when I was a fetus. Later that day I sold heroin Chiclets at the border. My mother Frida Kahlo was a hitman for the cartels. Our home was a pyramid. I've never seen the beach. The Virgin of Guadalupe stole my lowrider. Again.
— Mexican Judge (@laloalcaraz) January 22, 2020