Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

First off, let me start by saying that my initial thought upon finding out that the writer was not Mexican was shock and skepticism on how the quality and veracity of the writing would be. I didn’t expect the book to be one of the best books I have read in the past year.

If you are anything like me and have doubts regarding this book, then let me tell you why I loved it. The simplest way to put it was that there was so much truth to this book. This book felt like hearing someone I know tell the story. I have heard accounts like the ones in this book many times. Granted, nothing as grand as being one on one with the head honcho but many, many stories of people being scared for their lives. Shop owners in Mexico closing down because they could no longer afford to pay the cartels. Shop owners grieving because their children were killed when they couldn’t pay the quotas. Those stories are true and still happen today. The police have no choice at times but to be corrupt and many take the opportunity to self-indulge, knowing there isn’t anything that can be done against them anyways.

This book is based on the extreme end of things that can happen. Coming to the United States wasn’t as difficult as it is now. There were safe ways to come across the border and yet stories like the ones in this book existed. I know and have known relatives/friends in similar situations. Seeing someone fresh from crossing the desert is tough. Having grown up in border town, I was used to our house being a stopping point for many of these relatives/friends. I remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing hushed voices and the smell of coffee in the air. I used to hide in the hallway leading to our kitchen and sit there silently while I listened to them recount their stories about crossing. I was always amazed at the things some of them endured.

The author did an amazing job with her research. The culture she described was atmospheric and detailed. I could close my eyes and see her describe the border town, taste the food described and hear the music mentioned. I am often bothered with books that attempt to add Spanish phrases or words to their books because many times they are not used correctly or used how they would be used in actuality by a Mexican. The language that was spoken is my language. Beto was my favorite character as I felt a connection to him because that is the way I talk when I speak Spanish with my brothers. It’s what we call Spanglish. A mix of English and Spanish words. Like the word lonche mentioned in the book, which is lunch but in proper Spanish the words would either be merienda or almuerzo. They also did a great job with the narrator. She was amazing with the correct inflections and accents.

I am a Mexican American who grew up in a border town. My parents were illegal aliens. They crossed the border seeking a better life, even though life was not as difficult then in Mexico as it is now. Yet, it doesn’t mean it was easy to make a living either. My mother grew up poor and my father was well off until my grandfather died and he had to drop out of school in order to help out my grandmother with household expenses. I have and will always be grateful for the sacrifices my parents made for me. Life today would be completely different for me had they not come to the United States.

At the end of the day, who cares who wrote this book? What I care about is that this book is garnering attention and hopefully opening peoples eyes to what Latinx people have to traverse and endure in order to come here. And for what? To be treated like inferior people. Like animals. And still they persevere and work hard to make better lives for themselves and their family. They endure being separated from their families for months and even years at end in order to send money to support them.

I rarely write reviews like this because I hate to get political on a social media platform. Reading for me is an escape and I choose to read what I want and who I want. I respect everyone’s choices and expect mine to be respected as well but I know that’s not always the case here lately. I don’t care for people’s judgement on reading diversely or not because reading is reading no matter what. This, however, is a subject I feel strongly about and since the book is out in a few days I figured why not let that side of myself show a bit? I strongly believe our current president is at fault for the social divide happening now in our country but I hope this book does some good. Perhaps enlighten those who don’t know what life is like in a country like Mexico and encourage people to not be so harsh in passing judgement on people who are just seeking a better life and brighter future for themselves and their families.

Thank you to Flatiron books for the advanced reading copy and Libro.Fm and Macmillan Audio for the listening copy. All opinions are my own. The book is out 01/21.


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