Critiqued by a small but vocal number of Mexican authors, and highly controversial since its publication in 2020, Jeanine Cummins’s novel "American Dirt" has sold over three million copies. The focus of her interview at the Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento (FLAD) was why? Why did Jeanine Cummins write American Dirt? “How could anyone not write it?” was her answer, repeated several times during the interview. Cummins told us that she has an agenda, as after having published four books, they all share a common theme: injustice. Specifically, the author hopes to write in a way that portrays tragedies and violence through the eyes of victims. We live in a world where there are hundreds of movies and thousands of books where audiences perceive through the side of the conductors of violence. From true crime to movies which portray life in cartels, violence is glorified in the media, while the victims become just another face that suffered – they are forgotten. American Dirt, through its depiction of violence when crossing the United States’ borderlands, makes sure that does not happen as readers are forced to “look through the barrel of the gun.” This violence may be ever present in the novel, but it is not gratuitous, it is necessary. It is true that American Dirt was not written by a person who experienced this tragedy. It is a work of fiction. During the interview, the author laid her soul bare, from her own experiences with violence, where she first saw society’s obsessions with the perpetrators rather than the victims, to her conversations with people at shelters near the border. It was clear why the book had to be written. “How could anyone not write it?” she asked as she described how a woman had to get married at a park with a gate separating her family, after being deported from the United States. “How could anyone not write it” when war veterans are shipped off to Mexico after experiencing mental health issues fighting America’s wars? This was the true motive of American Dirt, to highlight the situation faced by human beings near or at the United States border, and to get people talking, as, despite the controversy, it is impossible to say that it was not successful there.
Text by Maria Lua B.