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‘American Dirt’ controversy inspires meme about Latinx stereotypes in literature

Literature Twitter has had quite a week.


Eilish O'Sullivan


Posted on Jan 22, 2020   Updated on May 19, 2021, 5:14 pm CDT

From cutting books in half to President Snow being announced as the protagonist in the Hunger Games prequel, literature Twitter has had quite a week.

Jeanine Cummins’ controversial novel American Dirt, which follows the story of a mother and her son fleeing from Mexico to the U.S., was released on Tuesday. It landed the coveted honor of being an Oprah Winfrey book club pick, and celebrities, from Gina Rodriguez and Yalitza Aparicio to Stephen King, have been seen promoting it on social media. American Dirt is supposed to be about the Mexican migrant experience. Yet, it’s written by an author who identifies as white and stands accused of perpetuating stereotypes about Mexicans.

“I am white. The grandmother I shared with Julie and Robin was Puerto Rican, and their father is half Lebanese. But in every practical way, my family is mostly white. I’ll never know the impotent rage of being profiled, or encounter institutionalized hurdles to success because of my skin or hair or name,” Cummins said in a 2015 New York Times essay.

When speaking to Shelf Awareness about American Dirt in 2019, Cummins said she identifies as Latinx.

Chicana writer Myriam Gurba first opened up the polarizing discussion surrounding American Dirt with her review on it. In the review, Gurba delves into Cummins’ identity, the way the book leans on stereotypes to portray Mexicans, and how Cummins took from other books written by actual Latinx authors.

Twitter users were inspired by the controversy and are now creating their own parody narratives. The meme begins with the phrase “writing my Latino novel” and then proceeds to call out stereotypes through their respective parody narrative.

“Writing my Latino novel: ‘We fled late in the night, or /la noche/ as Mami calls it. I’m always embarrassed when Mami says shit like that, but I forgive her because she’s one of eleven kids and is from /el barrio./ Anyway it was late at night, and Yolanda Saldivar was chasing us-” Chicano writer John Paul Brammer tweeted.

Most–if not all–of the Twitter users partaking in the meme are part of the Latinx community.

“Writing my Latino novel: How Mexican am I? My dad was a taco; my mother a piñata. I was born on Cinco de Mayo, Mexico’s most holy day. When I was 4, I was being trained to run drugs for the cartel but I knew I wanted to be a dancer. So, I started my trip to the US,” Latina comedian Cristela Alonzo tweeted.


L.A. Times contributor Yolanda Machado, who partook in the meme, told the L.A. Times that the meme exemplifies how “non-Latinos write about our stories” and “frame us.”

Machado then directed her comments at Cummins.

“Our community is making fun of you because you don’t understand who we are,” Machado told the newspaper. “Look at how we can sum up the stereotypes you inflict on us with just one tweet.”


H/T BuzzFeed News

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*First Published: Jan 22, 2020, 9:02 pm CST