American Dirt is a novel based on Jeanine Cummins’s research that she conducted for a period of four years, from 2013 to 2017. Jeanine Cummins visited migrant camps throughout Mexico, interviewed illegal immigrants, interviewed victims of the drug cartels, interviewed scholars in the field of Chicana and Chicano Studies, and traveled extensively on both sides of the border.
For the past ten years she has been fulfilling her dream by having her own bookstore located in the heart of Acapulco. Her bookstore is stocked with the bestsellers and tourist items such as postcards, magnets and key chains.
She also stocks books that have changed her life, books that are in English, books that most people in the area would never want to buy much less bother to read. Even though they never sell, it gives her great pleasure to know that these books are somewhere hidden in her store.
Most people were like Lydia; they didn’t want to know. They tried to insulate themselves from the ugliness of the narco violence because they couldn’t handle it.
The readership will finally see a person’s face and a person’s name of the drug cartel leader known only as The Owl. Sebastian doesn’t mention the Christian name but long after Lydia is sleeping she awakens in the middle of the night, something nagging at her to look into her husband’s computer and see whom the person is. And it is Javier.
It is now April 17th and Sebastian and Lydia and their 8-year-old son Luca are all at her mother’s house celebrating her niece and goddaughter Yenifer’s quinceanera. All sixteen members of the family are there and it is a Mexican tradition, patriotic and family affair when they hear an explosion.
Mother and son are the sole survivors of a massacre that left sixteen of their family members dead. Mother and son are now immigrants fleeing Acapulco to what they hope will be Denver, Colorado where Lydia has a distant relative.
American Dirt is a page turner that goes faster than the trains that Lydia and Luca have to jump onto as they travel north through Mexico to the United States, risking whatever is left of their lives to save whatever is left from Javier and his men, who have power and strong influence over all of Mexico.
Lydia learns of an honest coyote, known as El Chacal, who is willing to escort her and Luca across the border at a hefty price. She and thirteen others led by El Chacal begin the arduous and brutal journey through the desert and mountains and hopefully to the border of the United States.
At first I thought American Dirt was slang derogatory term referring to the far right political view of immigrants not being worth even dirt. Then I thought perhaps it was referring to the dirt/land that compromises Mexico and the Untied States, but I was wrong. In Mexico, individuals never describe the United States as America but simply the United States. To them America is the entire world – South and North America. Thus American Dirt can be applicable to all immigrants from all countries, fleeing for a variety of different but valid reasons and representing all economic, racial, religious, and political classes.
You don’t need to have a special requirement in order to read and understand this book. The reader doesn’t have to be Mexican, an immigrant, a mother, nor a victim to connect with this book. No one needs to change his or her skin color, his or her nationality to understand this book; all one needs is the ability to become unified with one another without giving up one’s individuality and have the capacity to love and to feel. Jeanine Cummins (Above Left) writes it best when she describes Luca’s views on what makes one an immigrant: