ALBUQUERQUE – Celebrated Mexican American author Sandra Cisneros is refusing to back down from her support for the novel, “American Dirt,” despite outcry from other Latino writers amid charges of stereotypes, and is telling critics they should just calm down and write “poetry.”
Cisneros told Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa on Wednesday that she appreciated the work by Jeanine Cummins and didn’t understand the criticism the novel is facing. The “House on Mango Street” author said many of the places in Mexico that Cummins mentioned were places she’d investigated herself and she found the immigration elements of the story “believable.”
The novel about a Mexican mother and her young son fleeing to the U.S. border had been praised widely before its Jan. 21 release and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. But Mexican American writers have been among those strongly criticizing “American Dirt” for stereotypical depictions of Mexicans.
Latino critics say “American Dirt” contains stereotypes, incorrect regional slang and cultural inaccuracies. They also blasted promotions at book release parties that had floral art centerpieces with barbed wire mimicking the border wall.
But Cisneros dismissed claims of inaccuracies and generalizations as irrelevant.
“A novel is different from a piece of journalism or a piece of nonfiction,” said Cisneros from her home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. “It has its own engine and it’s got to roar from page one, and it did that for me.”
Cisneros said she felt Cummins, 45, would reach a different audience who “would be a little suspicious of a Latino surname.”
Cisneros’ endorsement of Cummins and her refusal to retract her praise of the novel drew heated criticism from Latinos on social media who called one of the nation’s most known U.S. Latino writers a “vendida,” or sell out.
“I don’t need folks in rarefied, remote, hermetic, hermit-like bubbles telling me how I should respond to #AmericanDirt,” Mexican American writer David Bowles tweeted.
Asked about the criticism, Cisneros said detractors should think about why they dislike the book and turn to writing poetry to ease their minds.
Hinojosa also interviewed author Luis Alberto Urrea, whose books Cummins credited with helping her craft the novel. Urrea called “American Dirt” a mishandled and cartoonist story that amounted to a “minstrel show.”
On Wednesday, Flatiron Books publisher of “American Dirt” announced it was canceling the remainder of Cummins’ promotional tour, citing concerns for her safety.
Critics say they’ve received threats, too.