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Community Discussion on American Dirt: Voice & Representation in Literature

Sunday, February 2, 2020 - 11:00am

Thank you so much to everyone who came out for this event to engage in our Community Discussion of American Dirt, focusing on the important issues of voice and representation in literature. We are incredibly grateful to, and thank most especially, Professor Sylvana M. Falcón, award-winning author Reyna Grande, and our own Head Buyer Melinda Powers for leading this event and lending their voices to this vital conversation. Thank you to our local and literary communities who wanted to engage with us in these important issues.

Reyna Grande reminded us at the end of the conversation that the most critical thing we should take away from this is that there is a crisis of unimaginable proportions at our borders. We urge you to take action, and not stop with discussing one particular book’s controversy. If you are in the position to donate funds or time, R.A.I.C.E.S. (The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) and the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County's Immigration Project are organizations that are doing the work needed at the border and in our Santa Cruz community. And we urge you to communicate with politicians to make real, compassionate solutions to this crisis. We ourselves will be donating proceeds from the sales of the book Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo to the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County's Immigration Project, our local aid and advocacy resource for our immigrant community, and hope you will join us to hear from Mr. Castillo himself on his memoir of growing up as an undocumented immigrant in the United States at our free event next Tuesday, February 11th, at 7:00 pm.

If you’re interested in more books and stories from the border, please see our list of recommend reads, and visit our #OwnVoices book display in the store.


Please join us for Voice and Representation in Literature: A community discussion on the novel American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Guiding the discussion will be Sylvanna M. Falcón, Associate Professor in the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Department and director of the Research Center of the Americas at UC Santa Cruz, as well as host of Voces Criticas/Critical Voices radio show; award-winning author Reyna Grande (A Dream Called Home) who, as a girl, crossed the U.S.–Mexico border to join her family in Los Angeles, a harrowing journey chronicled in The Distance Between Us; and Melinda Powers, Bookshop Santa Cruz's Head Book Buyer.

When selecting American Dirt as our Bookshop Selects pick for this month, we knew of some of the controversy surrounding the book. Based upon the positive reviews of a number of staff members and indie booksellers across the country as well as prominent Latinx authors and major media outlets, we decided to feature it as we felt it was a unique book that was capturing the American conversation. We also felt it was an important opportunity to talk about own voices and representation, who gets to tell a story, which is one of the biggest concerns in not only bookselling but literature and publishing today. We believe books should create opportunities for meaningful dialogue about the issues that are changing the way we read and we thought that American Dirt provided a platform for having that conversation.

However, we have been struck by, and are listening to, the intense feelings that have come up from the publication and selection of this book. We are hearing that some Latinx readers feel that this book perpetuates stereotypes about Mexican people and culture, and that it represents “trauma porn” based upon the true suffering of people who have had these experiences, as well as criticism towards the publisher and the way it chose to push and market this book. 

We greatly apologize that this book has hurt members of our community. We're listening and hope that you can be part of this conversation. As a reading community, we should try to understand why there have been such widely varied responses to the book. Is it possible to recognize both the feelings of hurt by some members of our community and the feelings of empathy it garnered in others? The book's controversy has created an important opening for a dialogue about Latinx representation in literature.

Our mission has always been to be at the heart of conversations of significance and to create a place in our community to conduct deep reflections about the influence of various voices in literature. We hope this event allows room for our community to come together to discuss all the issues that American Dirt brings to the forefront and for us to individually and collectively explore the impacts of this book.

We hope you will read this book and join us for this conversation.

Further reading on topics brought up by this book. And don't miss our upcoming event with Marcelo Hernandez Castillo on February 11th.