America’s ‘dirt-y’ secret: Latinos are disappearing

by Ruben Navarrette Jr.

You do this job long enough, and eventually you see it all. Like this: A bunch of Latino writers are upset they’re not being treated like “Dirt.”

Of course, I speak about what the Latino literati has been referring to cryptically — and often angrily — as “the book.”

The book is “American Dirt,” and it’s a novel, which is to say that the admittedly riveting story it tells — about a Mexican woman and her son who leave their comfortable life in Acapulco and head for the U.S.-Mexico border as they flee drug cartels — never happened.

How fitting, then, that this make-believe story would be written by a make-believe Mexican.

New York City-based Jeanine Cummins was born in Spain, but only because her Navy father was stationed there. She has lived her entire life in the United States, where she has identified as “white” and studied English in college.

Cummins does have a Puerto Rican grandmother. But she doesn’t appear to have spent much time over the years identifying as Puerto Rican. Instead, she seems to have connected with her Irish heritage, writing two novels about Irish history. She also wrote a memoir.

But it was her fourth book — which she says took her seven years to research and write — that turned her into one of the most envied, and despised, authors in America.

One day, you’re appearing on national television next to Oprah Winfrey, who is gushing praise for your book. The next, you’re being blasted as an opportunistic culture appropriator, and your publicity tour is being canceled amid concerns about your safety.

One day, you’re writing prose that traffics in racial stereotypes and shows a revealing obsession with whether your characters have brown skin or blue eyes. The next, you’re the supposed victim of an unfair censorship and intimidation campaign from the “cancel” culture.

One day, you’re trying to get mileage from the fact your husband was an undocumented immigrant (oops, from Ireland), the next you’re admitting that maybe it would have been better if this story had been told by an actual Latino/a.

Who else could be more deserving of a $1 million book deal from a publishing industry run by arrogant white liberals, not to mention a movie deal from Hollywood which is also run by — wait for it — arrogant white liberals?

By the way, Cummins also appears to be an arrogant white liberal who makes no apologies for cashing in on this culture grab. Instead, she crassly hosted a book party where the centerpieces were mockups of walls and barbed wire and gets a manicure with the same theme.

It’s just the latest chapter in the vanishing of America’s Latino community.

The 57 million Latinos who represent America’s largest minority are cursed with invisibility. We’re everywhere, and we’re nowhere.

I blame the worlds of media and entertainment— which are, need I point out, run by more arrogant white liberals.

On Sunday morning political shows, African American commentators are routinely asked by white hosts about the condition of Latinos in America. The press corps anointed a Spanish-speaking Irishman from El Paso to be the official Latino candidate of the 2020 election; in March, when Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke launched his doomed presidential bid, a reporter for The Associated Press mistakenly wrote that O’Rourke addressed supporters “in his native Spanish.” The AP later corrected the error.

Hollywood thought nothing of casting Ben Affleck to play a Latino CIA agent in the film “Argo.” Justin Bieber sings love songs in Spanish. Chef Rick Bayless specializes in Mexican cuisine.

I’m a Mexican American who audaciously wrote a memoir in my 20s about being a Harvard “Chicano.” Then the government told me I was “Hispanic.” And then activists informed me that I was “Latino.” Today, the media tells me I’m “Latinx.”

Now that fearmongering over immigration can get you elected president, and writing fairy tales about immigrants can make you rich, America has stolen the soul of a tribe that is expected to make up a quarter of the population by 2040.

Why cope with change, when you can erase it?

But Latinos are also to blame. We put up with this garbage. In fact, we bless it as if we’re flattered that white people want to sing our songs, cook our dishes, or even run for president in our name.

On second thought, our soul wasn’t stolen. We gave it away.


Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group. Follow Ruben

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