Oprah Winfrey Addresses Controversy Over Book Club Pick American Dirt
Oprah Winfrey and Yalitza Aparicio faced backlash after recommending the novel American Dirt, which has been criticized for perpetuating negative stereotypes of Latinos.
The book American Dirt by author Jeanine Cummins has stirred up a controversy, with critics claiming that it perpetuates negative stereotypes of Latinos. After recommending the novel for her book club, Oprah Winfrey recently addressed the arguments it has sparked. “We’ve read and continue to read your comments,” the TV host wrote on the Instagram page of Oprah’s Book Club. “It’s clear that we need to have a different kind of conversation about American Dirt and we welcome everyone’s thoughts and opinions in our community.”
“There has been a lot of talk about this book lately, and I just wanted you all to hear directly from me that I read an advance copy of American Dirt last summer before it even was an official book and it was a visceral experience for me,” Winfrey says in the video. “A migrant story being told from a mother’s perspective about the lengths that she would go to to protect her child to get to freedom in America. I was deeply moved. It had me riveted from the very first sentence and I could hardly wait to share it with all of you. Now it has become clear to me from the outpouring of very passionate opinions that this selection has struck an emotional chord and created a need for a deeper, more substantive discussion. When I first started to hear your comments opposing the selection, I was asking the question in earnest: ‘What is offensive?’ I’ve spent the past few days listening to members of the Latinx community to get a greater understanding of their concerns, and I hear them. I do.”
The book — about a Mexican bookstore owner who comes the U.S. with her son after a cartel kills her journalist husband — has inspired memes and the social media campaign #DignidadLiteraria (or “literary dignity”) that demands that Latino voices are accurately represented in the publishing industry.
Actresses Yalitza Aparicio and Salma Hayek promoted the novel on social media. “Nothing like starting the year with a new book to read. Thanks to @oprahsbookclub for sending me American Dirt,” Aparicio wrote on Twitter on January 21. The star of Roma was criticized by followers like Chicano writer David Bowles, who wrote to her: “Don’t fall in the trap. The book is grotesque, a complete distortion of the situation in Mexico, filled with stereotypes and farfetched characters, written by someone who knows nothing about our culture.”
Salma Hayek also posted a picture of herself on Instagram holding the book and thanking Oprah for sharing it with her, but after facing backlash online, the Mexican actress wrote to her followers: “I thank all of you who caught me in the act of not doing my research, and for setting me straight, because that means you know me and gave me the benefit of the doubt. I apologize for shouting out something without experiencing it or doing research on it.”