This was possibly the best worst fiction story I’ve read in a long time. I ached for Lydia and Luca nonstop as they lost their family, living, city and finally their country as a safe haven for their lives. This was a book I did not put down and unequivocally recommend.
I specifically recommend it to anyone who lives on a border. I recommend it for anyone in politics – yes, the full spectrum. I recommend it for anyone in the transportation industry. I recommend it for anyone in the education industry. And finally, I specifically recommend it to policy makers.
This book was an incredible reminder – that while some believe migrants are simply looking for a better life, many are choosing between life and death. Cummins illustrates it is not obvious which choices are life and death. Many migrants face death with any choice they make. Often, they are banking on the fact that the certain death that faces them where they started is far worse than a death they cannot predict going forward.
Cartels, thieves, rapists, con-men: Lydia and Luca face all of these terrors. Even La Bestia, an inanimate object, acts as a central threat in the story: we find out why that has to be an option early in the story, and it’s heart-breaking. Read more about La Bestia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_tren_de_la_muerte
You may need some tissues, but you’ll definitely need to warn your family that another family’s safety is at stake, so you won’t stop reading until you’re finished.
When to Stop Reading
Do yourself a favor and after reading the entire story, close the book. The Author’s Note, with its tired disclaimers and sermon, connoted to me that the author didn’t feel her story was written powerfully enough to stand alone. False. It is. And should be read standing on its own podium.
I might be sending her a note to remind her that fiction is a vehicle to demonstrate humanity. And that if her point in this carefully crafted tale is that we are each uniquely and preciously human, then focusing on faults she sees of her own color and background is quite selfish.
For the greater good, leave politics out of it. Let us feel the humanity of the characters she created in American Dirt. It is powerfully written enough to empower us to move forward from the emotions she provoked.
One of the things that struck me reading this story, was that Lydia was leaving her country because her country had been left to violence. The absence of law and order meant that she was at the mercy of criminals. She wanted a more secure life – and traveling to the United States was worth it to her.
I know this is a work of fiction, but it also prompted this question: how can the United States continuously be the beacon of law and order if it doesn’t abide by its own?
We owe it to future migrants to continue to offer a place of hope, where violence and loss of free speech and press will not hunt down working- middle- and upper-class people for their beliefs or allegiances.
By keeping law and order, we maintain that beacon of hope; and yet, how do we continue to do that, but also show compassion – even HELP – those facing the most dangers in the treacherous desert?
How do we reach across and BE the beacon… from start to finish?
Opportunity in Its Wake
Many will offer that there are legal ways to do this already; and I agree, yes. I support those legal ways. But for people who do not have the time to both survive their hunters and apply for citizenship, I see a great opportunity. Perhaps nongovernmental organizations can or do work in tandem with Border Patrol and bordering nations to ensure safe havens for those needing asylum.
If you belong to one of those nongovernmental organizations or charities, or know of one, could you comment below?
Big Policy Questions
While there is danger in the entire journey, the last bit of the journey appeared to be the most dangerous. Crossing over the desert without benefit of food or water and relying on highly priced coyotes, who are then controlled by cartels… Why do we put future United States citizens at risk, or have them pay wages indirectly to cartels?
Also, why is it easier once you’re in the US without paperwork? We need to make it easier on the other side of the border, so that funding toward cartels is bottomed out… so that migrants do not need to cross a dangerous desert. This means more people survive and are able to thrive… and perhaps begin to see US law enforcers as helping them, instead of as the enemy.
Crossing the border is so dangerous. The need to get to the border to file paperwork, or to live in fear of authorities once here: no one wants that for someone who is determined to become an American. I absolutely reject the politicization of these people, on both sides of the aisle – one guarantees their votes for decades, the other under the auspices of protecting Americans here.
Last Rabbit Hole
I had a bonus Germany documentary I’d found that was completely fact-filled, without politics to cloud judgment. However, in the past year it was marked private, so it is no longer accessible. I’ll post the link here just in case they change their mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mzvUtW_220
In the meantime, here’s a NowThis YouTube video on the subject. I don’t endorse any politics.
Read now for thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, movement-making reading!
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