Dear Oprah: Latina Author here. My family was actually kidnapped by cartel. It was hilarious.



So, yesterday I told y'all I didn't exactly want to jump into the middle of the American Dirt kerfuffle. But I did. I jumped in. Jumped like Stephanie Adams with her son in her arms, perhaps, but jumped nonetheless.


The good news? Bunch of you read it and said nice things to me. So, merci. Also, I'll be interviewed at 1 pm MST on KJZZ, the public radio station in Phoenix, about it. (For the record, it's k-jAZZ, not...well, you can imagine my disappointment when I found out.)


Anyhoo. As I lay in bed with my thoughts bitch-slapping me in the face all night, it occurred to me that I forgot to mention a few things in yesterday's post. Happily for all of us, I can always just crawl out of bed and waste the morning writing another post about American fucking Dirt. Happily for you, this is one such post. Unhappily for all of us, it might not be the last.


One important thing I forgot to mention yesterday is the fact that my father's latest wife is from a wealthy Lebanese Mexican family in Guadalajara. (Cue Oprah's head exploding upon learning there are immigrants in Mexico, too.) She's his third wife, young enough to be his granddaughter. Not exactly a trophy; more like a guerdon, for a life lived without regard for rules.


She seems nice enough when I happen to cross paths with her. I don't see her much, though. Dad says she's afraid of me, and I'm like, yeah, sure, but who isn't? Also, she spends most of her free time riding in the back of a VW bus with her other rich friends, to "real authentic Indian sweats" in exotic places like South Dakota, or taking impulsive trips to Alaska with her girlfriends, in search of the perfect totem for maximum chakra balancing. She also does yoga and pilates, takes classical East Indian dance classes, and works on her Macbook at Humble Coffeehouse with all the other people who like to make fun of traditional religions but still believe in ghosts.


I once made the mistake of taking her to La Michoacana, a Mexican-style paleteria near my house, thinking she might get down with some tajin and corridos. Big, big, big mistake. My bad, y'all. She wrinkled her nose as though I'd brought her to a sewage treatment plant. Turns out she prefers Pinkberry or Whole Foods, you know, like a real, authentic Mexican, from down there.


I've read some interviews with Jeanine Cummins, the non-Mexican, non-immigrant author of American Dirt, where she boasts about doing "research" about Mexicans in order to, you know, be able to write about them. She courageously visited Mexico! She studiously talked to American professors who also study Mexicans! She was, in the end, careful as Goodall with the gorillas, and isn't that just so incredibly admirable?


I'm guessing such research did not reveal my Mexican stepmother's almost incomprehensible love of alien things like Lulu Lemon yoga pants, or her exotic ritual of getting a PhD in linguistics at the US university from which my Cuban dad, who once told me he'd never date a woman with cellulite, recently retired as a sociology and history professor. I'm not saying my dad has been censured for dating students, because that might be sharing too much dirty laundry, though I'll suggest such a thing is not out of the realm of possibilities. Guerdon Girl. I told you this.


Anyway. Couple years back, one of my Mexican stepmom's rich uncles got kidnapped by drug cartel in Guadalajara. So, American Dirt got that part right - cartels exist, and they do, in fact, do stupid shit on the regular. But it wasn't anything like such things are portrayed in American Dirt, a book whose first line actually manages to mention both bullets and a toilet, because what Mexican life doesn't always lead with such things.


It happened like this.


Before being kidnapped, rich uncle had affairs. Lots of affairs. It's not so much that he was handsome and charming as it was that he was...rich and selfish, with a penis. And it could very well be that bragging about said circumstances to random pretty young girls around town could potentially end up conveying such information to, like, the fucking cartel.


Cartel kidnaps him. Sends a ransom note to his wife, demanding five million pesos. Wife reads the note, and thinks about it. I imagine her rolling the idea around in her mind as she pinches a Virginia Slims in a slender pink cigarette holder, leaning against the wall at a second floor bedroom window on a dark and stormy night, in a satin gown, staring wistfully out at the wet cobblestones like Bette Davis, as the rain comes down, down, down. There is whiskey, because not everyone in Mexico drinks tequila, Karen. I mean, Oprah.


Rich aunt contacts the cartel and says she needs proof that her husband is alive, and demands to speak to him on the phone. Standard stuff. They comply. He says hello, grateful to hear her voice, I'd imagine. She uses this opportunity to list for him all the names of the women he's fucked behind her back over the years, the ones she knows, anyway. I imagine him dumbfounded into silence. Or begging her to forgive him. I imagine her using her shoulder to keep the phone on her ear, while in the mirror she uses her hands to balance the pros and cons. Left hand, five million pesos she could keep. Right hand, a cobarde sinverguenza hijo de la gran puta.


She asks to speak to the cartel again.


"Are you ready to cooperate?" they ask.


"Do me one more favor," she says.


"And what's that?"


"Keep him."


She hangs up.


Now, I know this dude is technically a family member, but this story brings me joy.


The family freaked out. They were calling my dad's house all day and night, as everyone ran around trying to figure out how to pull together the ransom without rich aunt's cooperation. She sat to the side, I imagine painting her fingernails as opera played.


But this isn't the kind of story you'll get in American Dirt. There were no bullets. There was no toilet. Just, well, humor, that most Mexican of things - and a thing utterly lacking in American Dirt. Just people, like any others, doing dumb crap to each other. Because people are like that. It is, however, exactly the kind of story you'll get in every single one of my books, because I, for one, realize that an invisible line in the sand and a different language don't conspire to make people all that different from each other.


Racism does.


This is why actual Latinas read my books, but won't read American Dirt.

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