American Dirt

STEINBECK: GRAPES OF WRATH. Wraparound jacket of the first edition, 1939, of ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, John Steinbeck’s novel of ‘Okies’ forced to migrate from the Dust Bowl
American Dirt, Lydia and Luca

The title of this post is also the title of a book I am reading. A catch phrase by Don Winslow, a commenter, forced me to pick it up and check it out; the phrase, “A Grapes of Wrath for our times.” I loved the Grapes of Wrath as a story by John Steinbeck, and as a movie starring Henry Fonda. The story involves the futile migration of a family desperate to survive. Their story begins in the great flatlands of the midwest, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, or any number of states that are agricultural. The time frame is the Great Depression. Many farmers were poor share croppers, and during those years they experienced huge dust storms across the entire region causing them to lose their farms to banks. The Joad’s pile into their broken down truck and head to California to find work.

The story very explicitly details their experiences which get worse and worse as they head down the road like having to bury grandma along the road side. They reach California only to learn that the jobs they were envisioning didn’t exist, and the competition for the few that did was fierce. Locals treated them like garbage and made life even harder. The story had me hooked to the end.

America Dirt is a story about a family of two that must escape Mexico to remain alive. In this situation it is not nature that is causing the hardship it is a drug cartel led by a ruthless kingpin. The story is one which will grip you by the heart and keep you reading. The trouble the heroine undergoes trying to evade the cartel is relentless. She, however, stays strong and manages to evade the country-wide search for her. She has a bounty on her head, and can trust no one. Her trouble escalates as she proceeds northward toward the United States where she believes she will finally be free.

Many times, I have boasted about being a conservative and have written about the evils placed upon our country by the thousands of “illegal” immigrants sneaking across the border into our sacred space. Over the years, I have read numerous books extolling the cost of allowing these people to remain in the USA, and I even read one book about the life of a Coyote whose business it was to sneak these people across the line. This book, however is from the point of view of the immigrant. I have learned the conditions that have driven these people to flee. I am learning of the hardships they face to make the long trip across Mexico (as long as two thousand miles) to the border. I am finding that once they get to the border they meet another impediment in the form of a wall, ICE, US Border Patrol, and more.

I have not yet reached the point in the story to know what hardship they actually meet at the border, but the hardships along the trip are enough to change my mind about letting these people into our safe space. Anyone who can endure the difficulty of traveling with only the clothes on their back, shoes on their feet and perhaps a few dollars while dealing with the cartels, desperados, kidnappers, human smugglers and the many criminal elements all across Mexico have earned my sympathy. I am changing my mind about how we should deal with these immigrant people.

The problem I have is that all my ideas involve changing the criminal elements along the way. Control the cartels, eliminate local government and police corruption, establish migrant stations along the major routes. All of these things that I believe have to change are outside the periphery of US control. We the United States cannot move into Mexico and clean up their centuries of graft and criminal activity. Even if we were able to clean up Mexico we would then have to move into Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the remaining Central American countries to clean up their acts. We would have to annex them into the country as states. The cost would be more than we can afford, although the cost of allowing the thousands of migrants coming through illegally is nearly as high.

Everyone who has a problem with illegal immigrants coming from Central America should read American Dirt to learn first hand what the problems are.

It would be easy for me to promote American Dirt as a learning experience except that it is fiction, not a non-fiction story based on facts and real experiences. Just like the Grapes Of Wrath chronicled the Joad’s moving through the dust bowl to the land of eden called California was fiction. Both stories have parallel themes which are based on realistic happenings, but they do not contain hard evidence to support the truth with facts. I do, however, believe that both John Steinbeck, author of the The Grapes of Wrath, and Jeanine Cummins, author of American Dirt had to have some living experience with the peoples who became characters in their stories. If not, then my hat goes off to each of them for having the imagination to write very believable and moving stories.

Now, I must post this essay and return to reading the end of American Dirt. Perhaps the end of the story will become a topic for another post.

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