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American Dirt: Oprah book club pick suffers Latino backlash

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In an author’s note for hit new novel American Dirt, author Jeanine Cummins says she wished “someone slightly browner than me” had written it.

“But,” continued Ms Cummins, a white writer with Puerto Rican forbearers, “then I thought, if you’re a person who has the capacity to be a bridge, why not be a bridge?”

The book, which tells the story of a family fleeing Mexico for the US, was greeted with rave reviews from Oprah Winfrey, among others.

However, the plaudits were quickly followed by outrage from members of the Hispanic community, who complained that the novel misrepresents the Latin-American experience.

The row has rekindled a debate over prejudice in the publishing industry and over who, exactly, is allowed to tell the stories of others.

American Dirt follows a middle-class Mexican woman who escapes the country with her son after her husband, a journalist, is killed by a drug cartel. The story traces their often violent journey as migrants to the US border.

The novel was highly anticipated and Ms Cummins received a reported seven-figure book deal for a first print run of half a million copies. She was interviewed by the New York Times, which published an excerpt of the book.

Positive reviews came from beloved authors, including Stephen King. Ms Winfrey selected American Dirt for her book club this week, all but assuring a boost in sales. “I love it so much,” she said.

Others were less favourably disposed. A scathing review by the Hispanic-American writer Myriam Gurba called it a “Trumpian fantasy of what Mexico is”.

Outrage over the novel’s depictions of migrants soon spilled forth on social media. Critics tweeted out mock-stereotyped stories with the hashtag “Writing my latino novel”.

Adding to the controversy were claims that American Dirt had borrowed from other novels about Mexico, while at the same time misconstruing key nuances, like the use of Mexican phrases in Spanish.

“When writing about a community to which one does not belong, authors have an obligation to think about the social and cultural politics of what they are doing,” Domino Perez, a professor of English at the University of Austin’s Center for Mexican American Studies, told the BBC. “Asking whether or not you are the right person to tell a story means that sometimes the answer is no.”

Maricela Becerra, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA, told the BBC: “We have been talking about these issues for many, many years as Latinxs and immigrants, and the problem is that we have not been heard. Suddenly a non-immigrant person tells our story, and people seem to be interested.”

But the book has found defenders in the Latino community. Sandra Cisneros, a famous Mexican-American author, said American Dirt was “not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel!”

Rigoberto González, an English professor at Rutgers-Newark University, called the book “highly original”, albeit with “moments of pandering to social justice language”.

In 2016, Ms Cummins said in a New York Times opinion piece that she did not want to write about race out of fear of “striking the wrong chord, of being vulnerable, of uncovering shameful ignorance in my psyche”. She said she identified as white “in every practical way”.

“I don’t know if I’m the right person to tell this story,” she told the Times. “I do think that the conversation about cultural appropriation is incredibly important, but I also think that there is a danger sometimes of going too far toward silencing people,” she said.

According to 2018 data from Publisher’s Weekly, 84% of the publishing workforce is white, 5% is Asian, 3% Hispanic and 2% black.

At the executive level, 86% of the industry is white, according to a 2015 survey by Lee and Low Books, as are 89% of book reviewers.



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We thought Reagan was the devil – then came Trump. America, we’re rooting for you | Ronald Reagan

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Dear America,

HEY! How you guys doing? Longtime British Americanophile “reaching out” across the Atlantic. I’m here to heart you, USA. I’m like “hope the hurting stops soon” (strong-arm mid-tone emoji).

I guess you’re all making a list of The Worst Things Trump Did, then checking it twice because really, who’d believe it. And I know he’s primarily your monstrous problem. But even Brits are citizens of what we used to call “the free world”. Your president was once the leader of it. And one of the very worst things Trump’s done is to make Ronald Reagan look like an intellectual giant. Simply by comparison, Trump has humanised Reagan and elevated his memory to sainthood.

I’m currently researching the Gipper for a project and honestly, next to Trump he genuinely seems like … not the good guy, exactly? But definitely presidential. “Let’s make America great again” was Reagan’s slogan, of course. It was about “American values”, making America great in the world again. Trump’s slogan initially stood for rebuilding economic power. Now it’s shorthand for “let’s win the culture war I relentlessly inflame and sure, bring on an actual armed civil war if I lose the election”.

Of course, Trump’s humanity is at such undetectable levels he makes literally anyone else look like St Francis of Assisi. Infuriatingly, even deadweight predecessors like the Bush dynasty look competent. But Reagan? Along with millions of others in the 1980s, I was there at marches and demonstrations, noisily railing against hated neoliberal Raygun, his nuclear missiles, his utterly insane space force. Oh how we disdained him, this doddery warmonger, this huckleberry clown of a politician. It never occurred to us that 40 years on we’d be contemplating someone so much more clueless, so very much stupider, than Reagan.

None of my business, dear Americans, I know. You’re absolutely right. It’s not my country, it’s yours. You’re the ones pledging allegiance from sea to shining sea. I should butt out. And yet. All this used to be my business, back in the day when Potus was de facto leader of “the west” and led the forces of laissez-faire capitalism against the Evil Empire of Communism. “Ideology”, we used to call it. Man, we thought Reagan was the devil incarnate 40 years ago. Now the news is basically “Self-Satirising Human Cronut Yesterday On Twitter Said …”

As I write this letter of solidarity, I’m watching the televised presidential debate for election 1980, 40 years ago. Jimmy Carter the bruised defender, looking for a second term. Reagan the interloper, the disrupter, landing blow after blow on Carter – the failing economy, the Tehran hostages, the correct pronunciation of “nuclear”. Reagan was the older man but he sounded younger. What is frankly astonishing is the dignity of the debate itself. Here were political enemies – diametrically opposed on every issue – politely disagreeing, listening, yielding when time ran out. Basic human respect. And you stop and think – how is this normal, being nostalgic for normality itself?

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during a debate in 1980.
Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during a debate in 1980. Photograph: The Ronald Reagan Presidential L/Reuters

Trump often invokes Ronald Reagan as an inspiration, and you can see how the analogy crosses his mind, like tumbleweed. Reagan too arrived at the White House from the world of entertainment. But Reagan had been governor of California for two terms. And president of a powerful union, the Screen Actors Guild. And served in the military. Reagan’s primary domestic objective of “getting government off the backs of the people” undoubtedly helped Trump the young shark-eyed entrepreneur – greedy to build, greedy for profit, greedy for tax credits.

Reagan consistently said that a free press was a prerequisite for a free country, and that it should hold presidents to account. Imagine that: a president inviting scrutiny. Trump dismisses any story he doesn’t like as “fake news” and deals only with Fox – his Pravda, his Tass. Unlike Trump, Reagan was self-aware enough to know his limitations. He surrounded himself with smart counsel and experts. Trump lives in a bubble of sycophancy.

Some of the stuff Trump’s pulling isn’t new, it’s just louder. You couldn’t imagine any of the other presidents not wanting America First. And like Trump, Reagan was an authoritarian who sent armed police in to break up civil protest. Reagan was indifferent to Aids; Trump is indifferent to Covid-19. More than 89,000 people died of Aids over seven years under Reagan administrations. Covid deaths in the US over seven months under Trump are 225,000 and rising …

In his foreign policy dealings, Reagan believed in statecraft, that ancient art of diplomacy now apparently lost in the murk of history. He saw his primary task as leading the world to peace and was prepared to sit down with cold war adversaries to thrash out a disarmament program. Does Trump even have a foreign policy, besides “screw you”? A resurrected Reagan would be aghast at Trump meeting Commie-In-Chief Kim Jong-un three times to discuss nuclear weapons with no tangible results.

Reagan’s statecraft did not hinge on whether the particular head of state “liked him”. Reagan’s preoccupation wasn’t self-aggrandisement. He sought world peace, and found gratification in good deeds. When his mind had gone, his memories lost, all knowledge of being President entirely faded, he remembered this: he had saved 77 people from drowning as a young lifeguard. That, in his shattered mind, was his legacy. In Trump’s bizarro world, drowners are losers.

Anyway, I’ll sign off. You have important stuff to do, like choosing a president. I wish you good luck; we’re all aware Kamala Harris is a result and a heartbeat from becoming America’s first female Potus. Things could be worse, no doubt. But they could also be better. The best to you and yours, my brothers and sisters.

I remain your most ardent admirer,

A Brit, Esq

Ian Martin is a comedy writer. His credits include Veep, The Death of Stalin, Avenue 5, The Thick of it and more

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Coronavirus live news: China reports highest infections in two months; US sees almost 500,000 cases in one week | World news

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UK’s second Covid wave likely to be deadlier than its first – report





Summary





Questions whirl, justice stifled as immunity laws protect US nursing homes

By noon on 16 September, more than 100 people had gathered at the end of the long drive that leads to the Menlo Park Veterans’ Memorial Home in New Jersey. Eighteen-inch letters – red, white, and blue – spelling “THANK YOU HEROES” were pushed into the sod beneath a semi-permanent sign that reads “Now accepting job applications” and “SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED”.

Staff members – mostly Black, mostly female – stood to the right of a podium. To the left stood family members holding framed photos of their loved ones, former residents of Menlo Park who had died over the past several hellish months, either in the facility or in a nearby hospital.

Gary White, the no-nonsense, cigar-chewing commandant of the local Marine Corp League – an 80-year-old federal organization and advocacy group for Marine veterans – organized the event. White told the crowd that Menlo Park’s residents had, as service members, “given America a blank check payable up to and including their lives,” but that during the pandemic, “veterans died who never should have.” A week before the protest, White had received calls and emails from family members who were shocked by their loved one’s deaths, who had never even been told their father or grandfather was sick.

“They asked me to do something,” he said:









Mexico’s coronavirus cases pass 900,000





India nears 8m cases

















Macron to give televised address on Wednesday evening

Updated



























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Ontario: Doug Ford refuses to demote caucus member photographed maskless | Canada

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Ontario’s premier, Doug Ford, has come under fire for refusing to demote a scofflaw member of his caucus who was photographed without a mask at a large indoor gathering – even as the regional government pleads with residents to follow public health rules during the pandemic.

Sam Oosterhoff, a parliamentary assistant to the province’s education minister, posted pictures online this weekend of a large group gathered in a banquet hall. None of the nearly 40 attendees were seen wearing masks or practicing physical distancing.

The photographs – and the evidence of a flagrant breach of the provincial government’s public health messaging – prompted outrage. Oosterhoff subsequently deleted the post and apologized for not wearing a mask. He also told reporters the event was in a region of Ontario where gatherings of up to 50 people indoors are still permitted. But health officials require masks and physical distancing while inside.

“He came out and apologized. Hey, guys, everyone makes mistakes,” Ford told reporters. “I’m a strong believer, you make a mistake, you go out and apologize and say it’s not going to happen again. I accept that.”

But a post late on Monday evening from the restaurant where the event was hosted told a different story.

“There was a group in last week, that has caused some concern,” Betty’s Restaurant wrote in a post on Facebook. “This group was reminded several times that they were required to wear masks when not seated at their table. Unfortunately they chose not to follow posted rules about wearing masks and distancing. We can remind guests but we cannot strong-arm them into following rules.”

The premier’s office reiterated its support for Oosterhoff on Tuesday.

But the photographs – and his support for Oosterhoff – put Ford in a difficult position as his government tries to tackle the second wave of the virus.

Canada’s most populous province logged more than 1,000 new cases in a single day on Sunday, and outbreaks are surging in long-term care homes, prompting fresh appeals for the public to follow health protocols.

Ford has admitted he is battling divisions within his government over how quickly to roll out new restrictions.

“I always say I gotta listen to the docs, I always will, and the science, but in saying that, I have to listen to the small business owners,” Ford said on Monday, adding he was trying to find a “happy balance”.

Opposition leader Andrew Horwath of the New Democratic party told reports on Monday that the premier’s messaging on public health measures has been “so inconsistent and so unclear” that Oosterhoff “literally posed for a photo where he violated public health guidelines”.

“So why is the premier’s own team challenging, and outright ignoring, his directions?”



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