American Dirt: Book Discussion

I finished American Dirt and I think one of my favorite things about this book, was that it tries to blend in some Spanish terms into it. It felt good to utilize the Spanish classes I took for once. This book gave me a better idea of the geography of Mexico as well as a better understanding of the cities within it. I still feel like I know very little about what it means to live in Mexico and any other south American country. However, I think some of these questions might help to give me a better understanding(questions were written in the back of the book, I didn’t make them myself):

  1. Throughout the novel, Lydia thinks back on how, when she was living a middle-class existence, she viewed migrants with pity: “All her life she’s pitied those poor people. She’s donated money. She’s wondered what sort of detached fascination of the comfortable elite how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they come from, that this is the better option. That these people would leave their homes, their cultures, their families, even their languages, and venture into tremendous peril, risking their very lives all for the chance to get to the dream of some faraway country that doesn’t even want them”(chapter 10, page 94) Do you think the author chose to make Lydia a middle-class woman as her protagonist for a reason? Do you think the reader would have had a different entry point to the novel if Lydia started out as a poor migrant? Would you have viewed Lydia differently if she had come from poor origins? How much do you identify with Lydia?

I think I would’ve had more pity for her if she was poor. That she would have to leave with hardly any money to help her out. I can only identify with her somewhat since I live in the US, I’m not Latina and I also don’t have a kid. However, I can see myself doing what she did if I had a kid.

 2. Sebastián persists in running his story on Javier even though he knows it will put him and his family in grave danger. Do you admire what he did? Was he a good journalist or a bad husband and father? Is it possible it was both? What would you have done if you were him?

A part of me admires it. However, to really help he should’ve created some kind of rebellion. To try to protect his family from cartels and to stop being passive. I think he was a good journalist, but a bad husband and father for sure. I would’ve wanted him to create a group that was done dealing with the way things are.

3. When Lydia is at the Casa del MIgrante, she learns the term “cuerpomático”—”human ATM machine”—and what it means. Were you surprised to learn how dangerous the passage is, and for the female migrants in particular?

No, I don’t trust people to do the right thing. So I’m not surprised to find out that some migrants have to use sex to get them to where they need to go. It’s sad, but not surprising.


4. When Lydia, Luca, Soledad and Rebeca are at the Casa del Migrante, the priest warns them to turn back: “If it’s only a better life you seek, seek it elsewhere… This path is only for people who have no choice, no other option, only violence and misery behind you” (chapter 17, page 169) Were you surprised that he would be issuing such a dire warning when he must know how desperate they are to be there in the first place? Under what conditions might you decide to leave your homestead?

I’m not surprised that the priest gave a warning. There might be some people that think that once they get to the U.S, things are going to be easy. However, that’s far from the truth. We still work, we still do chores, we still have problems of our own. And coming in illegally won’t exactly make things easier. If I didn’t have kids, I’d probably fight for my homeland, for the cartels to end, to create something better. But if I had a kid, I’d probably leave because I wouldn’t feel safe.


5. Soledad’s version of the United States is “all McNuggets and fresh Nikes” chapter 25, page 261) How much do you think migrants know about the USA when they set their sights in going there? In what ways do you think US culture might be its most vulnerable, or its most dangerous, export?

I think that many of them believe that everything is new —at least going off what the book says. As for migrants in real life I have no idea. As Beto also talked about the flags and compared them. I think that many people in Beto’s city probably think that Americans buy new stuff, and dumb their old stuff in their city. Our most dangerous export is probably our trash and we need to start minimizing it.

6. When they get to the US-Mexican border, Beto says, “This is the whole problem, right? Look at that American flag over there—you see it? All bright and shiny; it looks brand-new. And then look at ours. It’s all busted up and ruggedy” (chapter 26, page 273). Do you agree with Beto? Do the flags symbolize something more than just the countries they represent?

I agree, I think that Americans are pretty selfish and that we take more than we need. I do think they represent how the countries treat each other as well as represent the country. If I had to base my ideas of Mexico off this book I would say that their government has abandoned their flag and allowed cartels to take our them. And I would say that we also have neglected to treat our neighbors with respect.

7. The term “American” only appears once in the novel. Did you notice? Why do you think the author made this choice?

I did notice that the term “american” was only used once. It opened up my mind to how the term was used. How the term American is only used to describe people in the U.S and not in Mexico or south America. I think she made this choice because the term invokes a sense of seperationism. People in the U.S seem to have copyrighted the term, while the Latina community remains in the background.

8. At one point, looking at Beto, Lydia thinks, “Despite everything, he likes being alive. Lydia doesn’t know whether that’s true for herself. For mothers, the question is immaterial anyway. Her survival is a matter of instinct rather than desire” (chapter 26, pages 276). Do you agree with what she feels? Do you think Lydia would have survived if Luca had died at the barbecue? Would she have even started the journey? What would a parent do for their children that they wouldn’t do for themselves?

I can agree with how she feels. Its hard to go on unless you have something to live for. I don’t think Lydia would’ve survived without him. He understood maps well and convinced Lydia to save the sisters. The sisters helped them find a place to stay in the U.S, so even if Lydia got there, would she be able to find her uncle? I don’t know if the sisters would’ve stayed with her to begin with, without Luca. Luca became like a magnet to kids their age, I think something about having a mom their gave them comfort as they traveled.

9. “So Lydia worried about all these things, and yet, she has a new understanding about the futility of worry. The worst will either happen or not happen, and there’s no worry that will make a difference in either direction. Don’t think” (chapter 27, pages 279-80) Do you agree that worry is futile? Might there be some benefit to worrying about or believing the worst possible outcome will occur—as the saying “a pessimist is never disappointed” suggests?

I think hat worrying is futile for the most part. I think too much of it can make things worse. Although, I do think that looking at the worst possible income is beneficial, but I wouldn’t want to dwell on it.

10. Toward the end of the novel, Soledad “sticks her hand through the fence and wiggles her fingers on the other side. Her fingers are in el norte. She spits through the fence. Only to leave a peace of herself there on American dirt” (chapter 28, page 301). Why do you think Soleada spits over the border? Is doing so a victory for her?

I think she spits because she has a love hate relationship with the U.S. She needs to get there to get out of danger, but she knows the U.S doesn’t want her their so she’ll have to hid who she is. I think its a victory for her. To lose so much, I think think its one thing that helps her to regain control.

11. Why do you think there are birds on the cover of the novel?

I think the birds symbolize freedom. Freedom to get away from violence and hatred.

12. Was Javier’s reaction to Marta’s death at all understandable? Humanizing? Do you believe that he didn’t want Lydia dead? Is that what he did, in the name of his daughter, any less paternal than what Lydia does for Luca is maternal?

I don’t think its understandable, to lie to her that whole time and then blame it on Lydia’s family. He probably put her life at more risk by not telling her than the article did. Had she chosen not to take her life. I find it humanizing in the sense that his daughter’s death invoked enough emotion in him to do something as bad as killing someone else’s family. I don’t think he wanted Lydia dead, since so far he seems to keep women his has an intimate connection with alive. However, I’m pretty sure he might still want to kill Luca. Even though he didn’t die with the family, I think that maybe in his twisted mind he wanted to make sure Lydia watched. Or that he wanted Luca’s death to be more than a gunshot. I do think in Javier’s head what he did for his daughter was a fatherly thing to do. However, in reality I think not letting her know who he was was a stupid thing to do. I think that’s something the people he cares about should know so they don’t get hurt.


13. Lorenzo deserve to die?

Lorenzo deserved some jail time for sure. I don’t think he deserved to die, but it was probably the right thing to do given the situation. They can’t just call the police, they can’t really have him alive so he can harass the women. He probably would’ve just been a pest if he stayed alive.

14. reading the novel change your view about migrants or border policy? Why or why not?

It didn’t really change my view. Before I read this I already didn’t like that people separated families and didn’t really seem to help people that were in danger. I still do think that the best way to resolve this is to fight back. To not allow cartels to run the place or at the least to convince cartels to dissolve and find other ways to do business without harm other people. For Lydia and the sisters, I understand why they needed to run. However, able bodied people that don’t have children to worry about should probably fight back rather then let things like this get worse.



Published by Athena Bocock

I am vegan and I like books and writing stories. Recently I've been enjoying romance and animal stories the most.

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