59 pages 1 hour read

Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Symbols & Motifs

The Cartels

The cartels symbolize terror and societal breakdown. Law enforcement is unable or unwilling to stop organized crime. Indeed, many members of the police force work for the cartels. Of the two-dozen law enforcement officials and medical personnel who arrive at the scene of the massacre in Chapter 2, seven are on the payroll of Los Jardineros. The cartels operate with impunity in Acapulco, causing violence that touches rich and poor families alike. The dangerous, chaotic environment created by the cartels feeds the northward migration out of Mexico and into the US. 

The Border

The US-Mexico border is a threshold and a symbol of transition. It is a liminal space that is neither fully part of the US nor fully part of Mexico. It functions as both a barrier and a portal—a place that keeps some people out while letting others in. In Cummins’s book, the border separates the haves from the have-nots, while also marking the place where people embark on new, “invisible” lives as part of the undocumented population.

The Red New York Yankees Cap

The red Yankees baseball cap belonging to Sebastián is an emblem of paternal love. As one of the last tangible links to his father, Luca finds comfort in the cap and refuses to take it off: “He wears it even when he sleeps now, and when he has to remove it to shower, he makes Lydia hold it in her hands until he comes out” (125).

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By Jeanine Cummins