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Why Everyone’s So Mad About ‘American Dirt,’ the New Immigration Novel Oprah Loved

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here. Jeanine Cummins’ fourth novel, “American Dirt,” was supposed to be the next literary phenomenon. But just over a week after its release, the author’s remaining appearances have been canceled after “specific threats” lead to concerns about her safety, according to Flatiron Books…

Why Everyone’s So Mad About ‘American Dirt,’ the New Immigration Novel Oprah Loved

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

Jeanine Cummins’ fourth novel, “American Dirt,” was supposed to be the next literary phenomenon.

But just over a week after its release, the author’s remaining appearances have been canceled after “specific threats” lead to concerns about her safety, according to Flatiron Books President Bob Miller. Critics have said the book’s depictions of Mexican culture are inaccurate, cliche, and offensive. They’ve also called the marketing surrounding the book insensitive.

First, photos from a bookseller dinner at Book Expo 2019 showed that the event was decorated with opulent floral arrangements wrapped in barbed wire, meant to mimic the book’s cover. Tweets of Cummins praising a fan’s nail art, also mirroring the cover, began to go viral shortly after.

While promoting the book, Cummins also highlighted the fact that her husband was once an undocumented immigrant. What she failed to mention is that he’s originally from Ireland, not a Latin American country. In the past, Cummins has identified as white, though her grandmother was born in Puerto Rico.

“American Dirt” tells the story of a young Mexican bookstore owner forced to flee her town for the U.S. after her journalist husband is killed by the local drug cartel. During a press stop in Washington, Cummins said she conducted five years’ worth of research, consisting of visiting the U.S.-Mexico border, orphanages, and soup kitchens for migrants, according to the New York Times. She also received a seven-figure advance, and the movie rights were sold off as early as last June.

The novel received mostly positive reviews prior to its release on Jan. 21. Renowned authors like Stephen King called it “an extraordinary piece of work.” Others hailed it as “the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ of our time.” Oprah Winfrey even earmarked “American Dirt” as the latest book to enter her famous Book Club.

But shortly after the book’s release, a biting review from Mexican writer Myriam Gurba published last month went viral, and the initial reception seemed to sour.

“Rather than face that we are their moral and intellectual equals, they happily pity us,” Gurba writes in the review. “Pity is what inspires their sweet tooth for Mexican pain, a craving many of them hide. This denial motivates their spending habits, resulting in a preference for trauma porn that wears a social justice fig leaf. To satisfy this demand, Cummins tossed together American Dirt, a ‘road thriller’ that wears an I’m-giving-a-voice-to-the-voiceless-masses merkin.”

The controversy has inspired countless other writers who were also offended by the book’s depiction of a Mexico ravaged by drug cartels and its not-so-current portrait of the U.S. as a sanctuary for immigrants. Writer David Bowles pointed out that several excerpts from the book are pulled directly from other works by Latino creatives. It also sparked a larger conversation over the inequities and lack of opportunities for people of color in the publishing industry.

On Wednesday, a petition signed by over 120 “Latinx writers and thinkers,” was sent Oprah, asking her to rescind her endorsement of the book. The media mogul promised to have a “deeper discussion” about American Dirt on the next episode of her AppleTV Plus television show.

Cummins has been mostly silent since the backlash began. But in an interview with NPR’s Latino USA, the author explained that while she didn’t expect the criticism, she now understands where it’s coming from.

“I’m feeling disappointed in the tenor of the conversation,” she said. “It’s not where I hoped to be. I think I’m beginning to understand it and get my footing. I understand that there’s a tremendous amount of earned frustration among communities of color when it comes to the publishing industry. It’s not just a very white industry, it’s also a very affluent, white industry.”

Despite the controversy, the book is doing well. It currently sits at number one on both Amazon’s list of bestselling books and the New York Times’ Best Sellers list.

In a letter published Wednesday evening, Miller addressed the overwhelming response the book has received among Latino writers and social media users.

“When we began the journey of supporting this book, it quickly spawned as much excitement and anticipation as any book I can remember in my 40 years working in the publishing business,” Miller wrote. “We were therefore surprised by the anger that has emerged from members of the Latinx and publishing communities.”

Miller said that the book tour will be replaced by a series of public town hall meetings around the country where Cummins “will be joined by some of the groups who have raised objections to the book.” Details on where these town halls will be held have yet to be announced.

Cover image: “American Dirt,” a novel by Jeanine Cummins and Oprah’s Book club selection, is seen on the shelves at a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Julia Weeks)

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Ron DeSantis Issues Stay-at-Home Order for SE Florida Through Mid-May

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Monday that he is imposing a stay-at-home order for Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe Counties through mid-May in an effort to combat the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. “The ‘Safer-At-Home’ [order] is the right move for southeast Florida,” DeSantis told reporters during a press conference. “This is the time to…

Ron DeSantis Issues Stay-at-Home Order for SE Florida Through Mid-May

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Monday that he is imposing a stay-at-home order for Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe Counties through mid-May in an effort to combat the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

“The ‘Safer-At-Home’ [order] is the right move for southeast Florida,” DeSantis told reporters during a press conference. “This is the time to do the right thing. Listen to all of your local officials.”

“We will do this through the middle of May, and then see where we’re at,” he added.

The directive comes as Florida has confirmed more than 5,000 coronavirus cases and 60 deaths. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties account for 3,207 of its 5,473 cases, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

On Friday, DeSantis ordered travelers from Louisiana to self-quartine for two weeks and directed the Florida Highway Patrol to set up checkpoints on major highways to screen travelers from the emerging virus hotspot.

“New Orleans is having a lot of problems — they may not be quite as widespread as New York City. There was a concern from the Panhandle that this could impact them,” the government said of the move.

“They are working hard to keep their rates low and we don’t want to add any problems to them,” he added.

Earlier Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued a “stay-at-home” order for his state, which is scheduled to take effect tonight at 8:00 p.m.

“Unfortunately we are only at the beginning of this crisis, and it will get considerably worse before it gets better,” Hogan said. “We are no longer asking or suggesting Marylanders stay home, we are directing them to do so.”

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New York welcomes hospital ship as coronavirus accelerates

New York (AFP) – A hospital ship arrived in New York Monday as America’s coronavirus epicenter prepares for the peak of the pandemic, with emergency restrictions extended amid grim warnings about the death toll. The navy’s USNS Comfort, which has space for 1,000 beds and a dozen operating rooms, docked in a Manhattan pier around…

New York welcomes hospital ship as coronavirus accelerates

New York (AFP) – A hospital ship arrived in New York Monday as America’s coronavirus epicenter prepares for the peak of the pandemic, with emergency restrictions extended amid grim warnings about the death toll.

The navy’s USNS Comfort, which has space for 1,000 beds and a dozen operating rooms, docked in a Manhattan pier around 11:00 am (1500 GMT) after departing Virginia on Saturday.

Its arrival came after President Donald Trump abandoned his Easter weekend target for life returning to normal in the United States and extended social distancing guidelines until the end of April.

Trump said on Sunday America’s death rate was likely to increase for two weeks, describing as “horrible” a prediction by senior scientist Anthony Fauci that COVID-19 could claim up to 200,000 lives.

Worst-affected New York is ramping up hospital capacity and taking delivery of desperately needed medical supplies as it races against time to get ready for its peak number of cases.

“This virus has been ahead of us from day one,” Governor Andrew Cuomo told MSNBC Monday, saying projections suggest the pandemic could reach its crest between two and four weeks.

“Prepare for the apex. Have the materials for the apex. That’s when the system is going to collapse,” he said.

The Comfort will care for New Yorkers requiring intensive care unrelated to the coronavirus, easing the burden on a hospital network overwhelmed by an influx of COVID-19 patients.

“It will be good for morale,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The US now has the highest number of confirmed cases in the world — more than 143,500, according to a running tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The illness has claimed more than 2,500 lives in the country and 776 of those deaths have been in New York, America’s financial capital and most populous city.

The Big Apple is scheduled to open a temporary emergency hospital in the Javits convention center with 2,900 beds on Monday.

Four other sites have also been approved to house patients discharged from hospitals to make way for residents suffering from coronavirus.

Flights run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the body tasked with responding to disasters, have also begun arriving at New York’s JFK Airport.

‘Nightmare’

The flights, part of “Project Airbridge,” are delivering millions of masks, gowns and thermometers.

Around 50 flights are planned in total, according to the White House.

De Blasio said late Sunday the city has enough medical equipment to last a week but needed “several hundred more ventilators very quickly.”

Trump cancelled his plans to re-open much of the US by Easter on April 12 after his top scientists confronted him with data on the rising coronavirus deaths.

Fauci, who leads research into infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that between 100,000 and 200,000 Americans could die from “millions of cases.”

Trump said the better that Americans obey the emergency guidelines to stay at home “the faster this whole nightmare will end.”

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” Trump said, adding he expected the country to “be well on our way to recovery” by June 1.

Fauci said he had no trouble convincing Trump to extend the confinement guidelines.

“He looked at the data and he got it right away. It was a pretty clear picture,” Fauci told CNN on Monday.

Trump, who initially downplayed COVID-19, has regularly oscillated between stressing the seriousness of the outbreak to talking of the need to get people back to work quickly.

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RI Authorities Conduct Door-to-Door Checks-ins of Fleeing New Yorkers

Rhode Island police and members of the Rhode Island National Guard went door to door over the weekend to inform New Yorkers who fled the state to escape the outbreak that they must self-quarantine for 14 days as the state, and nation as a whole, continues in its efforts to slow the spread of the…

RI Authorities Conduct Door-to-Door Checks-ins of Fleeing New Yorkers

Rhode Island police and members of the Rhode Island National Guard went door to door over the weekend to inform New Yorkers who fled the state to escape the outbreak that they must self-quarantine for 14 days as the state, and nation as a whole, continues in its efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) on Friday identified travelers from New York City as a massive risk to the Ocean State — an assertion New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) took issue with, ultimately threatening to sue.

“Right now we have a pinpointed risk,” Raimondo said at Friday’s news conference. “That risk is called New York City.”

She called for a mandated 14-day quarantine for New Yorkers flocking to the state. Rhode Island State police also set up checkpoints to stop cars with New York license plates.

On Saturday, police and members of the Rhode Island National Guard patrolled beach communities, knocking on doors of homes with cars donning New York license plates.

“So today, we’re actually going to be going driveway to driveway to identify New York vehicles in driveways,” Westerly Chief of Police Shawn Lacey said on Saturday.

He said the police department had received several calls of residents spotting New York license plates, and the department has been responding accordingly.

“If somebody has a concern of New York vehicles parked in a particular driveway or address that aren’t usually there, or the people that own the house and are in, we have no problem with them notifying us,” Lacey said.

“We will send an officer to that house to notify them of the mandated quarantine,” he continued.

“This is more of an educational tool to make people aware,” he added. “I think our presence being out there it’s going to make people aware of what’s going on.”

While Cuomo took issue with Raimondo’s target of New Yorkers, she ultimately expanded her order to all travelers flocking to the state.

“All out-of-state passenger vehicles will be required to stop at one of the information centers on the highway and secondary roads,” Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. James Manni said.

The order does not apply to commercial vehicles, and those passing through the state will be able to proceed. However, those staying are told of the mandated 14-day quarantine and are required to give authorities their contact information, which is transferred to the Department of Health.

“We are very hopeful that the people follow these directions and will voluntarily stop at the information stations,” Manni said.

The door to door checks have also been expanded to all travelers, but “they are still determining which communities they will focus those check-ins,” TurnTo10 reported.

“I spoke to the governor of Rhode Island yesterday, and we had a conversation,” Cuomo said over the weekend. “I don’t think the order was called for. I don’t believe it was legal. I don’t think it was neighborly.”

“I understood the point, but I thought there were different ways to do it and the governor of Rhode Island was very receptive and I thank her very much for reconsidering her position,” he said.

“I did talk to the governor of New York yesterday. It was after I had already taken my action and we chatted about it,” Raimondo said of their conversation, subtly dismissing Cuomo’s seeming claim to victory.

“If he feels it’s important for him to take credit, go ahead I’m going to keep working here to keep Rhode Islanders safe,” she added. “I think it’s odd that Governor Cuomo is focused on this sort of politics at a time we are fighting disasters.”

Residents of Rhode Island are currently under a stay-at-home order, which expires April 13.

Rhode Island had nearly 300 cases of the coronavirus and three virus-related deaths as of Sunday.

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