Reyna Grande on The Beauty of the Immigrant Experience


Reyna Grande, author of novels Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies, wrote a memoir in 2012 called The Distance Between Us, where she vividly shares the story of her tumultuous childhood spent divided between two parents, two countries (Mexico and the United States), and two distinct worlds. After a number of harrowing attempts to cross the border, she finally makes it to “El Otro Lado” (the other side) and reunites with her family; But life proves no easier when she is forced to live under the roof of her long-absent father in a foreign land. This book is a must read to understand the immigrant experience up close and personal.

To date, The Distance Between Us has sold over 70,000 copies. Four years later, the Young Readers Edition is now available in bookstores for younger audiences (ages 10 -14) everywhere.

MD: Why did you decide to write your memoir?

RG: I wrote my story for both personal and political reasons. It took me three years from 2009 – 2012. For me, writing had been a healing experience. It helped me heal from my traumas. But I also wanted to put out a story about child immigrants. For people to be more compassionate toward immigrant families. With understanding comes more awareness. I wanted people to be more supportive of immigration reform and learn what broken families go through.

MD: After completing your memoir, what were your personal take-aways?

RG: It gave me a different perspective of my parents. I better understood their reasons for leaving Mexico. I have more compassion for my mom because researching this book forced me to see life from her perspective. She was a woman, and a wife, who got left behind. She was a woman who had her own dreams. Her own needs. With my dad, he helped me to understand his abusive behavior. How he was trapped in a cycle of violence and alcohol. Even though he was working toward something better, his addictions got in the way. I found forgiveness with my dad.

MD: What would you say is the main theme of your book?

RG: Broken families. Broken Dreams. The cost that immigrants pay for The American Dream. What we gain and what we lose. For most, we are free from poverty. From hunger. For me, I gained an education, created a career as a writer. I have a voice. As a mother, I will never be forced to leave my children because I cannot feed them as was the case with my parents.

As for what we lose—I lost my relationship with my parents. I lost my country. I lost my native tongue, traditions, and I left behind the family I still have there. I felt isolated and to this day, I miss not knowing my native country.

MD: What was your most profound memory in your book?

RG: Crossing the border. So much was at stake and if I didn’t make it, my family, none of my life in America would have happened. I think, what would my life have been like if I didn’t make it across the border? I didn’t the first time. We were devastated, but the third time, our efforts were successful.

Crossing the border defined my life. I am always crossing borders. As an immigrant, as a woman of color, as a Latina writer, there are always barriers to overcome. A lot of my strength comes from that time at the age of nine when I was trying to cross the border. I got from that the knowledge that I have it in me to face the border barriers every day in my life.

MD: Why should young readers pick up your memoir?

RG: For the immigrant reader, I want them to see themselves in my story. Remind them that they are not invisible. Their stories matter. I also want kids to understand their peers. Immigration reform is one of the greatest issues facing this country. I want all children to know more about it.

When my son picked up the Young Reader’s edition, he read the entire book in one night. He couldn’t put it down. He asked for copies for his friends because they didn’t have the money to buy it themselves. He wanted to give it to them because he told me that their families were going through what I went through as a child.

MD: What advice would you give Latino youth today?

RG: To find strength within themselves. That nobody should be excluded. That this is the place to celebrate multi-culturalism and celebrate one another.

I want people to know that I am very proud to represent the best in my culture and community. There are immigrants like me who give nothing but their best, to contribute their best. I know I do that. As a writer, I was chosen to be a bridge, to try and connect my culture, my people, with the rest of the world.

Reyna Grande is currently speaking in 27 different cities this Fall promoting the Young Reader’s Edition of her memoir. She is working on a sequel to The Distance Between Us, on how she became a woman, a writer, and a mother. Visit her website here.

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