In The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande, her life and experiences as an immigrant in America, the importance of her family and not losing hope were persistent themes within the memoir. Unfortunately, Grande’s childhood was far from peaceful and loving, instead being one full of traumatizing experiences and events. Still, as of now, it is my favorite non-fiction book. Yet because I misplaced my copy of this book, I cannot cite direct evidence to support some of my ideas, however, I will be trying to give an honest impression of this book as it had a very lasting impact on me, which means all quotes are taken from articles that Reyna Grande has written or posted on her website. Finally, there are some minor to major spoilers to the book in this blog post.
A controversial subject that is very relevant in the theme of the book is the problem of illegal immigration. Children from Central and South America are often separated from their parents when they leave their homes for work in the United States, often through illegal means. In The Distance Between Us, Reyna suffered from her family being split apart by immigration. As young kids, she and her siblings didn’t understand why her parents are leaving them and feels abandoned when they learned that their mother was pregnant with their baby sister Betty. This was caused mainly by the time and distance that separated her and her parents, a problem that Grande really tried to emphasize, instead of the more global issues that immigration pose to a country.
But an immigration to America meant she would face many forms of discrimination. At the start of the story, Reyna was strictly punished because she used her left hand, or the “devil’s” hand. She was not able to afford lunch like much of the other kids, and when one of the students dropped a mango on a stick, she and her sister argue about who would pick it up, both embarrassed and afraid that their classmates would judge them for it. This is further shown when in America, she faced further discrimination from her teachers. For example, when she got into the writing competition in fifth grade, Reyna noticed that her teacher put her story which she wrote in Spanish directly into the pile of rejected works. This continued into her college life. ““You have a wild imagination,” my teacher would say of my autobiographical stories of Mexican poverty, immigration, and broken homes. I wanted to tell her that her job was to critique my craft, not my cultural experiences—but my shame kept me silent.”(Grande, Article)
Even through all the tough times and events that she has endured, Reyna continues to strive to be her best for her family. Growing up, she never really had her family as her father immigrated to America when she was very young. After her mother left, Reyna felt truly alone, even if she stayed optimistic, she was still unsure if her parents would ever come back to Mexico. Therefore, when she was told that her mother had given birth to her little sister Betty, she was very distressed, thinking that her parents were finally abandoning her. But the ray of hope came from her sister, Mago, when she told Reyna that “It doesn’t matter that there’s a distance between us now. That cord is there forever.” Yet when her family is reunited, it is not quite the same as it was before, despite how much they wanted it to be. “The man behind the glass” was not the father she had wanted. He had divorced her mother and married a new woman named Mila. Furthermore, he was abusive towards his children and later his wife.
Tough family circumstances lead her own sister to abandon her in a time where she needed someone the most. Her father constantly tried to put her down, trying to discourage her from going to university. Yet Grande never gave up hope for a better future. Her turning point was when her college professor Diana Savas gave her a purpose. Under Diana’s tutoring, she turned out to be an excellent writer and in turn, Diana let Reyna know about authors who had similar experiences as her, giving her lives and characters she could finally relate to. But, because of her father’s deteriorating health, she still chose to stay by his side. In the end however, her father must have realized his fault, and at least tried to make it up to Reyna by letting her go and allowing her to follow her dreams.
Reyna Grande made it very clear in the story that she was not promoting illegal immigration in any way. She showed the trauma and neglect she faced as a kid due to her family immigrating to the United States. But she also made it clear, that even in the hellish conditions she was in before and after she immigrated, she did not stop striving for a better future, no matter the struggles she faces along the way. At the very end of the epilogue, Reyna described her last moments with her dying father, how she tried to forget about all the pain he has caused her, instead focused on the moments where she was truly happy, and she realized that without her father, she would never have had the courage to move to the United States, nor the encouragement needed to stay in school and become who she is today. Her point in writing this memoir was to prove that, not matter where you come from, with whatever family background, equal opportunities should be given.