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Author Reyna Grande's Books 'Humanize' Immigration Experience

First Posted: Jul 30, 2015 05:00 AM EDT
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This article is part of "Palabras," the Latin Post Latino Author Series.

Reyna Grande, author of the critically acclaimed memoir "The Distance Between Us," endured a desolate and deprived early life, filled with abandonment. But, decades later, the award-winning author has used her story as a tool to transform her life.

Born in Guerrero, Mexico within the walls of a shack built from sticks and cardboard, Grande's father -- and later, her mother --  journeyed to the U.S. in pursuit of work, leaving her and her siblings behind. For years, Grande and her siblings feared that their parents would never return, but when she was nearly 10 years old, her father returned to retrieve her, taking her to the U.S. Although she'd emigrated to the U.S., her early childhood moments haunted her. In her adult years, she wrote to set herself free.

"I began writing in my teenage years as a way to make sense of everything I had gone through and was going through," Grande told Latin Post. "At a young age I had already experienced many traumas, and writing helped me to cope. I didn't think of myself as a writer. I chose writing as a way of self-expression because I had a thick accent when I spoke English, but when I wrote you couldn't 'hear' my accent."

Grande shared that every book and story she's ever written has centered on the themes of separation, loss, abuse, poverty and immigration. She writes those things because those are the things that she knows first-hand. She was inspired to write to make a difference, to use writing as tool to inspire young people to pursue their dreams. She wants her stories to be a part of U.S. Literature, as a representation of Latino culture, to ensure that Latino voices are heard.

Grande explored the plight of undocumented immigrants, as well as the trials and tribulations of women at different stages of their lives with the novel "In Dancing with Butterflies." Her memoir, "The Distance Between Us," voices her experience with immigration and everything that she'd lost and gained in her pursuit of the American Dream.

"I was inspired to write this memoir because I wanted to humanize the issue of immigration and I wanted to get the message across that immigrants are human beings. Immigration doesn't just affect an individual. It affects the entire family unit," said Grande.

When completing "Across a Hundred Mountains," a novel about a young girl who leaves her small town in Mexico to find her father in the U.S., Grande explores personal experiences, such as living in poverty. Grande saw her father leave for the U.S and watched her family fall apart. Because she wasn't ready to tell her own story, she fictionalized it and turned it into a novel, driven by the question "What would have happened if my father had never returned?"

The journey to become a writer was both difficult and easy for Grande. In her youth, the years of "training" were hard: finding a voice, trying to make sense of the world, and figuring out who she was, who she wasn't and who she wanted to be.

"When I finally buckled down and decided to become a published writer, that journey wasn't as arduous as that of other aspiring writers. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the "Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellowship" offered by PEN Center USA, a mentorship program for aspiring writers," Grande stated. "There, I finished working on 'Across a Hundred Mountains.' I met my agent through that program. After some rejections -- I don't know how many because after a while she stopped telling me -- my agent sold my book to Atria, and I became a published writer."

Grande admitted that there are some challenges she's faced as a Latina author. Latino/a writers face exclusion, and must fight for their writing to be considered a part of mainstream and American literature. According to the author, Latino writers don't have film/TV studios knocking on their doors, and "Oprah doesn't pick our books for her book club. Major writing conferences and festival don't invite many Latino authors to be guest speakers. Maybe one day that will change."

The accomplished novelist and memoirist shared that she's learned how important goals are. Goals give a specific destination for arrival, and without them, it's impossible to get anywhere. She visualizes where she wants to see herself in a year, five years and ten years, and she works to arrive at that goal. Likewise, she "encourages young people to create long and short-term goals for themselves and to not let anything or anyone keep them from arriving."

Grande is currently working on the middle grade adaptation of "The Distance Between Us." It will be republished by Aladdin, Simon & Schuster Children's division. She plans to share her story with 5th-9th graders.

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