Thursday, March 16, 2017

Q&A with Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande is the author most recently of the new young readers edition of her memoir The Distance Between Us. She also has written the novels Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies. Born in Mexico, she came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant when she was almost 10. She lives in Davis, California.

Q: Why did you decide to write a young readers edition of The Distance Between Us, and what are the differences between this new version and the original?

A: I wanted to offer immigrant youth a book in which they could see their experiences and feel less alone...

Adapting the memoir for young readers was a little scary. Word count is very important in middle grade books so I was careful about not going over the limit.

I cut out about 100 pages, but I also added new chapters to the manuscript so I had to be conscious about not losing the structure and narrative arc of the story.

I took out the inappropriate sections, but I didn’t water down the story and I stayed true to the themes of the original—family separation, abuse, childhood trauma, the price of the American Dream.

Having this book available to young readers was very important to me because I wanted to inspire them and encourage them to work hard for their own dreams. 

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: "The Distance Between Us" signifies all the distances, geographical and metaphorical, that separated me from my parents. When they left for the U.S. there was a distance of 2,000 miles and a border stood between us.

But once we were reunited in Los Angeles, there were more distances to overcome. The hardest was the emotional distance. When I assimilated and learned my way in American society, my assimilation became another distance.

My college education, my career as a writer, etc., all those things have also created distances between me and my parents. When my father passed away, his death became the ultimate distance. Through the years I had lost him so many times, in so many ways, but when he died it was the final loss, and it was the hardest. 

Q: Given the current political climate regarding immigration, what do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: …Immigrants risk more than just their life [in seeking the American Dream]. They risk the well-being of their entire family. Yet they have no choice but to pursue immigration regardless of the consequences.

We need to ask ourselves why. What are the factors that create immigrants? Right now we are experiencing a global migration crisis. More than 65 million people in the world have been displaced due to war, economic instability, natural disasters.

Building walls isn't the answer. We need to ask ourselves, what can we, as a country, do to help these people who have been forced to migrate?

As the most powerful nation in the world, we have a responsibility to have more humane foreign and domestic policies and greater awareness about how we have contributed to the migrant/refugee crisis. 

Q: You write about some very difficult topics in this memoir. How hard was it to revisit those experiences as you wrote the book?

A: Emotionally, this has been the hardest book I've written. Having lived through those experiences the first time was hard enough, and having to relive everything nearly killed me.

But this book set me free. Writing about these experiences allowed me to put on paper everything I had been carrying inside of me for years--the pain, the hurt, the anger, the resentment, the fear.

I created a vessel to contain all of those things, and now I don't have to carry them inside of me anymore. I feel liberated. The book brought me to a place of understanding and forgiveness, and that is a wonderful place to be. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on two projects right now. The first is the sequel to The Distance Between Us. I don't have a title yet (they always come at the end!) but the book spans the next 10 years of my life.

I write about my 20s, the point in my life where I was struggling with being a first-generation college student, then graduating and dealing with making my way in the real world, trying to find a job, fighting for my dream of becoming a published writer, to make a home for myself, and most importantly, to overcome the distance between me and my family. 

My second project is a novel set during the Mexican-American War. I wanted to write about this particular war because I feel that it has been swept under the rug.

It isn’t taught much in schools, and American children are growing up without knowing or understanding the common history between the U.S. and Mexico. Many of them don’t even realize that half of the U.S. once belonged to Mexico.

I think if people knew more about the past they would understand the Mexicans living here a little better. Not all of us are immigrants! 

The Mexican-American War, in my opinion, has been “conveniently” erased from American consciousness and I want to do my part in bringing it back.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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