“In 1980, when I was four years old” writes Reyna Grande, who grew up in poverty in Mexico, “I didn’t know yet where the United States was or why everyone in my hometown of Iguala, Guerrero, referred to it as El Otro Lado, the Other Side. What I knew back then was that El Otro Lado had already taken my father away. What I knew was that prayers didn’t work, because if they did, El Otro Lado wouldn’t be taking my mother away, too.”
Grande’s account of her formative years, and the turning point in her life that created an award-winning novelist, is told in “The Distance Between Us” ($16 in paperback from Simon and Schuster; also for Amazon Kindle).
Chosen as the 2014-2015 Book in Common by Butte College, Chico State University, and other local groups, the story is not just about geographical distance but about the emotional divide that threatens a family with disintegration. Though Reyna and her two older siblings, Carlos and Mago, find strength in each other, it is severely tested by an alcoholic and abusive Papi and a Mami who abandons her family.
Even if one manages to get to the Other Side--paying smugglers for an uncertain future--Reyna comes to realize that one must never forget one’s heritage. One day in Iguala, “Mago and I sat on the dirt floor, and she told me about the day I was born exactly the way Mami used to tell it. ... Mago pointed to a spot on the dirt floor and reminded me that my umbilical cord was buried there. That way, Mami told the midwife, no matter where life takes her, she won’t ever forget where she came from.”
The second half of the book is about life in the United States (green cards arrived in 1990 after five years in El Otro Lado), and the life-changing encounter in an English class, at Pasadena City College, which opened her to writers who understood. “How did you know? How did you know this is how I felt?” Now, Grande has become one of them.