BkRev #1757. The Distance Between Us: A Memoir, Grande, Reyna. ISBN 978-1-4516-6178-1, $16.00. Simon and Schuster.
Book by: Reyna Grande
Review by: Alec C. Down
The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Award-winning novelist Reyna Grande skillfully depicts the “other” side of the immigrant experience—the life-unseen that the hegemonic white gaze often fails to fully comprehend. Grande challenges her readers to reflect on the multiplicity of the immigrant experience and the emotional warfare that goes unnoticed by many in “El Otro Lado” (Spanish: “The Other Side,” referring to the United States of America). Grande candidly tells the story of her family’s transition from her poor Mexican village to city life in Los Angeles, California. The memoir provides an honest account of the physical and emotional pain experienced by Latinx families that have moved across the border into the United States, utilizing Grande’s own personal experiences to highlight issues central to the politically charged immigration debate.
Grande’s parents leave her in the small Mexican village where she was born and raised for a better life in the United States, with only the promise that they will return to collect her. During her parents’ many years of absence, Grande and her siblings are raised by abusive and poverty-stricken grandparents, living a life of hunger, sadness, and somehow unrelenting hope that one day her parents will come for them. Eventually, Grande’s father returns to Mexico and takes her and her siblings across the border into “El Otro Lado.” As Grande continues to learn English, she develops a love of reading and writing, and finds peace in libraries and books—she graduates high school and eventually becomes the first person in her family to graduate college.
Grande’s sincere and well-crafted prose highlights critical issues in the conversation around undocumented immigration. Where her recollection of certain events is, understandably, hazy at times, she relies on members of her family to fill in the gaps. Still, the richly emotional narrative will appeal to readers of all generations interested in the immigrant experience.
While Grande acknowledges multiple times the physical distance between her and her family members, the most striking aspect of Grande’s work is instead the metaphorical distance—the cultural divide—that separates her from mainstream, middle-class, white America. Indeed, as advisors meet with students of color, especially undocumented students with experiences similar to Grande’s, advisors must grapple with the cultural and linguistic differences between them. At times, it will be difficult if not impossible for an advisor to fully understand their students’ varied backgrounds, yet they will need to provide safe spaces for open communication and dialogue just like Grande finds in her mentor.