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Review of ‘The Distance Between Us’ by Reyna Grande

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The Distance Between Us is a memoir by Reyna Grande that tells the story of how she grew up in Mexico in the 1980s. The memoir begins with Reyna explaining how she spent her childhood in Mexico along with her siblings Mago and Carlos while they waited for their parents to return from ‘El Otro Lado.’ During their time in Mexico they live with their abusive and neglectful grandmother in hopes that their parents would return to them shortly with money to build their dream house. The memoir covers many very intense topics including physical and mental abuse, trauma, abandonment, relationships, and failed expectations. The memoir also details the difficult journey of having to cross the United States-Mexico border and what life is like for an immigrant in ‘El Otro Lado.’ The book then covers Reyna’s experience with attending school in the United States and how she struggled with English but was able to express herself through music. Reyna also details her relationships with her parents as she grows older, as well as her relationship with her older sister Mago, and Mago’s relationship with their father. 

The author’s purpose in presenting her story is to attract attention to the more than common scenario of parents feeling forced to leave their children behind due to poverty and hopes of being able to provide them with better opportunities by traveling to the United States and sending money back to Mexico. Reyna discussed how aside from her own story, she was able to see this situation from an outside perspective as she taught both immigrant children and adults after she completed college. She said that ‘The cycle of leaving children behind has not ended. Nor will it end, as long as there is poverty, as long as parents feel that the only way to provide something better for their children is by leaving (pg 320).” I believe that Reyna also wrote her book as a way to encourage others that are in the same situation that she was in. Reyna writes about how she struggled with her relationship with both of her parents after idolizing them for so long because they both disappointed her in different ways upon their return to Mexico. I think that she writes in order to demonstrate that it can be difficult to accept these relationships after expecting something else for so long. Reyna discussed how when their mother originally returned to her and her siblings along with their sister Betty they were so excited because they had missed her for so long, but were quickly met with disappointment when they found that the mother that had left them two years prior was no longer the mother that had returned and that she and their father were no longer together. While their mother and father were gone they also struggled with the fear that their parents had forgotten about them when they had another child and the jealousy of that child. In the case of her dying father, I believe that Reyna also wrote to explain to others that it is okay to still be angry at the people that hurt you even if you love them. In her case Reyna and her siblings struggled on some days to support their father after all he had done to them when they were growing up, even though he was not the same man at this point in their lives. She wrote that there were days when she and her siblings felt that their father deserved to be dying because he made his own choices and it was ‘what he deserved’ after abusing them and his girlfriend. I think that this was an important part for Reyna to include as many people struggle with relationships with their parents after suffering abuse and can have very conflicting emotions. Reyna depicted what she and her siblings needed to do what was best for them, even if that meant not visiting their father on days that they felt hurt or angry. 

I also believe that Reyna’s purpose in writing her story is to show that you are not always the situation that you grew up with. Despite coming from multiple abusive and broken homes Reyna and her siblings were still able to grow and create families of their own which is not always a possibility in situations like theirs. I also believe that Reyna wrote her story to provide motivation to others that may be struggling with where they are in their lives. I think that she does a good job demonstrating that even though she struggled with school, especially when she was younger, as well as with her English, she was able to attend college and earn multiple degrees and become a successful writer. 

The author’s presentation is incredibly effective. I believe that the best way for someone to really express the experiences that they have gone through in a meaningful way is to write them down. I believe that this gives them the opportunity to think clearly about their situation and find the appropriate words or phrases to describe what it is that they are trying to express. I believe that Reyna did an incredible job of expressing the emotional trauma that she went through when living with her Abuela Evila as well as her father. I also believe that if Reyna’s intention was to bring attention to how Mexican children were treated during this time, then she did an excellent job. I think that Reyna was able to share enough about her own experiences as a child and how it impacted her relationships as she aged. I also believe that Reyna did a good job attempting to express how her older sister, Mago, may have felt throughout their childhood. Obviously, Reyna was the youngest of the three siblings left behind in Mexico so she had some comfort in what her older siblings would tell her and how they would be there to help her. However, her older sister Mago was not as fortunate to have this comfort and had to rely on herself to get through her traumatising childhood. I believe that Reyna does a good job depicting that her experiences were not entirely the same as those of her siblings. I also think that she does a very good job of taking herself out of her experiences enough to not paint her siblings as villains when they had arguments but is emotionally mature enough to understand how they may have been feeling in those situations. 

One issue that I find with Reyna’s presentation is how her ending is hopeful and provides the message that everything that she suffered through was worth it in the end. I understand that if her motivation for telling her story is that she wants to provide hope for others in similar situations that this could be considered necessary. However, I also believe that if her motivation for writing her story was to raise awareness to the amount of people in her situation that this could lead the audience to the wrong perception of everything that happened to her. I believe that her ending gives the audience the idea that everything was wrapped up in a nice, concise way with her father’s death, whereas in reality it is likely that Reyna, along with her mother and her siblings, are still struggling to overcome their own, personal battles. I also believe that her ending gives the audience the idea that everyone who was, or will ever be, in a similar situation will have the same ending full of hope and emotional reflection, which is incredibly unlikely. 

I believe that first person accounts in history are incredibly necessary. I feel that if history is only presented as facts or events it can become impossible to remember that there are people that lived through these events. I also think that first person accounts can provide information about what daily life was like for people when there were monumental events happening around them. For example, it can be easy to forget when you’re learning about war and specific battles or events, that there were actual people fighting in those wars. It can also be easy to forget that the war impacted others that weren’t directly involved but still faced the consequences of war. I believe that having a first person account of history makes the material more understandable and relatable, as well as providing the audience with people to connect with. 

I believe that one problem with the first person account of history can be that it is too narrow and unfocused. In The Distance Between Us, Reyna recounts the details of what living in Mexico and the United States was like for her, her family, and many others but does not provide explicit details on other things that are happening in the world during this time. While Reyna’s story and experiences are important, it can be difficult to relate it to the history that is explicitly taught about that time period. It also would have been a helpful way to connect her experiences to the causes of why her city was so poor and why it was necessary for her parents to travel to the United States for money. Though Reyna was still able to tell her story in a meaningful way, I think that it would have been more effective if she had connected her experiences with events that were happening as she was growing up. 

Caitlin is a Senior at the University of Delaware. Her major is International Relations and she has minors in History, International Business, and Social Justice. When she's not writing for Her Campus you can find Caitlin running around campus (most likely with an iced coffee in hand) or with her friends.
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