IN 1993, EIGHT YEARS AFTER Reyna Grande immigrated as a young child to the United States, Luis Rodriguez’s memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. was published. Like Grande, Rodriguez came to the US with his family as a very young boy, and he was drawn into the gang life. He wrote that he and his family “never stopped crossing borders.” Even when living here, they “kept jumping hurdles [...] It was a metaphor to fill our lives.” Conditions had not significantly improved since he was a young man in the 1970s, he claimed; too many hurdles still existed for young people, leading them to give up, marginalized, with no jobs or future, viewed by society as expendable, as not worth investing in. The result was far too many lives destroyed and lost.
Like Rodriguez’s, Grande’s writing describes the hurdles of broken families, poverty, abuse, and lack of opportunity that keep many young Latinos from realizing their hopes for higher education and an adequate job. As a survivor who became her family’s first college graduate, her attention is firmly focused on revealing immigration’s long-lasting effects on immigrants and their families. In the epilogue of her memoir, The Distance Between Us (just nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award), she reminds us “that studies show that 80 percent of Latin American children in U.S. schools have been separated from a parent in the process of migration.” In this work as well as her two earlier novels, her intent is “to shed light on the complexities of immigration,” to show how immigration affects entire families “in both positive and negative ways.”
Grande acknowledges that much of what she wrote in her two novels — Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies — is drawn from personal experience. In Across a Hundred Mountains, the intertwined stories of the two protagonists, Juana and Adelina, fictionalize events and circumstances from her own life: the poverty and family hardships Juana suffers in her home town in Guerrero, Mexico, and which lead her to leave to search for her father; the lack of money and difficulty she faces traveling to Tijuana; the extreme physical demands and life-threatening danger Adelina confronts when illegally crossing the border — these all have their bases in Grande’s life. Dancing with Butterflies, again with autobiographical impetus, focuses on several different women connected by their love of Folklorico dance, a mosaic of immigrants and daughters of immigrants and their struggles living here.
At the core of Grande’s stories about immigrants and their children’s lives is her mission to reveal the deep, permanent costs of immigration, both the loss when parents are separated from their children, and the impoverished lives and unrealized hopes once they arrive. In Daniel Olivas’s LARB interview, Grande says she decided to write her memoir to tell “the real story about my life, before and after illegally immigrating to the US from Mexico.” In her memoir, she vividly depicts the very heart of the loss she felt as a young child, when her father left for “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side), and then later, at the age o...read more