Award-winning UCSC alumna celebrates publication of new memoir

UC Santa Cruz alumna Reyna Grande
UC Santa Cruz alumna Reyna Grande
book cover, The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande

The Los Angeles Times has called it “a brutally honest book...the Angela’s Ashes of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.”

The Dallas Morning News noted: “Grande grabs your heart and strums music on it.”

And The Washington Independent Review of Books observed: “This book would be fabulous required reading for college freshmen--or even better, for freshman members of Congress.”

After two acclaimed novels about the Mexican immigrant experience, Reyna Grande is now celebrating the release of her new memoir--The Distance Between Us--with a reading and Q & A at Bookshop Santa Cruz on October 14.

Admission is free.

The UC Santa Cruz alumna (creative writing, film & video ’99) received an American Book award in 2007 for her debut novel, Across a Hundred Mountains.

She wrote the first 80 pages of that novel--a poignant story about immigration and family based on her own personal experience--as part of her senior project in the UCSC Literature Department.

Grande explained why she decided to write a memoir.

“Even though my first novel was inspired by my own experiences, it was mostly a fictionalized story,” she noted.

“I had been wanting to write a memoir for a long time, and as a matter of fact, my first novel was my ‘failed attempt’ at writing the memoir. I turned that book into fiction because it was too painful to relive the hardest moments of my life.”

Grande’s aim in the memoir is for readers to understand the complexity of immigration--an important issue that she says often gets pushed aside in favor of other issues that aren’t as controversial, or are easier to address.

“I want people to gain an insight into what is lost and gained when an immigrant leaves his country in pursuit of a better life,” said Grande. “Like in my family's case, immigration turned parents and children into strangers.”

“But it also allowed me to go from being born in a shack in Mexico to getting an MFA in the U.S. and getting published by one of the biggest publishers in the country,” she added. “Immigration is a conundrum. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don't.”

Grande grew up in extreme poverty in rural Mexico. She was only two when her father left Mexico to look for work in the U.S. Her mother followed two years later, leaving Grande behind in Mexico. In 1985, when she was almost 10, Grande crossed the border as an undocumented immigrant.

Now a U.S. citizen, Grande said that she would especially like to see lawmakers address the DREAM Act.

“I identify so much with young undocumented child immigrants because I came to the U.S. as one myself,” says Grande. “I also spent years worrying about my legal status, fearing deportation. But unlike the DREAMers, I came to the U.S. at a time when something wonderful happened--the amnesty of 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which allowed almost 3 million people, including both my parents, to legalize their status.”

“When I got my green card I felt the whole world open up to me,” she added. “And now I am paying back everything this country has given me, and I will continue to do so until the day I die.”

In addition to her writing, Grande takes an active role in promoting Latino literature and was program coordinator for the 2009 and 2010 Latino Book & Family Festival—the largest gathering of Latino authors in the country. She also teaches creative writing workshops and speaks at high schools, colleges and universities across the country.

“Michelle Obama said in her speech at the national convention that when you go through the door of success you don't shut the door,” Grande noted. “You leave the door wide open for those coming behind you. My writing workshops and the speaking I do at schools is my way of leaving the door open.”

Now living in Los Angeles, Grande said she always looks forward to coming back to Santa Cruz.

“This is the place that helped me to become the woman I am today,” said Grande. “The memoir ends on my very first day at UC Santa Cruz. Anyone who reads it will know what getting to Santa Cruz meant to me, and everything I had to overcome to get here.

“Santa Cruz became my refuge, and it was the place that helped me to heal,” she added.


Author and UCSC alumna Reyna Grande will appear at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Sunday, October 14 for a Reading and Signing of her new memoir, The Distance Between Us--followed by a Q & A and discussion. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, call (831) 423-0900.