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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Latina author shares cultural identity crisis

By Elyssa Whaley/reporter

Author Reyna Grande told TR students she was encouraged to dream big as a child.
Photo courtesy Reyna Grande

Immigration and identity between the United States and Mexico are deep-rooted themes in the literature of an award-winning Latina author who visited TR Campus Oct. 24.

Reyna Grande, author of Dancing with Butterflies, Across a Hundred Mountains and her recent memoir The Distance Between Us, told students what she wanted to accomplish as a writer.

“I want people to get a closer look at immigration beyond politics and economics,” she said. “I want them to see a personal story and get a different view on immigration … maybe they will have deeper understanding of what it is to be an immigrant and what it does to families.”

Grande said she wrote in her memoir about being left behind in Mexico, what it was like to be separated from her parents and her coming of age in the U.S.

An excerpt from The Distance Between Us concerning the cultural and identity struggle between two nations reads,Where do I belong? Do I belong here? Do I belong there? Do I belong anywhere?”

“These are the questions I try to answer in my writings,” Grande said.

Grande crossed the border illegally as a young girl with her father in the mid-1980s.

“I spent fifth and sixth grade being an outsider,” she said. “The biggest shock was half of the classroom looked like me, and they could all speak the language I couldn’t speak — English.”

Grande shared with the audience something her father had taught her as a child: “Dream big.”

“Even though we weren’t documented,” she said, “that didn’t mean we couldn’t dream.”

In 1990, Grande became a legal resident and was awarded a green card. She returned to her home to visit family.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” she said. “I was treated completely different. I realized even though I was born in Mexico, I was no longer Mexican enough for the people there.”

At age 13, Grande found that writing relieved her anxiety and struggle for belonging.

“I started to writing when I was young because I discovered in my writing I didn’t have to feel torn,” she said. “I could write about Mexico and the U.S. and feel that I belonged in both places.”

At 19, Grande moved out of her home. Her father had struggled with alcoholism, and it had become worse over the years, she said.

Distraught after she said her father was arrested on domestic abuse charges, she searched for someone to speak with. Her college English professor Diane Savas became her confidant and invited Grande to live with her so that she could focus on her education and dreams.

“My English professor was always encouraging me and telling me I should be a writer,” Grande said.

The first night Grande stayed with Savas, the teacher gave her a book, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

“For the first time in my life, I could see myself in a book written by a Latina,” she said. “When Diane told me I should be a writer, I finally understood what she was telling me.”

When she left Savas’ home, Grande said she had the courage, confidence and strength to become the writer she had set out to be.

Grande now has three novels to work on after her book tour. She was also busy as one of the coordinators for the Latina Book Festival in Los Angeles.

“I wanted to create this festival that was for Latina authors to finally have a home, have a place to promote their work and reach out to the community and feel celebrated for what they have done,” she said.

Grande offered advice to future writers.

“You need to be passionate about what you’re writing,” she said. “Don’t write about things that are popular at the moment. The writing that you do has to come from the heart and deep within you.”

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