By: Alicia Menendez
Reyna Grande’s critically-acclaimed first memoir “The Distance Between Us,” told the story of her family’s journey from Mexico to the United States. Now, she’s back with her highly anticipated follow-up, “A Dream Called Home.” Reyna spoke with Alicia Menendez about the power of storytelling, her advice for aspiring writers, and how the family separation crisis has forced her to re-examine her own experience.
Alicia: We often paint this image of the perfect immigrant. Your parents, by your account, were far from perfect, your mom was distant, your father was an alcoholic, at times abusive. Did you have reservations about telling the more complicated, nuanced part of this story?
Reyna: I really struggled at first. I worried about what people were going to think about my family and the mistakes that we made along the way. But at the same time, there is no perfect family. We all, at some point or another, make mistakes. I also didn’t want to romanticize the immigrant family. I didn’t want to romanticize the idea of what a mother or a father is. I always talk to young people who tell me that they’re living through the same kind of family dysfunctions. I realized that it’s really a common problem, and it made me feel better in a way. I always thought that there must be something wrong with me, that my family was not perfect.
Alicia: Do you think that a story like this has the capacity, beyond motivating someone who already identifies with it, to change the heart or the mind of someone who has a negative conception of what an immigrant is?
Reyna: I think it does. I’m judging it from the response to ‘The Distance Between Us’. I have heard from so many people that my book opened their minds about the reality of being an immigrant, the heartbreaking sacrifices, and the struggles that we have to overcome. I really think that stories like mine do have the potential to change hearts and minds, to help people who might not know a lot about this experience understand it just a little bit better. It’s important also because this is a story written by an immigrant herself. It’s really important to hear directly from the source and to hear this type of testimony.
Alicia: During your time at UCSC, you had a teacher who told you your work was “over the top and over written,” and “too flowery and full of cliches.” Even after all of your success, do you sometimes still hear that teacher’s voice in your head?
Reyna: Yes. I do. Whenever I sit down to write, there is still a little bit of insecurity in that I wonder if my writing has gotten better than when my teacher criticized it. It’s a little voice that it feels that it’s not, and that I need to try harder. I have trained myself to work through that. I work very hard. But I also realized that sometimes this isn’t about my craft. It is about my personal experiences that need to be released.
Alicia: Looking at the title of the book, do you believe that home is a thing that one can create for oneself?
Reyna: I think we definitely can create a home. It’s not a physical thing. It’s something that we feel inside of us, that ideally we can carry with us wherever we go. I think it’s important to learn how to be comfortable with ourselves. How to love and respect ourselves and like ourselves. It’s really good also to find a way where you know that you belong and you make that space and build that community for yourself. My writing has become my home. I can take it wherever I go.
Alicia: What is your advice to other Latinas who want to have the type of career, who want to be the type of creative that you have been, to make a career out of it?
Reyna: Learning the craft of writing and being published is not enough. That’s just half of the job. The other half of the job is learning how to promote your work and how to go out there into the world and search for readers. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking just because we can write and publish a book that that’s it. Publishing a book is only half of that journey. The rest of the journey is going out there and literally becoming a traveling sales person. You go from town to town and find your readers because most of the time, readers don’t find your book. You have to find them.
Alicia: As someone who crossed the border as a child, how do you process the Trump administration’s family separation policy?
Reyna: I am processing it in a different way than I used to. Obama was also separating families— so it was happening to those children and the family too. Before I always thought of the children, because I was a child [when I immigrated], so I always related to them and their trauma. I still think a lot about the children, but I’m starting to shift my perspective in that now I’m thinking about the parents too. In thinking about the parents, it allowed me to reflect more on my parents and what it must be like for a parent to live in this world that forces you to make the decision to bring your children on a very, very difficult journey where they might lose their lives in the process, but then there’s the other choice that you could make, which is to leave your children behind to suffer apart from you. What makes me upset is that we never talk about the factors that are driving these families to come to the border. A lot of the conversation, especially with Trump, is always about how to deter them, how to keep them in their countries and keep them with their children. The conversation is not being broadened to include the question: why are they coming?
Alicia: Anything else you want to add about ‘A Dream Called Home’?
Reyna: I wrote a book about a Latina in college. It makes me really happy, because I feel that a lot of times we don’t talk about Latinos in college. We struggle a lot to get ourselves through school. But we do. We value higher education. We value having careers and being personally successful. This is the story of so many Latinos who have actually put themselves through school with very little support. They’ve gone on to do many great things. So this is not just my story, I feel that there are a lot of people who are in this very same situation.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.