The Pew Hispanic Center recently reported that “the U.S. today has more immigrants from Mexico alone—12 million—than any other country in the world has from all the countries in the world.” 

In the last 40 years, these Mexican immigrants, desperate to escape a harsh landscape of grinding poverty, left their homes and families to come to el otro lado, or the “other side,” the name writer Reyna Grande says her people use to refer to the United States.

Grande, an award-winning novelist, has written a courageous memoir, The Distance Between Us, that chronicles her “before and after” existence: her life in Mexico without her parents, and her life in the States as an undocumented immigrant with her alcoholic father and indifferent stepmother.

Grande tells the heart-rending story of how first her father, then her mother, left her and her two siblings to find work and better wages in the U.S. After enduring repeated parental abandonment, fear and physical and emotional deprivation, Grande finally escapes over the border into California with her father and siblings. In Los Angeles, she soon finds a new set of challenges—from the secrecy she must maintain as an illegal immigrant to navigating public school and trying to find love and security in a chaotic home life. She longs for a soul connection to her birthplace—a shack with a dirt floor—under which was buried the umbilical cord of her birth, a “ribbon” that her sister said lessened “the distance between us,” the void of their mother’s continued absence.

Grande’s salvation, however, would come through her discovery of books and writing, and in the friendship of a teacher who gave her a home and mentored her. Unlike her siblings, Grande completed her education and was the first in her family to graduate from college. Her compelling story, told in unvarnished, resonant prose, is an important piece of America’s immigrant history.

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