Staff Pick — John — THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US: A MEMOIR, by Reyna Grande, DB 85006

National Hispanic Heritage Month was September 15-October 15.  It recognizes the contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.  One such person is author Reyna Grande, who describes her tumultuous journey from Mexican immigrant to American citizen in THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US: A MEMOIR.

Grande tells of being left behind in Iguala, Mexico by her father when he leaves for the United States, or El Otro Lado.  Later, her mother follows him to “The Other Side.”  Reyna and her older siblings, Mago and Carlos, are left in the care of their neglectful and mean-spirited paternal grandmother.

Three years later, Reyna, Mago, and Carlos cross the border with their father and join him in Los Angeles.  Years of hardship and resiliency follow.  At turns aspirational and callous, their father pushes his children to succeed in their new country, and Reyna becomes the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Flavored with a sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases, this is a direct, no-frills memoir.  Grande doesn’t diminish or romanticize the poverty she endures in Mexico, describing bellies bloated with roundworms and scorpions crawling the walls of her family’s shack.

Nor does she shy away from detailing the emotional and physical abuse they suffer at the hands of their alcoholic father.  Grande has a profoundly complicated relationship with her father, one that continues to evolve even when he’s on his deathbed.

Grande’s father told his children that “just because we’re illegal doesn’t mean we can’t dream.”  Her journey from Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico to Santa Cruz and beyond, reveals the truth behind those words.

What makes THE DISTANCE BETWEEN US memorable is the unrelenting bond between Reyna and her siblings.  They refuse to let any distance come between them.


NLS Annotation: The author recounts her childhood, when her father left her, and her siblings, and her mother behind in Mexico to cross the United States’ border.  Years later he summons his wife to join him, but Reyna and her siblings are left behind with their stern grandmother.  Some violence.  2012.

LA DISTANCIA ENTRE NOSOTROS (DB 79963) is the Spanish language version.

Meet author Reyna Grande at

Enjoy an October 2015 BookTV interview with Reyna Grande:

If you’d like to read other accounts of migration from Mexico and other Latin American countries, sample these titles:

WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA: CONFESSIONS OF A CUBAN BOY, by Carlos Eire (DB 57745), offers a starkly different perspective on the immigrant experience.  Born in privilege in Cuba, Eire and his brother fled Cuba when Fidel Castro came to power.  However, a child’s longing for family left behind crosses all cultural and socio-economic lines.

Travel THE DEVIL’S HIGHWAY: A TRUE STORY, by Luis Alberto Urrea (DI 03701), and enter the “complicated, dangerous world of the border.”

ENRIQUE’S JOURNEY (DB 62628), by Sonia Nazario, recounts a young Honduran boy’s harrowing journey to rejoin his mother in America.  (TRAVESIA DE ENRIQUE, DB 76963).

SPARE PARTS (BR 20681 / DB 80725) is the astonishing story of four undocumented Mexican immigrants in Arizona who won the 2004 National Underwater Robotics Competition.

The dangers of life—and travel—in Mexico are explored by Richard Grant in GOD’S MIDDLE FINGER: INTO THE LAWLESS HEART OF THE SIERRA MADRE, DB 67469.

Grande was born in Iguala, Mexico, which made international headlines in 2014 when 43 male college students were kidnapped and murdered.  Although the kidnapping occurred some 30 years after Grande left Iguala, it speaks to the danger and desperation the drives people to “El Otro Lado.”

The Los Angeles Times revisits the mystery of the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping:

Learn more about the notorious Iguala mass kidnapping: