In my memoir, The Distance Between Us, I write about my experience as a border crosser. Borders have always been a part of my life. It saddens me to see that the world—instead of tearing down border walls—is actually building more of them. There are more border barriers today than ever before. In 1989 there were only 15 border walls in the world. Today there are more than 63, and counting.
My first experience with borders came at the age of two when my father left Mexico to seek a better life in the U.S. Two years later, my mother also left to the land across the border, leaving me and my siblings behind. By the time I was five, I had no mother and no father with me, and a border stood between us, separating us. I was left behind to yearn for the day when my family would be reunited.
At the age of nine I found myself face to face with that border. I had to run across it, become a ‘criminal’, break U.S. law for a chance to have a father again. I succeeded on my third attempt and began my new life in Los Angeles at my father’s house. I thought I was done with borders; I didn’t know there would be more to be crossed—cultural borders, language borders, legal borders, gender and career borders, and more.
As a Mexican immigrant, as a woman of color, as a Latina writer I’ve fought to break down the barriers American society puts up for the groups I belong to. It’s always been a struggle to be Mexican in this country, and especially so in these dark times. For over a year Mexican immigrants had been under attack, blatantly demeaned and vilified by Donald Trump, who began his presidential campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, drug dealers, criminals. He said he would literally build more border walls, and now that he’s been elected president, we will bear witness to his hatred of my people. But he’s wrong about many things—especially when he said that Mexico doesn’t send its best. Like most Mexican immigrants, I have given nothing but my best to this country since the moment I crossed the U.S. border. I’ve worked hard at learning the language, understanding the American way of life, at pursuing my education, honing my writing craft, so that one day I could be a contributing member of this society and use my skills and passion to keep this country great. This is what most immigrants do. Our work ethic, our drive, our perseverance, our passion, our commitment to succeed and to give our best is undeniable.
Being a woman has never been easy. In the U.S. we might have it better than other countries, but still, women here have always struggled to overcome the borders put before us. We’ve had a long battle to redefine our place in the home and the workplace, our right to earn equal pay to what men receive. To be seen as more than someone’s daughter, wife, or mother. We had a long fight for our right to vote and to have a political voice, and for the past year we were fighting for our right to lead. For the first time we could have had our first female president since the birth of this nation, but despite her qualifications, since the very beginning of her campaign, Hillary Clinton was held to a double-standard because of her gender. Because she was a woman. We let that man get away with saying the most insulting, offensive, and ridiculous things. But Clinton? We let her get away with nothing. We elected a man who has absolutely no experience in running a country, instead of the woman who was more than qualified to do that and more.
We witnessed, at a national level, what happens on a daily basis to women in the workplace—we lose to men who are less qualified than us.
Last week we bore witness to a white woman failing to tear down the wall put before her by a sexist, patriarchal society. The fight is even harder for women of color who struggle not just against gender inequality but racial inequality. Since race impacts our feminism, we’ve always fought two battles at the same time. As a woman of color, I fight for equality but I also fight for justice. For us women of color, it isn’t enough to integrate ourselves into the existing system. We seek to transform the system and end injustices.
As a Latina writer, I’ve been dealing with other kinds of borders throughout my career. Latinos are 17.4 % of U.S. population, around 55 million of us, but we’re only around 4% of working professionals— including artists, writers, actors. We’re often kept on the periphery of the arts—and we fight on a daily basis for the right to contribute our stories, our talent, our creativity to American identity and culture. Through our art, we aim to fight against the barrier of invisibility. If we aren’t in books, in film, in TV, in art galleries, in music, does that mean we don’t exist?
The publishing industry lacks diversity at every level. The majority of books are written by, and are about, white people. Eighty-two percent of editors are white. Eighty-nine percent of book reviewers are white. They’re la migra of the publishing industry, the border patrol. They decide who gets in and who doesn’t, who gets published, whose books get attention. Latino writers have often struggled to get across the border of the mainstream publishing industry, often ending up with tiny presses (who lack the resources to do right by them) or self-publishing.
But having successfully run across the U.S. border at the age of nine taught me one thing—I can cross any border. This is the biggest reason why I wrote The Distance Between Us. I want to inspire others to believe in themselves and to find the strength to overcome. It is this belief that has helped me succeed in ways I never dreamed of. I want to encourage our youth, immigrant and non-immigrant alike, to keep giving their best and continue striving toward their dreams, despite the obstacles they find along the way.
Now more than ever, let us continue fighting for social justice, for a world without borders, for our right to create art, for our voices to be heard. It is through our stories that we will build bridges and tear down walls.
Reyna Grande is the award-winning author of two novels and a memoir, The Distance Between Us, which was recently published as a young readers edition. See our review here, where you may also learn more about Reyna’s story and watch video interviews. Her official website offers additional information about her published works, speaking schedule, and career news.
(Left) The original version of The Distance Between Us; (right) the young readers edition.
This is a fabulous post. Thank you for your bravery and courage for sharing and all for all the work you’ve done. You captured a very important perspective during a very important moment. Thank you again. I’m glad you are here and sharing.
We’re glad, too! Thank you so much for sharing your support. We’ll make sure that Reyna sees this.
This post is so eye opening. I have noticed the increase of borders and I haven’t known why exactly are so many being put up? Is it because Americans are scared? Americans are being persuaded by trump and now think that all Mexicans are rapists and criminals? That’s crazy of him to have such strong negative reasons to run as presidents and is now our official president. I would hate to think a little girl like you at nine is facif the order and facing being a criminal. I am not Mexican nor Hispanic but I feel for you. I am African American and Caucasian, and seeing how each race treats the other saddens me since we are in 2016 and we should be making history not going back to the past. It make sense proud that your using your voice to seek out all the other borders out on this world for different races, gender, career choices, etc. Rayna Grande your voice should be heard by thousands of little girls with your similar situations. Thank you for stepping up and sharing all your experiences.
Thank you so much! Let’s keep fighting and paving the way for the next generation!
Thank you thank you mil gracias, Reyna, for this courageous writing and clear-sighted analysis. My students and colleagues will be reading and bringing your memoir into our present lives.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. As a child, I stayed here illegally, and growing up, it was difficult to overcome the “cultural borders, language borders, legal borders, gender and career borders, and more”. Thankfully, I had my family to protect me. Your story is very inspirational, especially because you grew up forced to live separated from your family, a concept many culturally sheltered Americans are unable to understand. We are aware of the fact that we broke the law, but it’s not a black and white situation. Our parents nearly sacrificed their lives in order for us to achieve the “American Dream.” I also like the fact that you flaunt how hard working we (the latino community) are. You inspire me to keep working and studying to reach my goals, hopefully I can influence other latinos the same way.
Pingback: Crossing Borders | Reyna Grande
Pingback: Our 2016 Favorites List: Libros Latinxs | Latinxs in Kid Lit