Author to address immigration issues

Courtesy /
Reyena Grande

Courtesy / Reyena Grande

Sarah Hillenbrand

Author Reyna Grande will be visiting Grand Valley State University next week to speak about her book, “The Distance Between Us,” and tell students her story of being an undocumented immigrant torn between two parents and two countries. At GVSU, many classes incorporate Grande’s book in the course material, including liberal studies, education, social work and Spanish.

“It really does a good job integrating personal experiences and allows students to apply theory they’ve learned,” said Brian Jbara, director of the Office of Integrative Learning and Advising at GVSU. “More than that, it allows for thinking through the big picture — what are the implications of the immigration policy, what are ethical considerations behind it, and etcetera.”

Grande will be coming to GVSU March 25 at 7 p.m. in the Grand River Room of the Kirkhof Center. She will also be speaking at the Herrick District Library on March 24.

Grande said she hopes to convey the message that people need to learn to rise above tragedies and overcome bad circumstances.

“I am looking forward to continuing the discussion about the book as well as updating them on what has happened over the years from the time the book ends,” she said. “My message is that we can’t allow tragedies and bad circumstances bring us down; rather, we must rise above it and strive to find the place within ourselves where forgiveness, hope and redemption exist.”

Jbara said the book was chosen to use in classes because it was timely with the immigration debate nationwide, in Michigan and in West Michigan.

“Students hopefully take away a better understanding of the issues at hand and appreciate the considerations that go into decisions being made,” he said. “I hope they also understand the people that live through the experience of immigration and understand what it’s like.”

“The Distance Between Us” is a memoir about Grande’s life after coming to the U.S. at the age of nine as an undocumented immigrant. Grande said the four years she spent writing the book was an emotional roller coaster.

“After I finished writing it, I felt liberated, free of all the weight from my emotional baggage and childhood traumas,” she said. “Sharing my story with the world was scary. I had been writing fiction as a way to shield me from feeling so exposed. With a memoir, there is no hiding. You bare your soul for everyone to see. But that to me is what eventually set me free. I feel that in having the courage to tell my story, I will inspire others to tell theirs. We all have a story to tell.”

The inspiration for writing the book stemmed from Grande’s goal to contribute to the conversation about immigration. She said the topic is often addressed just as statistics and numbers, but many people forget that immigrants are human beings.

“I think for me, one of the main reasons for writing this book was that I wanted to put a human face to the issue of immigration,” she said. “I wanted people to understand that immigration affects the entire family unit, and that most immigrants living in this country who have attained the American Dream have done so at a great cost. I don’t have a political agenda, nor do I want to change people’s minds about immigration, but I do want people to be more understanding, perhaps be a bit more compassionate towards our immigrant population living in the country today.”

Grande said it took a lot of work for her to get where she is today, but she has been able to overcome the challenges faced growing up in poverty in Mexico.

“I have always been deeply grateful for the opportunity to come to the U.S., and I have always done my very best to be the best version of myself I can be,” she said. “I was afraid of failure. Failure to me was not doing anything meaningful with my life. I wanted my life to mean something. I wanted the experiences I went through to be worth something. Those were the things that kept me going back then — and they still do.”

For students now, Grande said they should choose to do something they really love so they can look back at their life and see that sacrifices made were worth it. She added that no matter what circumstances people have, they can rise above, make something of themselves and overcome obstacles they encounter.

“All of our stories matter,” she said. “If we share them, we can find a deeper understanding and explore a deeper truth where we can be enlightened, a place where we can heal.”

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