‘The Distance Between Us’: Ursinus welcomes Mexican-American author Reyna Grande

Photo Courtesy of Kayla O'Mahony

Emily Shue


 Ursinus is honored to welcome award-winning Mexican-American author Reyna Grande to campus Thursday, April 12 to discuss her 2012 memoir. The memoir, “The Distance Between Us,” is both the coming-of-age story of a young girl and a personal account of living in the United States as an undocumented immigrant. 

     Dr. Teresa Ko, who is currently on sabbatical, Dr. José Cornelio, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages and acting Coordinator of the Latin American Studies Minor in Ko’s absence, and Dr. Xochitl Shuru, Associate Professor of Modern Languages, have all taken strides to ensure Grande’s presence on campus. Cornelio and Shuru both look forward to the chance for Ursinus students, faculty, and staff to gain a new perspective. 

     “I’m hoping that they see a personal story within the story of immigration,” Shuru said, adding, “most of the students don’t know what DACA is.” 

     Along with her writing, Grande will be discussing issues surrounding immigration such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy issued by the Obama administration in 2012. On Sept. 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced their plan to rescind DACA. Shuru hopes that the talk will be an opportunity to correct common misconceptions about immigration policies. 

     Said Shuru, “[People] know what DACA is through the news, and a lot of the news is not correct.” 

     Guidelines and limitations for DACA include the age of a child’s arrival in the United States, the age they apply to DACA, whether they can find a sponsor, and if they can afford to apply for a work permit, which is around $500. Said Shuru, “You don’t have legal status. There’s a lot of steps that many of the DREAMers, as they’re called, don’t even have access to.” 

     Along with public comprehension of policy, Dr. Shuru sees this as an opportunity for understanding. “[Grande] goes through the trauma of being a young woman whose father left . . .  and then her mother leaves, so she is left at the home of the grandmother who does not want them. It’s very poignant.”   Grande’s story will, Shuru hopes, humanize immigrants to those who have failed to empathize. 

     Cornelio also looks forward to opening the Ursinus community to voices that often remain unheard. “I think it is important for students and the faculty to learn about the personal stories of people when it comes to immigration, and I think it’s necessary to fight against those narratives about immigrants depicted as criminals.” 

     Cornelio hopes the discussion will also shed new light on Ursinus curriculum. “One of the questions of the core curriculum is ‘how should we live together?’ We should live together accepting the fact that we are all different and we are all the same at the same time,” said Cornelio. 

     “The Distance Between Us” was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Awards. In 2015, Grande was awarded a Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature. In recognition for her writing, she has also received the International Latino Book Award, an American Book Award, and an International Literacy Association Children’s Book Award. 

     “She has a young adult version of ‘The Distance Between Us’ and it’s really good . . . It takes a lot of the roughness of it away while still elaborating on the feeling of the young woman,” Shuru explained. 

     Grande was the first person from her family to graduate from college and is not only an accomplished author but a well-known motivational speaker. 

     “Immigrants do a lot for this country,” said Cornelio, “but even a person who is not educated can teach you something. Yes, Reyna Grande has a successful story, but it is also necessary to remember that a person that is not that successful can teach you something.”

     Both hope that Grande’s visit will serve as the beginning to a larger conversation that will not only educate but motivate Ursinus students. “I see a lot of my students have this need to change . . . the way things are,” Cornelio said. “I see in their eyes this enthusiasm and pride.” 

     A week after the 2016 election, the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) organized a protest in which students marched around campus and into Bomberger Hall, where a faculty meeting was taking place. 

     Cornelio recalled this day vividly. “For the first time since I came to the United States, right after the election, I felt threatened.” Seeing students stand in solidarity was uplifting. “I was moved by that political action. It was loaded with meaning and for me it was amazing.” 

     For Shuru, with awareness comes responsibility. “Knowing that there is discrimination, that there is hardship, that there is institutional racism . . . with that comes the responsibility of making it better.” 

    Her experience as an immigrant has shaped the way she views the world. “I came to the states when I was seven . . . I understand the process of immigration and not having a sense of home, being in this sort of limbo . . . My presence here is the intricacies of being someone who is and who isn’t. I am and yet to others I am not.” 

     She looks forward Grande’s talk and the opportunity for it to challenge perceived notions about immigrants, some of which she thinks may change after being exposed to the realities of DACA and immigration. 

     “It’s difficult and you’re not going to change everybody. As long as it’s one person, then I’m glad. Then it means I’ve educated,” said Shuru. 

     Her colleague feels the same way. “I think it is important to have a dialogue beyond [this talk],” Cornelio said, referring to what he wishes to see after Grande’s visit. “And that could be utopian, but I think it is necessary. I think we need to believe in utopias.” 

     The event will take place Thursday, April 12 at 4:30 p.m. in the Olin Auditorium. The event will be sponsored by the Arts & Lectures, Latin American Studies Program, Modern Languages, Anthropology, Melrose Center and Student Activities.

     “I hope to get staff and other faculty and administration to attend because it’s not just the students who need to be exposed, it’s everyone,” said Shuru. After the talk, Reyna Grande will be available for book-signing.