At age 9, award-winning author Reyna Grande, along with her father and siblings, crossed the border from her home in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, to the United States, where her parents were already living.
“The stakes were much higher than losing my life,” she said in an email interview. “If we didn’t make it across, I would lose my chance of having a father, a family.”
Grande — whose most recent book is “The Distance Between Us,” a memoir about her childhood and coming of age — will speak next week in South Sound about her story and immigration. Her visit is part of Timberland Regional Library’s Timberland Reads Together event, which features Grande’s work.
She has published a version of her memoir for young readers (aimed at ages 10-14), and two novels about the immigrant the experience. And she’s just completed a sequel to the “The Distance Between Us.”
“There was interest in providing an author from a different culture, and the Hispanic population is growing in our service areas,” library spokesman Jeff Kleingartner said in an email interview. “TRL lined up Reyna Grande for these presentations in 2016, unaware that immigration would become as controversial of a topic as it is today.”
The Olympian asked Grande about her life, her work and her thoughts on immigration.
Q. What inspired you to tell your own story? What was it like sharing something so personal and painful?
A. On a personal level, I write for healing, for understanding. I express my feelings through stories. Writing personal and painful stuff allows me to unload my feelings onto the page so that I don’t have to carry those things inside me.
They are a burden too heavy to carry.
Another thing that motivated me to write about my immigrant experience was to contribute to the conversation that we are having as a country regarding our immigrant population — in particular, our undocumented youth. My experiences reflect their experiences, and I felt that by sharing my own story I could perhaps help people understand the issue beyond the politics. I think there are many good people in this country who don’t know much about the issue, and this is why they think how they do.
Q. What motivated creating a young readers version? How is that version different?
First, I wanted to give child immigrants a book that reflects their reality. I still remember being a young immigrant girl reading books that had nothing to do with her reality. Second, I wanted to help young people who don’t know much about the immigrant experience to understand their immigrant peers.
The young readers version is shorter. I also had to cut out some “inappropriate” content and replace it with more appropriate things. I did my best to not water down the story or sugarcoat it for young people.
Q. Immigration is such a big and intense issue, particularly in the past few years. What would you like people to take away from reading your work?
A. I keep hearing that question, but you know what? Immigration — at least when it comes to people of color — has never been easy. There has never been a time when the issue wasn’t “big and intense” when it comes to immigrants of color.
My book reminds people that immigrants — regardless of where we come from — are, above all, human beings. There are factors that force us to migrate. Immigration is not always a choice but a necessity. Is it a crime to want to survive? Is it a crime to want to live in peace and safety?
Every single immigrant group who has come to the U.S., since its very beginnings, has come for the same reason: to search for a better life.
Next month, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. The pilgrims — European immigrants — came here to search for a better life. We celebrate the fact that they made it and prospered. How about we celebrate all immigrants and help them make it and prosper? That’s what I call giving thanks. Gratitude is shown by being kind to others.
Q. With DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) now inactive, what would you like to say to the president? To lawmakers?
A. They are making a huge mistake keeping our immigrant youth from being able to reach their full potential. We should be giving them opportunities to succeed because this country needs hard-working, talented, passionate youth.
DACA was never the answer. The Dreamers need permanent immigration reform, permanent being the key word, something that cannot be taken away at a whim of a president.
Q. How did you feel about coming to the U.S. — before you arrived and after you came?
A. You will need to read “The Distance Between Us” to get the answer to this question! It took 300 pages to answer this question.
Timberland Reads Together author Reyna Grande
What: Grande, who as a child came from Mexico to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant, has written three award-winning books about the immigrant experience. She visits Olympia as part of the Timberland Regional Library’s 13th annual Timberland Reads Together event.
When: Oct. 25-28
“No más distancia,” presented in Spanish. 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, Aberdeen Timberland Library, 121 E. Market St., Aberdeen; 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 27, Worthington Conference Center, Saint Martin’s University, 5300 Pacific Ave. SE, Lacey; and 1-2 p.m. Oct. 28, Centralia Timberland Library, 110 S. Silver St., Centralia.
“Crossing Borders: Reyna Grande on Immigration and the American Dream,” presented in English. 7-9 p.m. Oct. 26, The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia, and 4-5:30 p.m. Oct. 28, Chehalis Timberland Library, 400 N. Market Blvd., Chehalis.