IMAGE: Reyna Grande signs books at the Frisco campus of Collin College. Photos by Pedro Chávez
Sometimes you get the unexpected. That happened on Tuesday night, September 25th, at the Collin College Conference Center in Frisco, Texas, during a Hispanic Heritage Month event that featured Reyna Grande. She is the author of a couple of novels and the award-winning memoir The Distance Between Us. A sequel to the autobiography, A Dream Called Home, will be released on October 2nd. Her memoir is used widely in schools across the country. She was born in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico, in 1975.
The event was made possible by the Student Activity Fee Advisory Committee (SAFAC) and the Center for Scholarly and Civic Engagement (CSCE), and was spearheaded by communications studies professor Whitney Pisani. She teaches at the Collin College Plano campus. Professor Pisani had been in contact with Ms. Grande for the past year, trying to find a way to bring her to the school for the speaking engagement. The deal was finally wrapped up about four weeks ago, according to the professor.
It was probably worth the wait, especially for students who read the memoir as part of their class requirements and for others that were present at the event, because Ms. Grande didn’t disappoint. Besides explaining how she ended up coming to the United States as an undocumented immigrant in the mid-nineteen-eighties, she also discussed some of the content of the book The Distance Between Us, and answered a few preselected questions from students. Ms. Grande’s main focus of her talk, though, was about a different kind of distance: the one that divides people.
That was the unexpected part of the presentation. She first mentioned the current “Hispanophobia” that according to her is being promoted by the current administration, vilifying people of Mexican ancestry in the United States. But she also explained that blaming newcomers to the country has been around for a while. She mentioned, as an example, Founding Father Ben Franklin’s fear that German immigrants would not assimilate and President Theodore Roosevelt’s verified anti-immigrant’s beliefs.
“There have been many dark times in our history,” Ms. Grande said as she recalled the discrimination of Irish immigrants, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. But she was also hopeful, mainly about the current state of affairs and name calling that is taking place in some corners of America.
“Fifteen years from now,” she said, “we are going to look back and realize how we came together as a country.”
Ms. Grande is probably right. Judging by the full house of diverse students and others that came to listen to her at the conference center, the inner soul of the country seems to be on the right track. Especially with schools and professors that promote the understanding of other peoples’ cultures and idiosyncrasies, like Collin College and professor Pisani. Institutions and folks that effectively take steps to shorten the distance between us, trying to eradicate misunderstandings, ignorance and other ills that tend to pull us apart.
“I want to be a global citizen,” mentioned Ms. Grande towards the end of her speech. It was another hopeful thought about people and about an often divided world.
“We can come together as a global community,” she added.
AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez