Reyna Grande: Documenting the Immigrant Experience

Kresge '99, creative writing, film and video

January 10, 2018

Award-winning novelist and memoirist Reyna Grande attended UC Santa Cruz after her junior college English teacher urged her to leave the urban confines of Los Angeles and try living somewhere different.

Initially, it was a shock to find herself among the redwoods, and in a demographic minority, having moved to the rural campus from Highland Park, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles.

But she soon found her artistic voice in creative writing classes, and her political identity while attending a rally to protest Proposition 209, which abolished California's affirmative action program.

“That day I suddenly didn't feel alone anymore, seeing all those Latino students,” she said. “I had more confidence in myself. I was more determined than ever to get a college education and really make a difference in my family, my Latino community, and my country."
In 2007, she received an American Book award for her debut novel, Across a Hundred Mountains. She wrote the first 80 pages of the novel—a poignant story about immigration and family based on her own personal experience—as part of her senior project in the Literature Department.

Her second novel, Dancing with Butterflies, received a 2010 International Latino Book Award.

In 2012, she was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2015 she was honored with a Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature. Her works have been published internationally.

The Los Angeles Times called her memoir The Distance Between Us “a brutally honest book … the Angela’s Ashes of the modern Mexican immigrant experience.”

And The Washington Independent Review of Books observed, “This book would be fabulous required reading for college freshmen—or even better, for freshman members of Congress.”

The Distance Between Us was released as a young readers edition in 2016. Her new memoir, A Dream Called Home, will be released in fall 2018. Part of the story takes place in Santa Cruz.