“The Distance Between Us” is a unique coming-of-age memoir that revolves around the life of Reyna Grande, the author. However, the Memoir has various themes that range from abuse to suffering; the evidence point more towards distance as the central idea. Throughout the story, Grande shows a life of trouble due to distance from loved ones, physically and emotionally. Through the Memoir, Grande relays a tale of grim and broken youth in Mexico and Los Angeles. Through her experience, both in Mexico and the United States, the Memoir reveals unsurmountable physical and emotional distance as the central theme.
In the first section of the Memoir, the story begins when Reyna and her other siblings, Carlos and Mago, are separated from their parents, who have traveled to the United States in search of greener pasture. The United States is believed to be a land of opportunity by many Mexicans (Muñoz et al. 220-225). The consequence is a physical distance, which creates an emotional distance between the children and their parents. Reyna and her siblings are isolated from their parents, which propels the emotional torture, particularly because of infrequent communications with their mother and father. Though the distance is geographical, the progression of the story reveals a more emotional distance than physical. Reyna’s mother, Juan, whom they refer to as Mami, comes back home to her children, and they physically reunite after a disagreement with their father, who had threatened to shoot her after she decided to return to Mexico with the fourth child, Betty, who is an American citizen. Even after reuniting with her children, Juan does not seem to be the same; she has lost touch with her children, which fuels emotional distance. Reyna laments that emptiness and the yearning are still there. She says, “I knew why the emptiness and the yearning were still there” (Grande 123). She adds that “The woman standing there wasn’t the same woman who had left.” (Grande 123). In essence, even with their mother having returned, Reyna and her siblings have become emotionally distant from Juana.
The emotional distance felt by Reyna and her siblings is not only one-sided, Juana also feels it. Juana feels like she had broken the promise she made to her children when she left for the United States. She had promised that she would be back in a year; however, Juana returned after several years, having given birth to a fourth child. Juana now feels heartbroken down by her children (Grande 76). She equally feels that even having returned, the connection between her and the children is gone – Juana feels that an emotional distance has developed between her and the children because it is more psychological than physical. Instead of setting the relationship with her children, Juana gets into affairs with various men and abandons her children with their Abuela, Elvira, whom they had stayed with all the time she and their father had left for the United States (Belmahi 32). Juana continuously runs off with her different boyfriends (Grande 105-145). The children notice that the distance is becoming emotional and physical again, despite the presence of Juana in Mexico. Reyna and her siblings request their father to take them in and leave Mexico. Juana equally leaves Mexico and goes back to Los Angeles. However, she remarries and lives across town in her new apartment. Juan, though, stays not far from her children, makes little effort to connect with Reyna, Carlos, and Mago. Her relationship with her children before going to the United States is never regained. The scars that have been developed over the years create both physical and emotional distance that is insuperable.
In the second part of the memoir, the emotional and physical distance is continued. Though Reyna, Carlos, and Mago move to the United States, what they refer to as ”El Otro Lado” (Belmahi 31), meaning the other side, to stay with their father, Natalio Grande, whom they refer to as Papi, soon realize that she is not the same man they knew. They come to Los Angeles happy to reunite with their father and leave their abusive Abuela in Mexico, only to find a man who has become violent, arrogant, and dictatorial, just like their grandmother. Caminero-Santangelo describes this as the reality of the United States’ culture, different from Mexico (26-30). Grande continuously wants to control her Reyna, Carlos, and Mago. He prevents every move by his children, who tries to connect with him. Grande punishes his children frequently for flimsy mistakes. For instance, he physically abuses Carlos for wetting the bed by throwing him into an icy bath, just like Abuela used to while in Iguala. When Reyna and Mago bring back home a bad grade, Grande holds them by their hai and beats them (Grande 258). Grande has also developed a drinking habit to the point where he has abandoned and neglected the children like Juana. The continuous unkind behavior shown by Grande shows that he has developed an emotional distance from Reyna, Carlos, and Mago.
Even though Grande explains the reasons behind his action, the relationship between him and his children seems to be severed. Grande explains to Reyna that his difficult childhood upbringing has contributed to his recent violent disposition. He says that he was tasked with disciplining cattle who moved out of the line when he was a child by whipping them. Grande explains that such a past has increased his obsession with controlling his children and his determination to see them succeed academically (Grande 384). However, the children feel emotionally distant from their father until a point where one by one, they leave him. Reyna, Carlos, and Mago severe their father’s relationship by leaving the home they have known for a long. Despite being forgiven by Reyna, though not speaking to him, the emotional distance is way stronger. The consequence is another physical distance that develops between Reyna, Carlos, and Mago and their father, Grande.
It is evident that even though Reyna’s memoir, “The Distance Between Us,” reveals different themes like suffering and abuse, the central one is distance. From the start of the memoir to the end – the first part and the second part – the story revolves around the physical and emotional distance developed between Reyna and her siblings and their parents. Their parents, Juana and Grande, leave Mexico to the United States to search for a better life, leaving them with their Abuela in Iguala. The consequence is a physical distance is developed between the children and their parents. Due to sporadic communications, emotional distance is also set. Even though Juana returns, she is not the same mother, Reyna and her siblings knew. She abandons them even after both going back to the United States. In Los Angeles, also, Reyna and her siblings find a different father from whom they knew. He is cruel and abusive, which results in an emotional distance. In the end, Reyna, Carlos, and Mago, severe relationship with their father and mother, leading to further physical distance.