Throughout The Distance Between Us, by Reyna Grande, there is a common theme present of the effects of immigration to the United States on Mexicano society and culture. A good example of the effect it has on Reynas family is Papi and his relationship with all of his children and family in general. Family connections are not the only things weakened by the immigration to the US, but the Mexicano culture is somewhat lost as well. As the kids prolong their stay in America, the American culture begins to rub off more and more on them, and they begin to be more accustomed to the American norms. Before leaving for America, Papi’s goal was to build a dream house and accomplish a dream life for his family, however, that falls apart when you factor in his affair and other problems he faces in America. All of the members of Reyna’s family seem to prosper in some ways, gaining individual opportunity, but fail miserably in other ways, such as their connections and relationships.
Papi, the man who first left Mexico to fulfill his dream of having a nice house and enough to support his loving family, falls quite short of the goal he had in mind. Papi was always a hard-working man, doing nothing but trying to provide for his family. He had also always pushed his kids to make sure they do well in school, as he wanted his kids to “take advantage of all the opportunities” that the United States had to offer. However, as the kids spend more and more time in America alongside Papi, they begin to see that the Papi that is in America is not “the same father who told [Reyna] that one day [she] would be somebody in this country.” His collapse into a violent alcoholic hits Reyna hard, making her question if her “real parents were still there,” or if they had just spent so much time trying their hardest to succeed, that they had rotted away. It had gotten so bad that Papi had not even noticed how successful Reyna was in school or band.
It is normal for anybody who spends a significant amount of time in a new place to become accustomed to the social norms and activities of that place. Reyna has a very close connection to Mexico. So close, in fact, that she had her umbilical cord buried there, meaning that “no matter where life takes her, she won't ever forget where she came from.” However, we see the American culture bleeding into their Mexicano culture, slowly, but surely. Reyna chose to join the band and play saxophone as a way to fit in better, and to try and impress Papi, unsuccessfully so. Everybody in the family also had to learn English, which was very hard for them, as they were all somewhat old, but they had been looked down upon by everybody else due to their lack of the language. Carlos and Mago both attempt to go to school, but struggle to make ends meet, with Carlos ending up getting the American dream of working two full-time jobs and having a wife and kid, who ends up leaving him, and Mago dropping out to work full time to pay off her student debts.
Reyna’s family quickly realizes that the United States’ title of the “dreamland” might not truly be so dreamy, as they all get somewhat better opportunities than what would have been available in Mexico, however, there are many more troubles that come along with it. People come to America all of the time with hopes of creating a new life and a better future for themselves and their families, but fail to realize the problems that may arise with introducing a completely new and different culture to their lives. Papi’s downfall shows us how a new culture may alter a person very much. Although everybody in the family had better opportunities, such as schooling and work, they lost almost all of the connections that they had to their past including their family and friends.