“It all begins with us”
Reyna Grande, award-winning novelist and memoirist, presented an inspirational message of hope and acceptance at the 10th Annual Social Justice Book and Lecture event at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. It was presented by the UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion and sponsored by Shook, Hardy and Bacon; and REACH Healthcare Foundation
Grande is the author of The Distance Between Us: A Memoir. The book is about her childhood, spent torn between her parents and two countries. Her parents made the dangerous trek across the Mexican border to “El Otro Lado” (The Other Side) in pursuit of the American dream. But Grande and her siblings were forced into the already overburdened household of their grandmother when her parents left without them.
When their mother returned to Mexico without their father, Grande, her siblings and her mother prepared for another journey to “El Otro Lado” so the family could be together.
Grande’s book and her message on Thursday, Oct. 13 was about more than crossing the border from Mexico to America. It was about crossing multiple borders: physical, cultural, gender and career.
She began by addressing the complicated messages in the United States when it comes to immigration. She presented examples of signs that add to the confusion and conflict among people: “No Trespassing,” “Keep Out” and “Help Wanted.”
While the United States was built by immigrants, Grande said it is no longer one of inclusion. She expressed sadness that over that, because the United States is the country she chooses to live in and raise a family.
“I give the best of myself to this country.”
And as people still embrace the most iconic sign of freedom in the Statue of Liberty, considered a welcoming sight to immigrants arriving from abroad, Grande said people are punished for emigrating. She quoted words by Emma Lazarus on the plaque on the statue:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
“We have a love-hate relationship with immigration,” Grade said. “We need to acknowledge the contribution of immigrants to our society.” She encouraged the large audience of students, faculty and staff to share and recognize the positive contribution of immigrants.
As Grande continued her presentation, she shared experiences about the other borders she has crossed. Grande also sees the world through the eyes of a woman of color.
“Being a woman, in any part of the world, hasn’t been easy,” Grande said. “Women have always worked hard to overcome the borders around us. We had a long fight for the right to vote and to be leaders. I also fight for justice.”
One of Grande’s goals through her literature is to put a human face on immigration. She wants to live in a world where migration is not a bad thing, where there is justice and equality for everyone, where there are no more labels and where one word describes everyone: Human.
“It is through our stories we build bridges instead of walls,” Grande said. “I’m a continuous border crosser. We have to fight for inclusion. It all begins with us.”