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  • A Journey to/through FamilyNostalgia, Gender, and the American Dream in Reyna Grande's The Distance Between Us
  • Alicia Muñoz (bio) and Ariana E. Vigil (bio)

The US-Mexico border is a prominently contested site not just of nationality and migration but also of history, memory, and identity: a heterotopia of fluctuating meaning and status that imparts scars, both physical and psychic, upon individuals and families. Reyna Grande's memoir The Distance Between Us (2012) explores this multidimensional space through her family's experiences of separation, deprivation, and longing.1 Grande stakes out her painful and searching tone by beginning with a comparison between the United States and a frightening figure of Mexican folklore: "Neither of my grandmothers told us that there is something more powerful than La Llorona—a power that takes away parents, not children. It is called The United States."2 The invocation of La Llorona, or the Weeping Woman, who threatens children throughout Mexico and Central America, broaches two significant aspects of the text: the separation of children and parents, and the child's voice. In addition, the specter of La Llorona raises gendered transgressions and threats; the folk figure pushes back against idealizations of motherhood while also illustrating the consequences for women who do not fulfill these ideals. In this essay we consider the way that gender impacts Grande's separation from, and relationship with, her mother and father. Placing questions of gender, nostalgia, genre, and narration in conversation, we argue that the narrative framing allows readers to join Grande as she struggles to construct an identity out of a family fragmented by migration, haunted by a father alternately absent and abusive, and grasping for connection across distance, border, and economy. Our attention to the construction and articulation of the memoir affirms the writer's process as an "active and imaginative interpretation … of home, history, and memory."3 We concentrate specifically on the feeling of nostalgia that Grande exhibits, somewhat surprisingly, for her difficult childhood in Mexico and her neglectful mother. She displays ambivalence in her recounting of both; the privation she faced living in Mexico is described [End Page 219] via painful and wistful details, and echoes of the archetype of the bad mother accompany an adult recognition of the severe choices her mother faced. Reproducing the "often-tangled relationships between discourses on motherhood and nation," the narrative feminizes home, associating it with her mother and Mexico; at the same time, the abuse and neglect she suffers from these sources preclude them as wholly adequate sites of comfort and belonging.4 Moreover, the home that she inhabits in the US with her father is ruled by fear—of his abuse and of their undocumented status. As we explain, the narrative associates Reyna's father with opportunity, the United States, and the American Dream. But the limitations the family experiences in the US, and the father's abuse, also suggest the inability for Reyna to make these sites and people a basis for her identity as she grows and matures. Between these two poles, Reyna has one constant—her elder sister Mago. Ultimately what Grande longs for is not her mother, Mexico, or the opportunities in the US represented by her father, but rather the belonging, love, and possibility of successfully negotiating a transnational identity offered by her sister.

gender, nostalgia, and narrative

The importance of nostalgia in Grande's memoir is an echo of its status in Chicana/o and Latina/o cultural production. Catherine Wiley explains that Chicana/o culture in particular is dependent on Mexico for its "origins" and "essential meaning" but that this dependence "fosters a dual nostalgia for and resentment of the homeland as a territory of desire and impossibility … and material poverty."5 Looking at Mexico's position within contemporary Chicano teatro, Wiley explains how nostalgia permeates texts and performances shaping "characterization, plot and theme."6 For Chicana/os, nostalgia for Mexico is complicated by the fact that many reside in areas that correspond to Aztlán, the homeland of the Aztec peoples. Composed of both mythical and historical importance, Aztlán is often thought to coincide with land in northern Mexico and/or the southwestern United...