The greatest gift God has given each one of us is the gift of life. Each one of us is individually made by God and He is the one who writes our story. Not one single person on this planet has the same personal story from another and that is the beauty of life. Because every person experiences life in a different way we can learn from each other’s experiences. The cultural narrative that I choose to read was Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us. As I was reading this memoir, I noticed some similarities and some differences compared to my story. I am a white female born to Cheryl and Mark Johnson in the United States in Reno, Nevada.
I come from an Irish and German background. I have a sister, Haylie, who is two years younger than I am. I have not had a cookie cutter life. I have experienced many trials and tribulations in my life but I also have been very blessed with the life that I am living. Reyna Grande is a Hispanic female born to Natalio Grande and Juana Rodriguez in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico (Grande, 2012). She comes from a Mexican background and she has one older sister, Mago, one older brother Carlos, one younger half-sister, Betty, and one younger half-brother Leonardo (Grande, 2012). Reyna Grande also did not have a cookie cutting life.
In many of ways, she has had it a lot harder compared to my life. She has had a very rough life and has gone through many trial and tribulation but both of us had to work very hard to get to where we are today. Family, education, money issues, addictions, and police intervention are all similar struggles that both of us have had to face. The craziness of my life started six days before I was born, on March 24, 1995, when my father passed away due to a heart condition. Meaning, my mother had her husband die, a funeral to plan, and a baby all in one week. My mother was broken.
Later in life, she told me that the first time she was alone with me I was two months old because she couldn’t bear to look at me because I reminded her of my father. She also told me that my dad was supposed to play the “mom role” in our family because my mom wanted to work and my dad had always wanted children. Many of my mom’s friends and family members took care of me and my sister throughout our whole lives. My mother had many addiction issues that got way worse when my father passed away.
When Reyna Grande was 2-years-old her father left his family behind in Mexico to go to the United States so he could earn more oney to provide for his family and build his dream home back in Mexico (Grande, 2012). When Reyna was 4-years-old her mother joined her father in the United States leaving her and her siblings with their father’s mother Abuela Evila (Grande, 2012). Their cousin Elida lived with their grandmother as well because her mom was also in the United States (Grande, 2012). Their grandmother mistreated them on a daily basis as if they were a burden (Grande, 2012). We grew up in a trailer park in Reno called Lemmon Valley.
Often times we had very little food in the house, our electricity and water would be turn off, and we had to rely on neighbors for food, water, and to take a shower. Other times my mom would have me call my grandparents in California to wire us money so we could pay bills and buy groceries. My mom would send my sister and me to the store that was about less than a mile away and we had to walk through a small desert looking field where there were rabbits, lizards, and snakes. Often times, my sister and I would be sent outside to play and we weren’t supposed to come back until the sun went down.
Reyna’s Grandmother did not have running water and she would make them fetch their own water from the well in order for them to bathe (Grande, 2012). Even through Reyna’s parents sent their grandmother money so she could feed and clothe them, very little of that money was spent on them (Grande, 2012). In fact, at every meal, Reyna and her siblings, were the last to eat and often times there was hardly any food left for them (Grande, 2012). Their grandmother also sent them to do Don Bartolo’s store to do errands like buying a soda for guest and buying a new needle (Grande, 2012).
My favorite memories as a kid were when my mom would win a free night at one of the big Casinos in the city. We would ride into the city at night and I could see all the twinkling lights from the big buildings and when we got to the hotel room we would beg our mom to take us to the indoor swimming pool. During Reyna’s first summer in the United States, she got to see the ocean for the first time in Santa Monica and she said that it was one of the first times she felt like she had a family (Grande, 2012) One of the worse, scariest days of my life happened in May 2002.
I was in school and I had been called to the principal’s office and they told me that my mom called and I needed to go home right away. I rode my bike as fast as I could and when I turned to corner onto our street there were about four police cars with their lights on in front of our house. My mom was sitting in handcuffs and my sister was sitting near her on the porch crying her eyes out. I had a police officer explain to me that our grandparents were on their way to pick us up and we needed to wait in the police car until they got there.
I didn’t know what was happening then but later my mom explained to me that she let her friends and my uncle keep stolen property at our house and they also found drugs in our home and they arrested her for it. She also told me that social services were going to take us away from her but luckily my grandparents were willing and able to take us in. In July 2002, when I was 7-years-old, my mom made the best decision she ever made and that was sending my sister and me to live full time with my grandparents in Madera, California. For the first time in my life, I was allowed to be a normal kid.
My grandparents gave us structure and rules. They cared about what we did in school and they put us in after school programs like gymnastics, dance, and cheerleading, and they made sure we had all of our meals and snacks. In March 2003, my mom thought she had her life together and so she moved us back to Reno with her but that didn’t last long and we permanently moved to California that next year. Soon after moving in with us, my mom got clean and she started attending church with us. Later that year my mom was baptized and my grandpa got her a full-time job at the Madera Rescue Mission as a secretary.
A couple years later my Uncle Kevin came to live with us after he was released from prison and soon after he was attending church as well and he got clean and was baptized in our church as well. Life was great for about six years after that, we finally had a mom that we had always wanted but then things took a turn when my mom had a bad knee surgery in 2009. My mother became reliant on her pain medication and because she has had a lifelong battle with addiction, this was her new poison. My mom lost her job, became wildly depressed for many years to where she would come out of her room for days and this made her addictions worse.
In 2012, we sent her to a rehab facility but that only worked for about a month after she was released. On March 23, 2014, my mom overdosed on methamphetamine killing herself. A year before that on April 25, 2013, we lost my grandmother who was a mother to me in more ways than one. The day Reyna’s life would change forever was probably one of her hardest. When she was nine years old, her father finally came back to Mexico. Reyna and her siblings convinced their father to hire a smuggler to smuggle all of them into the United States and that is precisely what they did (Grande, 2012).
The first two tries they were caught by immigration and their father told them that if it didn’t work this next time, they would have to stay in Mexico (Grande, 2012). Finally, on their last try, they made it over the border and they were on their way to their father’s home in Los Angeles (Grande, 2012). Later, they discover that their father had a major drinking problem and was very abusive towards them (Grande,2012). One day their father’s drinking was so bad that he attacked his wife (who was not Reyna’s mother) whom he never laid a hand on and she was going to press charges against him and he went to jail (Grande, 20112).
Due to his excessive drinking, their father develops liver Cancer and on Reyna’s 36th birthday her father died from his cancer (Grande, 2012). Reyna Grande and I did go through similar hardships including family problems, addictions, loss of parents, money issues, big moves, and police interactions but like I said before, no two stories are the same and every person experiences life in a different way and this is how we learn about life, from other people’s experiences.