Award-Winning Author Shares Immigration Story with ENL Students

October 19, 2018

When Reyna Grande, award-winning author of “The Distance Between Us,” came to speak on the PNW BOCES campus recently, English as new language (ENL) students eagerly engaged with the author, asking her questions about her memoir. Grande’s book chronicled her life before and after immigrating to the US from Mexico, when she was nine. She came here several years after her parents, and detailed the difficulty of being raised without them by a grandmother who was less than kind, as well as the trauma of coming to a new country without her parents later on in her childhood.
“For many of my students, meeting Reyna Grande was like meeting their hero,” said Career and Technical Education ENL teacher Ellen Sugrue-Dolan. “So many students could relate to her tale of being bilingual and bicultural and torn between the homeland they love and their new home, where they don't quite fit in yet.
“She not only inspired my students to keep pursuing their educational goals but motivated them to tackle their trauma and unhappy experiences through positive avenues like journaling and creative writing.”
Students asked many questions of Grande, including What was the most difficult part of writing about her traumatic experiences. Grande said while the vulnerability of writing is difficult, writing helps put demons to rest. “It is painful, but it’s the way you have to move forward,” she said. “It’s like a cup: you put the bad things in the cup so you don’t have to carry them with you. When you write, you put your negative feelings in the writing. Books are like recipients that carry my suffering.”
She encouraged students to write. “I want you to take your ear buds out, turn off the TV and allow yourself to imagine and put those feelings in your written words. Never feel embarrassed of your own feelings. We have many emotions because we are human beings.”
After Grande’s presentation, students took to journaling, something they’ve been doing all year, according to Sugrue-Dolan.
“We read the book and incorporated journaling with it this year, and healing began to happen,” Sugrue-Dolan said.
“So many students came up to me at the end of Ms. Grande’s talk and asked me if they could borrow my copy of the sequel of her book, “A Dream Called Home,” to read. For a teacher that is success!”
Author Reyna Grande speaks to ENL students at The Tech Center at PNW BOCES.