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Connecting Latinas All Over the World through Literature

Author Interview: Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande, Author

Reyna Grande, Author

Interview with Reyna Grande, contributing author of Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships.

All Count On Me author interviews were done by Oné Musel-Gilley of SocialZip.com as a volunteer. All of us at Las Comadres Para Las Americas are very grateful to her for this treasure trove of work. ¡Gracias!

 

Have you had a chance to read any of the stories in Count On Me?

I have read them, and I’m really impressed with them — I think that my favorite is Carolina DeRobertis’ piece because it was very profound, and I just love her writing. As I was reading it, a lot times I felt like getting up to grab a highlighter so I could highlight some of those sentences because they were just absolutely beautiful. The last essay, which I just read last night, was Luis Alberto Urrea’s piece. And again, they’re just really incredible and very touching and I love the topic – writing about a Comadre. The comadres that I am reading about are just really amazing people.

 

Is there a character in the book Count On Me you most identify with?

It’s interesting to me to see how the writing prompt, which was to write about a comadre, how everybody just made that their own, you know? And how diverse each story is… and that is what I really like about this. Also I love learning about who the people in their lives are because I have met some of these writers in person, and some of them I haven’t met, but I’ve read their work, and these essays are so personal. It really gives me a chance to get to know them through these pieces they turned in for the anthology. For me that’s been one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading the anthology so much because it really gives me a chance to get to know these authors whose works I admire; to get to know them on a more personal level.

 

Your story is about a mentor and about friend, about somebody who really and truly is credited with where you are now and how you moved forward as a student. What do you hope readers get out of your personal story?

Well there’s two things. The first thing is that what I would like them to see, is that when you are going through really difficult times, it’s okay to ask for help. I think sometimes we fail to do that; sometimes we are dealing with problems on our own and we’re afraid to seek help. And for me, that was the best thing I could ever do — to go look for Diana and to share with her what I was going through. Otherwise she wouldn’t have known about it and wouldn’t have been able to offer that help to me.

The other thing that I would like my readers to learn from my story is about [what is happening] to teachers — especially right now with the situation that education is in, with so many teachers being criticized and being laid off and all these horrible things. I would like people to see what a big difference a teacher makes in the life of a student. There are so many people like Diana who go above and beyond what a teacher is. They don’t just limit their teaching to the classroom. They also care about their students enough that they worry about their students’ personal lives and what’s going on outside the classroom with them. For me – this is my love letter to Diana and all teachers.

 

Does Diana know about your story?

Yeah, she knows about it. I sent her a copy just before I submitted it. I wanted her to read it, out of respect, because I wanted Diana to see what I had written about her, and I wanted her to tell me if she was okay with that. Just to get her approval. I think the first time I ever thanked Diana for what she did for me was in 1999, when I graduated from UC Santa Cruz and the university actually flew her up there so that she could be at my graduation. So Diana knows, and I always make sure to tell Diana how grateful I am for everything she’s done for me. She was very happy when I told her about the anthology and when I told her I was writing about her.

 

So, you’ve seen the theme of the book and the topic of everybody choosing to write about a comadre. Do you think there’s a distinction between saying you have a friend or saying you have a comadre?

In a way – yes, because a comadre, I think, is a little bit more than a friend. You know, I think the meaning of a comadre definitely goes beyond just a regular friendship. And, for me – that’s why I consider Diana my comadre, because she’s not just a friend that goes in and out of my life. She’s someone that’s really important and whom I’ve known for a long time and who knows everything about me and who is always there for me. And, she accepts me for who I am, and she has always been very encouraging, always pushing me to become a better person. So to me – that’s what a comadre is – and it’s someone you know and you want to have a relationship with for the rest of your life.

 

Why do you think – give me three (if you can narrow it down to three) main reasons – a woman needs a comadre in her life?

Well, I think a woman needs a comadre because… there’s always going to be moments in your life that you cannot face on your own and they can be great moments that you want to share with someone and they could be very difficult moments that you need someone to hold your hand, to tell you that things are going to be okay. And sometimes your family – you might not have that kind of relationship with the family member, and you might find it in a friend that might give you that support and who can be there for you when you need her.

 

Where do you get your inspiration from – not just from writing – but life in general? Are there sources that you get your inspiration from?

I’ve always drawn my inspiration from my childhood experiences because I had a pretty difficult childhood, and a lot of the things that happened were just very traumatic and they left a lot of scars. And what I’ve always done – with my writing but also with anything that I try to do, and any goals that I have. I always look at my childhood and all the hardships that I went through and the sacrifices that had to be made. I always tell myself that I have to honor those sacrifices, and I have to honor all that pain and hardship and heartbreaks that I went through. The way to do that is by making good choices and by working hard to make my dreams a reality. Things sometimes get hard, but I always tell myself that I have gone through worse. If I made it through that, I can make it through anything.

 

Do you use experiences from childhood in your writing?

Yeah, I think I definitely learned a lot when I was a kid about scarifices and working hard and not letting anything bring me down. I learned to find my inner strength. When things get hard, or I have challenges that I’m dealing with, I always look at my childhood and try to find that strength that I know is there within me.

 

Are there specific literary works that you might draw your inspiration from?

I have a lot of favorite books, actually, and sometimes when I have writers block and I can’t write, I go to those books and I read through them, and I find my favorite sections and I get inspired again to write. Some of those books are The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, which is one of my favorites; The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran; and I like The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand; and I like Margaret Atwood’s works also. So that’s what I do – I just look through my bookcase and pick out a book and I read – and then pretty soon I feel like writing again.

 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement is getting my MFA, because I come from a family that didn’t have a lot of opportunities when it came to education. I know my grandmothers probably only went to first or second grade, and my own father only went up to the third grade. My mother only studied up to the sixth grade. So, you know going from that kind of background to having an MFA and being the first in my family to graduate from college – to me, that’s the greatest thing because I feel that because I have been able to accomplish that – now my own children are going to go to college and my nieces and nephews are going to go to college because I’ve done it already. I can push them to do it; I can give them advice; I can guide them through their college experience.

 

You’ve definitely changed the future for your family, for the next generation…sometimes I think we take that for granted. What do you think?

Yeah, I think so too. But I always tell people – especially, you know I do a lot of speaking at high schools – I always tell those kids that it only takes one person to change the course of a family. And so I encourage them to be that one person that is going to make a difference.

 

Do you get a chance to spend much with family? With family from Mexico?

My family from Mexico… I don’t get to see them a whole lot. I try to go to Mexico as often as I can – which is not as often as I would like. I would say maybe like every three to four years, I’ll go to Mexico to visit my family. And I have some uncles and aunts and cousins down there, and I like to go there because it keeps me humble. You know, I think sometimes I lose sight of things and sometime I forget that there are people that have less than I have, and that I shouldn’t complain or that I shouldn’t want more than what I have. So when I go down there, it makes me appreciate what I do have, and it snaps me back into reality.

Like for example, a few years ago when I had my daughter, we were living in a two-bedroom house – one bedroom was for me and my husband, and the second bedroom was for my son, and when we had my daughter she was sharing our bedroom. You know we had her crib in our bedroom. And then my husband and I decided to start looking for a bigger house. Now that we had two kids we said “well, let’s look for a three bedroom house,” and I went to Mexico around that time that we were looking for houses.

I went to Mexico to see my family, and my uncle asked, “What’s new in your life?” I just started telling him that we were house hunting, and we were looking into a bigger house because my daughter, who was nine months old, needed to have her own bedroom. And then, I just caught myself and I looked around and I realized who I was talking to; and I was talking to my uncle who lived in a one-room shack with his seven children and his wife, and I’m telling him that we need a bigger house because my nine-month old needs her own bedroom. Do you know what I’m saying?

I wanted to slap myself. It’s so inconsiderate, but I wasn’t doing it to brag or to be inconsiderate. I just lost sight of where I was or who I was talking to. Then I realized that over here in the U.S., a lot of times we want a bigger house and we want a bigger car and we want more of this and more of that, and a lot of times we’re not happy with what we have. When I go to Mexico – I remember that. I remember that! And that’s why I try to go, so that I don’t forget where I come from.

 

Do you have a favorite motto or quote – something that stays with you every day? That guides you?

There’s one that kind of ties in to what I was just talking about, and it goes, “The less I want, the less I need.”  I don’t know who said it…but it just stayed with me. I try to say that to myself everyday because sometimes I do start wanting things that I really don’t need. So, I say that to myself.

And then, there is a quote by Ernest Hemingway that I really love about writing: “There’s not much to writing, you just sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” I love that quote because I feel like a lot of times people don’t understand all the emotional exhaustion that comes when you write, because you really are bleeding, you know. Especially like my writing – I write about pain and about loss – and my writing is really depressing because it comes from this part of myself that has a lot of that pain that just needs to come out. A lot of times when I’m done writing for the day, I just feel so emotionally exhausted, and I do feel that I just bled all over the page.

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