Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A successful fifth year of Libros para Todos with Reyna Grande

It would be hard to describe the week with author Reyna Grande for the fifth year of Libros para Todos. Most of you who are reading this post know that it started small in my Spanish conversation class and now is reaching epic proportions. During the Thanksgiving week in and around San Miguel de Allende she spoke to nearly 1000 people and signed 600 books and many more bookmarks. Reyna's ability to express herself with candor and openness drew us into her story like a magnet. Both young and old were able to experience her journey as if it were our own. THANK YOU REYNA.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so I will post many here and highlight the major events along with a few stories that happened.

Tuesday night was a concert of Cuban pianist Fidel Leal to a standing room crowd. This was a benefit performance for Libros para Todos and special guests were Reyna, her husband Corey, their two children and nephew.

Wednesday was our first rural community event in Banda. This is a very small school where 30 read Reyna's memoir "La Distancia entre Nosotros". We always wonder before the first event how things will go but she was very well received by these young adults (age 13-16) who were moved by the sad and difficult stories of her childhood. This is the class where Richard taught English over several weeks this past fall and so he felt very connected to all these young people.
Each person in Banda wrote their own book
based in each chapter of Reyna's

Here are many of the books written by
the students in Banda.

Here is a review from her website of the book.

"Born in Mexico and raised by her grandparents after her parents left to find work in the U.S., at nine years old, Reyna enters the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant to live with her father. Filled with hope, she quickly realizes that life in America is far from perfect. Her father isn’t the man she dreamed about all those years in Mexico. His big dreams for his children are what gets them across the border, but his alcoholism and rage undermine all his hard work and good intentions. Reyna finds solace from a violent home in books and writing, inspired by the Latina voices she reads. After an explosive altercation, Reyna breaks away, going on to become the first person in her family to obtain a higher education, earning a college degree and then an M.F.A. in Creative Writing.

At a time when immigration politics are at a boiling point in America, Reyna Grande is an important public voice for Mexican Americans and immigrants of every origin. The Distance Between Us has the power to change minds and hearts."

Wednesday evening Reyna was invited to the PEN lecture series and spoke to an audience attentive to this timely story of immigration as she spoke in English with a complete translation and pictures on a large screen. She was introduced by colleague Sandra Cisneros, author and longtime supporter of Libros para Todos.

Thursday began a full day with three events - Los Rodriguez, Naciones Unidas and Pantoja (with students from Don Diego). Each event was well received by the schools and communities that invited us. Common denominators of all the events were gifts and letters handed to Reyna as well as large posters and drawings related to the stories in the book. Bouquets of flowers covered her table as she patiently looked into the eyes of each student as she signed their book addressed personally to each one. 

Friday was spent in Delores Hidalgo - first at a large event in a Secondaria (Middle School) where 200 had received the book however the event included all the school - seats and bleachers were filled. After her talk and Q&A a young woman came with her mike and sang acapella in the most glorious voice I have heard in a very long time. I spoke with her afterwards to find out that she has never had a voice or music teacher. I hope that she encounters someone like Reyna did to help her in the world if she chooses music as her future. 

After a fun few hours in Delores Hidalgo including delicious tacos for all and ice cream at a shop of the family of one of the students, we were off to a very large event of close to 300 people. These were students of local book clubs as well as many parents. Here again the students shared special programs that had been planned for her, gifts and a second song by the same young woman. 

Saturday was a special breakfast for Reyna and her family and our many volunteers and supporters at the lovely Posada Corazon. After a few words from me and Daniela, Reyna spoke and again signed books. A surprise for me followed with all singing "Las Mananitas" along with a birthday pancake and candle. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate a birthday.

And probably the most emotional of all came on Saturday afternoon. Students in the school at Don Diego were moved by her story and the caravan of asylum seekers passing through Mexico and decided to raise money to buy items of necessity for these people. We took 3 carfuls with bags of goods to ABBA House in Celaya - a safe house for these people. We were given a tour, met some of the refugees and witnessed with our own eyes the reality of this situation. After these many days with Reyna, listening to her story of immigration and realizing that this is a very real life for so many people here in this part of the world and in many other parts, now was the opportunity to actually witness it. The emotions were overwhelming for me and many others.

And lastly on Sunday morning Reyna spoke at our local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of SMA on the topic of writing for therapy. Once again, well received by an overflow crowd.

A short summary of my thoughts after a week of Libros para Todos....

  • I am very proud of all our accomplishments to reach so many with a special book. Thanks to the whole team of Libros para Todos and especially to Daniela Franco. It would not happen without her.
  • I would not be surprised if this might be a book that changes the lives of some of these young people. Reyna told us that she received so many personal letters during the week with young people reaching out to her with stories of their pain and suffering.
  • I have hopes that LpT will add a writing program in one or more schools. The students in Pantoja each wrote a personal story as part of the reading of La Distancia entre Nosotros.
  • I am more connected in a visual way to the pain and suffering of so many people escaping difficult situations with the hopes of a better world for themselves and their families after bearing witness to this firsthand at ABBA House.
  • I never doubted the value of writing to work through difficult personal issues but am now even more aware of how it can help change one's inner struggles.
  • I hope that Libros para Todos can make a small difference in the world of some people.
  • I was deeply connected in a personal way knowing that my parents who were Jewish refugees left Germany to come to a better place. Here I am many years later thinking about them and their lives. I have written much in my life about this but am even more connected than ever before. Thinking about Reyna and her family and her ability to understand her parents better after years of writing helped me to realize how I have finally understand a bit more about my own parents and my past.
With our LpT intern, cousin Noa Bearman
Thank you to all our family and friends for following our Libros para Todos program and for supporting us with contributions as well as moral support. We love you all.

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