The Distance Between Us explores how memory is differently constructed by people at different stages of their lives and is influenced by culture as well as individual personalities. Author Reyna Grande recounts her early difficulties in retaining any memories of her parents. As a very young child, she remained in Mexico when her parents moved to the United States to work. She tried to hold on to her youthful ideas of what they were like but found that even remembering what they looked like was challenging. This was especially the case for her mother, as she only had a photograph of her father. She experienced the distance from him as a window or glass wall: she could see him in the photo but not touch him.
When they were reunited, the memories she had constructed proved less than useful, in part because her parents were different in real life. Furthermore, once they were in the United States and she was older, she related to them differently. Grande found it especially challenging to understand her father’s behavior. As an alcoholic, he was often aggressive and even violent, which did not match her childhood vision. His inability to communicate affectionately created another type of glass wall of separation.
Reyna’s mother was able to speak with her about the importance of memory. She had kept and buried the child’s umbilical cord. Her mother indicated that knowing where it was buried was an important memento and indicator of identity. The cord symbolized Reyna’s connection not only to her mother but also to Mexico, as she could always know that a piece of her remained in the home country.