Children Left Behind

The other side of the immigrant experience

By Reyna Grande
Published on LatinoLA: February 7, 2006

Children Left Behind

When people talk about the immigrant experience, the discussion usually centers around the struggles immigrants face in the United States. Yet the phenomenon of immigration doesn't only affect the immigrants coming into the country--it also affects the people who are left behind, particularly the children.

I was born in Guerrero, Mexico. When I was four years old my father, and later my mother, left for the United States to find work. My siblings and I were raised by our granparents. Even though I was very young, I still remember how afraid we were of never seeing our parents again. What if they forgot us? What if they never came back? Or even worse, what if something happened to them? I saw my father again when I was ten years old. by then, I had forgotten what he looked like. It was like meeting a total stranger. My father brought my siblings and me to this country, and I'm sorry to say that our relationship with our parents never recovered. Those six years we were apart created a huge gap between us.

From 2000-2004, I worked at a middle school teaching English to children who had recently arrived to the country. About 90 percent of my students had gone through a similar experience as I had. They too had been left behind by their parents. They, too, had experienced the same fear I had. I realized then how common it is for illegal immigrants to leave their children. It is a necessity. Most barely have enough money to pay the coyote to bring them to this country, let alone paying for their children's passage.

Having grown up in Mexico without my parents left me scarred. I know there are thousands of people out there who have gone through the same experience, being left behind.

In 2003 I started working on a novel that dealt with immigration and the experiences of children who are left by their parents in their native countries. My novel, Across a Hundred Mountains, is being published by Atria Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, in June 2006. Across a Hundred Mountains is the story of young Juana Garcia, whose father leaves for the U.S. as an illegal immigrant and is never heard from again. Through this novel, I wished to portray the "other side" of the immigrant experience, and give readers an insight into the lives of those children who are left behind.

About Reyna Grande:
Reyna Grande, born in Guerrero, Mexico, entered the U.S. in 1985. She graduated from UC, Santa Cruz in 1999. She was a PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow in 2003. Across a Hundred Mountains is her first novel. Visit the author at www.reynagrande.com

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