Click on a Question to Read Reyna's Answer:


What inspired you to write Across a Hundred Mountains?

To what extent is your novel based on your own life?

Why did you title your book Across a Hundred Mountains?

Is it common for children to be left behind in Mexico by parents who come to the United States in search of a better life for themselves and their family?

What was the biggest hurtle/obstacle you had to overcome when you came to the United States ? Do you feel it has improved for immigrants coming to the U.S. today?

How did you get your novel published?

When and why did you start writing? Was there something that inspired you to become a writer?

What are your favorite books?

Where do you get your ideas?

What other writing have you done, besides Across a Hundred Mountains?

What motivates you to keep writing?

Are there any misconceptions that you have noticed Americans seem to have about Mexicans that you hope will be cleared up by one or both of your books?

How is your second novel different from the first?




















photo by Ibarionex Perello




Q: What inspired you to write Across a Hundred Mountains?

As I was growing up, I read a lot of books written by Chicano/Chicana authors. Most of them were about American born individuals of Mexican descent, children who came from a foreign country to the U.S., or illegal immigrant adults who were struggling to survive in this country. I never found a book that dealt with the experiences I went through-- being left behind in another country while my parents worked in the U.S.

I think that most of the time when people talk about the "immigrant experience", they're referring to the struggles immigrants face here in this country. Yet there is another side to that experience--and that is what I wanted to portray. The children who are left behind have many issues to deal with, especially their fear of being abandoned and forgotten by their parents.

In my novel, my main character, Juana, is a young girl whose father leaves for the U.S. to earn money to repay a debt and build a better house for his family. Juana and her mother's lives change drastically as they suddenly find themselves alone, struggling to survive. It is through Juana that the reader gets to live the other side of the "immigrant experience".

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Q: To what extent is your novel based on your own life?

I used many of my own experiences to give shape to Juana's life. When I was a few years old my father (and later my mother) left for the United States to earn money to give my siblings and me a better life. Juana's father leaves when she is twelve years old. When my parents left, my siblings and I lived in a little shack made of bamboo sticks and tar-soaked cardboard, which is exactly like the shack where Juana lives.

One of my most memorable experiences is dealing with the floods every rainy season. Our shack was close to the canal, and whenever it rained really hard, the canal overflowed. I remember waking up late at night to find our shack filled with water! Juana's story begins with a flood. One of Juana's sisters dies from a scorpion sting. A few years ago, my grandmother died from a scorpion sting. She'd been sleeping in her bed when a scorpion fell from the ceiling and landed on her hand. She died a few days after the incident. Another one of my experiences I gave to Juana was crossing the border. My siblings, my father, and I crossed the border in the middle of the night. I still remember the helicopter flying above us, and the dead man we found hidden under some bushes. In shaping my other main character, Adelina, I didn't really use many of my experiences. What I did use were some of the places I've been to, such as the park in Boyle Heights, “Dracula's Castle” (although it isn't called like this), San Pedro, Watsonville, Tijuana, and Mexico City. In the story, she is a social worker. For this I had to do a little research to find out more about this career.

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Q: Why did you title your books Across a Hundred Mountains?

When Juana's father tells her he is leaving for the United States, Juana asks him how far El Otro Lado is. (Juana doesn't have a very good education and is ignorant about many things). Her father, so as to not make her feel worse, lies to her and tells her that El Otro Lado is on the other side of the mountains surrounding the town. Juana eventually finds out the truth, and realizes that “Apá was not on the other side of these mountains, and in order to find him, she would have to cross not just these mountains, but perhaps a hundred more.”

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Q: Is it common for children to be left behind in Mexico by parents who come to the United States in search of a better life for themselves and their family?

Yes, it is unfortunately very common for parents to leave their children behind. They do so for various reasons, such as: 1) They don't have enough money to pay for their children's passage. 2) It is easier for them to come alone so that they don't have to find babysitters for their children. That way, they can focus on working. 3) Some parents come with the hope that they can earn enough money to go back to their countries as soon as they can and give their children a better life. 4) Some parents come here with the hope that they can earn the money they need to bring their children to the U.S. Also, some people come here with the help of a relative, and in order for them not to be such a burden to their relative (the relative has to provide for them until they find a job) it is better that they come alone, not with all their children in tow.

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Q: What was the biggest hurtle/obstacle you had to overcome when you came to the United States ? Do you feel it has improved for immigrants coming to the U.S. today?

I think the biggest obstacle for me was learning the language. When I was enrolled in 5th grade, the class was taught in English. I was put in a little corner, along with other non-English speakers, and was taught by the teacher's assistant, not the teacher herself. I remember looking at the twenty-some kids in the classroom, who were being taught by the teacher, and I felt sad to be excluded, sitting there in a little corner of the room, not being able to communicate with my own teacher. I'm not sure if this situation has improved much. I know that some schools offer ESL classes so that non-English speakers can learn the language at their own pace, instead of being put in an English-only classroom. Other schools, however, don't have that, so non-English speakers are mainstreamed, that is, they are put in a classroom where only English is spoken, and it becomes a “sink-or-swim” situation for them.

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Q: How did you get your novel published?

In 2003, I participated in the Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellowship program offered by Pen Center USA. When the program began, I only had about 100 pages of my novel. At the end of the program, in July, I had finished the first version of the novel and had 300 pages total. I met my agent, Jenoyne Adams, at one of the Q&A sessions offered by the program. I rewrote my novel in two months, throwing out about 75% of what I had written. The final version was very different from the first version. My agent sent my manuscript to an editor who like the story but wanted me to change some things--such as making my characters more “Americanized” and having most of the story take place here, not in Mexico. We waited a few months and sent the manuscript out again. Atria Books purchased my novel and liked my novel just as it was. Like I said before, my novel deals with different issues than most books written about characters who live in this country. It is very important to me portray the experiences of those children who are left behind.

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Q: When and why did you start writing? Was there something that inspired you to become a writer?

I wrote my first short story when I was in junior high. I entered it in a contest and won first place. I won two tickets to the Queen Mary, which I never used because 1) I didn't really know what the Queen Mary was and 2) My father wouldn't have taken me there anyway. When I was in high school I started writing cheesy love poems. Ever since I came to this country, I started reading a lot because I wanted to learn English and because living with my father was a nightmare. He was an alcoholic who physically and emotionally abused me (and my siblings, although not as much). I read so that I could escape the reality of my situation and live other people's lives. When I started at Pasadena City College, I entered as an Art major. Back then, I was really into music (I was a band geek) and art. I took a lot of art classes at PCC, and envisioned myself being an animator for Disney one day. In the summer of 1994, I took an English class with professor Diana Savas. She tried her best to persuade me to forget about art and focus on writing. In 1996 she sent me off to UC, Santa Cruz to get me away from my father, and also because UCSC had a creative writing program. There, I moved away from writing cheesy love poems to writing short stories about people I had known in Mexico. I received a grant from the university to self-publish a collection of stories entitled “Under the Guamuchil Tree.” At UCSC I discovered that Diana had been right all along--I was a writer.

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Q: What are your favorite books?

Here are some of my favorites--The House of Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. I especially loved this book because the chapter titled “Sally” really, really gets to me. I guess because it reminded me of how I felt living with my father: “Sally, do you ever wish you didn't have to go home...?” I also like The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I really admire the way she portrays her characters and I admire Roark's passion for his art and the fact that he doesn't let anybody take it away. I love Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet because of its beautiful poetic language. The list could go on but I'll just mention one more book that I love--The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer-Bradley. I wish I could write a historical novel that is so rich in detail you almost feel as if you are there, next to Kind Arthur! I like Like Water for Chocolate because I think Laura Esquivel did a terrific job developing Tita's world, and I like Out of the Dust because Karen's Hesse's language is very beautiful.

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Q: Where do you get your ideas?

I mostly get my ideas from my own experiences or the experiences of others. Some I make up, of course. Or to put it another way: I write what I know and what I don't know I make up!

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Q: What other writing have you done, besides Across A Hundred Mountains?

I've written a collection of short-stories entitled “Under the Guamuchil Tree.” These I self-published with a grant I received from UCSC. I've also written some poems, although I don't consider myself a poet. Some of my writing was published in a student-run publication called “Las Girlfriends.” I also wrote a children's book titled X the Witch and the Disappearing Books, which my agent is sending out soon. In addition, an excerpt from my second novel will be published in Latinos in Lotus Land, an anthology which will released next year by Bilingual Press.

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Q: What motivates you to keep writing?

There is one thing that really makes me work hard in everything that I do--coming to this country. In Mexico, I was dirt poor. My family had nothing. We lived in a shack made of sticks and cardboard and we walked around barefoot, with our bellies full of parasites and our heads full of lice. When I came to this country, I realized how lucky my siblings and I had been. We had been given the opportunity to better ourselves. My father was a tyrant of a father, but one thing he thought me was that I had to take advantage of everything this country had to offer--especially an education. He used to threaten us to send us back to Mexico if we got bad grades in school, so for the most part we were straight "A" students. But living with him was a nightmare. As soon as my sister was of age, she left home. My brother married at nineteen. Both tried to go to college but eventually dropped out. My younger sister dropped out of high school but eventually managed to graduate. And my youngest brother is a high school drop-out, but is now attending an adult school to get his high school diploma. When I graduated from high school I swore that I would work as hard as I could and get a degree. A lot of people who come to this country don't or can't take advantage of it. Most don't have the luck that I did- to become a legal resident right away. As I was struggling through school, I kept telling myself that I had come to this country to have a better life. I kept telling myself that had I stayed in Mexico, I would have ended up having a dozen kids and married a drunk who would beat me (such has been the fate of the women in my family). In 1999 I became the first person in my entire family to obtain a degree. I am now a teacher and a writer. I struggle to improve my life little by little because I have a son who looks up to me. I have to set an example for him. I want him to be proud of my accomplishments.

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Q: Are there any misconceptions that you have noticed Americans seem to have about Mexicans that you hope will be cleared up by one or both of your books?

Some Americans seem to think that Mexicans only come here to do harm. What I would like to do is to show them that there are many people who come here and do good things. Here I am, from an illegal immigrant to a published author. There area lot of success stories like that of illegal immigrants who have come here and have contributed to society in many ways. Also, through Across a Hundred Mountains, I want to give readers an insight into what it is like being poor in another country, for poverty is the number one reason why people leave their native countries to come to the U.S., where, even though they will have a lot of financial difficulties, they will never be as poor as they were in their countries.


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Q: How is your second novel different from the first?

A: My second novel (still untitled) is different from Across A Hundred Mountains in that it explores the world of Folklorico. Mexican folk dancing is a sub-culture in the Latino community but it isn't written about much. I love Folklorico--the music, the costumes, the steps. In my novel, I write about five different women and their relationship to Folklorico. A similarity between both novels is that I write about the “missing” parent. In Across a Hundred Mountains, it is the father who is missing. In the second novel, it is the mother. Both situations stem from the fact that for a long time both my parents were gone from my life. This novel mostly takes place here, in the U.S. Some of it takes place in Mexico because some of the characters travel there. Similarly to Across a Hundred Mountains, this new novel deals with the broken relationship of two siblings. The question is how can siblings ever manage to put their past behind them and save their relationship? This is a topic that's important to me because my siblings and I are always struggling to patch up our relationship. We come from a family that is not close at all. I'm enjoying working on this novel. I've been observing a Folklorico group named "Grandeza Mexicana" and talking to the director and the dancers.

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