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A Dream Called Home by Reyna Grande – Summary, Quotes, and Themes

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Summary | Quotes | Themes

A Dream Called Home” by Reyna Grande is a captivating memoir that chronicles the author’s journey of immigration, identity, and the pursuit of dreams.

Set against the backdrop of her experiences as a Mexican immigrant in the United States, the book delves into the challenges, triumphs, and self-discovery that shape Reyna’s path to finding her place in a new land.

In this reading guide, we’ll dive into a detailed summary of the book, explore powerful quotes that stand out, and uncover the key themes that shape the story. If you find this guide useful, let me know in the comments below!

A Dream Called Home by Reyna Grande

A Dream Called Home Summary

“A Dream Called Home,” published in 2018 and penned by the highly acclaimed Mexican American writer Reyna Grande, serves as a compelling memoir that delves into her life journey. It stands as the follow-up to her immensely successful 2012 memoir, “The Distance Between Us,” where she chronicled her childhood experiences of crossing the border between the United States and Mexico.

Dividing her memoir into two intricately woven parts, Reyna embarks on a reflective exploration of her life’s trajectory. The initial section, aptly titled “Twice the Girl I Used to Be,” encapsulates her years as a student of creative writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Her academic journey is fraught with encounters with microaggressions from fellow White students and faculty, leaving her grappling with a pervasive sense of otherness. As she navigates this complex landscape, Reyna gradually finds her sense of belonging within her program.

The chapter is punctuated by significant moments, such as her professor’s mispronunciation of her name during her initial classroom encounter, her efforts to support her troubled sister’s transition onto campus, the nurturing relationships she forms with mentors in the realm of writing, and her deepening connection to her bicultural identity through her participation in a student folklórico group.

Interspersed within this unfolding narrative are poignant flashbacks that revisit the scars of her past—her experiences of abuse, abandonment, and the challenges of immigration.

The second section, “The Home I Carry,” serves as the focal point of Reyna’s post-university years, a period marked by both personal and professional tribulations. In the aftermath of her academic pursuits, she grapples with the harsh realities of the writing profession, enduring a series of setbacks that impede her progress.

Despite her tenacious pursuit of a career as a writer, the path is strewn with obstacles, leading her to take a teaching position at a middle school. This new role, though time-consuming, leaves little room for her to dedicate herself to her writing aspirations. Additionally, her romantic endeavors are marked by a string of disappointments, culminating in the birth of her son from a relationship that ultimately falters.

Amidst these trials, Reyna confronts the profound loss of her grandmother and the pervasive cycle of abuse that continues to plague her family. Yet, her determination remains unshaken as she endeavors to actualize her dreams of becoming a professional writer and cultivating a nurturing home environment.

Undeterred by the adversities she faces, Reyna manages to carve her own path forward. She makes the monumental step of purchasing a house, securing a pivotal fellowship within a prestigious writing program, and, in an unexpected twist, encounters the man who embodies her dreams of love and companionship.

Her tireless efforts culminate in the realization of her dream, as she secures a book deal for her debut novel, “Across a Hundred Mountains.” The memoir concludes with a concise yet poignant epilogue, offering glimpses into Reyna’s life beyond the publication of her book.

In “A Dream Called Home,” Reyna Grande masterfully guides readers through the intricacies of her life’s trajectory, capturing the complexities of identity, belonging, and the pursuit of one’s aspirations. This captivating memoir stands as a testament to the human spirit’s capacity for resilience and the transformative power of determination in the face of adversity.

A Dream Called Home Quotes

  1. “Just because we are ilegales doesn’t mean we cannot dream.”
    (Chapter 1, Page 8)

    Reyna envisions a future as a professional writer, a homeowner, and a family builder—pursuits that consume her unwavering attention. Despite his limitations, Reyna’s father instills in her the courage to dream. The quote underscores his emphasis that their lack of legal standing in the US should not stifle their aspirations. His aspiration for a brighter future propelled him to leave Mexico and navigate the legal process in the US for his family.
  1. “Where are you from?”
    (Chapter 2, Page 11)

    When a White individual poses this seemingly harmless question to a person of color, it becomes fraught with complexity. Carolyn, Reyna’s college roommate, inquires about her origins, leaving Reyna uncertain about her response. Much like many immigrants, Reyna grapples with a multi-faceted identity, encompassing her birthplace, nationality, culture, current city, and more. The question accentuates Reyna’s foreignness, prompting her to heighten her guard.
  1. “Having the name Reyna Grande, ‘the big queen,’ when you are only five feet tall sets you up for a lifetime of ridicule.”
    (Chapter 4, Page 29)

    This quote delves into a pivotal theme in Reyna’s memoir: identity. Apprehensive, Reyna anticipates mockery as her Theory and Interpretation professor takes roll call at the end of class. However, her professor mispronounces her name as Renée Grand. Despite her name-related embarrassment, she resists anglicizing it. Reyna yearns to embody the grandeur her mother bestowed upon her at birth. Fearing that essence will fade if she adopts the identity of Renée Grand, she approaches her professor after class to correct the pronunciation.
  1. “Because I was a child immigrant, my identity was split; I often felt like an outcast for not being completely Mexican but not fully American either. The border was still inside me. Physically I it, but psychologically I was still running across that no-man’s-land. I was still caught back there, and so were my parents because the truth was that we were never the same after we crossed the border.” (Chapter 5, Page 35)

    This excerpt captures Reyna’s dual identity, a crucial concern for many immigrants. Irrespective of her location, Reyna contends with an eternal sense of being an outsider. Her Mexican family treats her distinctively, and she encounters bias and discrimination in the US. The US-Mexico border cleaves Reyna’s past from her present, rendering her caught between two realms.

  2. “When I was a child, I had been able to see past the imperfections and find the beauty of my hometown, but now, after all my years of living in the U.S., I no longer could.”
    (Chapter 6, Page 46)

    The contrast between Iguala and Los Angeles is stark. The former, a modest, underprivileged town with rudimentary infrastructure, juxtaposed against the latter, a thriving metropolis teeming with wealth and prospects. As a child, Reyna admired Iguala’s beauty without juxtaposition. However, during her initial return as an adult, she sees the town anew. The wood shacks, dirt roads, and litter lining the streets no longer captivate her.

  3. “Her moonlit eyes looked at me with so much hope and innocence, I knew she wanted me to paint a different picture–a different reality–than the one we were living. But there was no point in what-ifs. There was no point in wishing our family’s past away.”
    (Chapter 7, Page 55)

    Reyna acknowledges that altering the past is implausible. However, through diligence and education, she believes a brighter future is attainable. In contrast, Betty fails to grasp her personal power to transform her life. She avoids taking responsibility and relies on Reyna to mend her challenges.

  4. “What would she say if I told her that I rejected any religion that made me feel devalued as a woman, or which pressed upon me the belief that being poor was a good thing, or that all the misery in my life was God’s will and I should shut up and not complain?”
    (Chapter 9, Page 68)

    Reyna was devoutly Catholic while in Mexico. Her faith dissipates after immigrating to the US, yet she attends church with Abuelita Chinta during her first trip back to Iguala. This quote highlights some reasons behind Reyna’s rejection of Catholicism. Nonetheless, her grandmother’s faith serves as a reminder of a time when Reyna believed in divine protection.

  5. “It isn’t melodrama. It’s your truth.”
    (Chapter 10, Page 77)

    This quote underscores the significance of female mentorship. Reyna’s advanced fiction professor at UCSC criticizes her writing for its melodrama and clichés. With Marta’s guidance, Reyna realizes her stories are authentic reflections, far darker than her professor perceives. Similar to Juan Rulfo and Tomás Rivera, Reyna writes about her genuine experiences.

  6. “How many words would I have to write to build my dream house?”
    (Chapter 11, Page 86)

    Reyna aspires to become a professional writer and secure her dream home. When Betty queries how individuals can afford lavish homes on Westcliff Drive in Monterey, Reyna remains silent. While confident that hard work will eventually lead to success, she ponders the precise volume of writing required.

  7. “For the first time, I understood that what I wanted for her–to do well in school, to go to college one day–wasn’t what she wanted for herself. I could not give my dreams to her. She would have to find her own.”
    (Chapter 11, Page 87)

    Resilience and determination are central to Reyna’s character. Her fervent yearning for a better life occasionally clouds her judgment, as evident in her relationship with Betty. Despite striving to assist Betty in staying in school—providing her a home, nurturing her confidence, and supporting her academically—Betty skips class and engages in risky behavior. After months of effort, Reyna realizes her sister’s goals differ from her own, leaving Betty to decide her own life course.

  8. “There are colloquialisms unique to our upbringing and the places where we’ve lived. To be ashamed of how you speak is to be ashamed of where you’re from.”
    (Chapter 12, Page 94)

    Female mentors wield significant influence in Reyna’s life. Marta occupies a pivotal role in guiding Reyna toward embracing Mexican culture. Reyna grapples with embarrassment over her Spanish speaking skills, which Marta’s words help soothe. This quote also delves into immigrant identity. Though Spanish is Reyna’s mother tongue, her fluency falters due to her young age upon immigrating to the US.

  9. “It isn’t that you aren’t enough. In fact, the opposite is true.”
    (Chapter 12, Page 96)

    Marta’s words mark a transformative juncture in Reyna’s journey. Throughout her formative years, Reyna felt like an outsider—too Mexican in the US, and too American in Mexico. Marta prompts a realization that Mexico treats Reyna differently because she is, in fact, distinct. As a bilingual, bicultural, and binational individual, Reyna is more, not less, than those around her.

  10. “This isn’t my dream house […] It’s someone else’s.”
    (Chapter 13, Page 106)

    Reyna aspires to her dream home, yet she refrains from compromising her personal and professional aspirations to attain it. She declines Gabe’s offer to inhabit the splendid house he built in the forest, as his desires misalign with her goals. Though tempted, Reyna acknowledges her need to forge her unique path.

  11. “I knew Betty needed to be a great mom, because that was the only way to heal the little girl inside of her. Giving her child the kind of mother she, herself, had never had was how she would make things right and ease the pain.”
    (Chapter 14, Page 110)

    Effective and ineffective parenting recur in Reyna’s memoir. Reyna strives to serve as a maternal figure to Betty, welcoming her after their mother sends her to Iguala. While unable to fully guide Betty, Reyna becomes a positive role model. Betty’s time with Reyna introduces her to effective parenting, which she then employs in raising her own children.

  12. “I discovered this female artist who had done what I was trying to do–turn her pain into art.”
    (Chapter 15, Page 115)

    Frida Kahlo captivates Reyna when she encounters prints of her artworks in Erica’s apartment. Reyna forms a deep connection with Frida, an artist who overcame adversity to become a globally renowned Mexican painter. “Las Dos Fridas” resonates with Reyna due to its reflection of the same cultural duality she experiences.

  13. “As a woman of color and immigrant, I knew what it was like to be marginalized, to have to prove constantly how American I was, always to have to fight for my right to remain.”
    (Chapter 17, Page 126)

    Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston serves as an influential model for Reyna. Houston’s work strikes a chord with Reyna, both due to shared ethnicity and because of her writings on the immigrant experience. Houston’s notable work, “Farewell to Manzanar,” narrates her family’s internment during World War II. Similar to Houston, Reyna grapples with preserving her heritage while navigating American culture.

  14. “A job is a job.”
    (Chapter 20, Page 154)

    Norma advises Reyna to seek seasonal work at a clothing store post-college. Despite their age difference, Norma imparts wisdom, reminding Reyna that the retail role is short-lived. She underscores that patience and perseverance will eventually open new doors.

  15. “All I thought about was the salary. With that kind of money, I could rent my own place, buy a new car, pay my bills, and put an end to Mago’s and Carlos’s mocking. I would finally have something to show for this college education I had worked so hard to get.”
    (Chapter 21, Page 158)

    This excerpt grapples with a significant compromise Reyna makes en route to her goal of becoming a professional writer. Teaching isn’t her ultimate aspiration, yet financial obligations and mounting expenses compel her to accept a position at a local middle school. The job provides Reyna a defense against familial jests about her seemingly impractical degree.

  16. “Their stories were so similar to my own. Broken homes, broken families–that was the price we all had paid for a shot at the American Dream.”
    (Chapter 24, Page 188)

    Education stands as a cornerstone in Reyna’s life. Graduating college proves pivotal to her professional success, and teaching temporarily aids her financial stability before her writing career takes off. Her sixth-grade ESL students reflect her background: children of immigrants, often from broken homes. Reyna’s empathetic teaching acknowledges their broader needs beyond language acquisition.

  17. “Life hadn’t just given me lemons; it had given me a whole lemon grove.”
    (Chapter 25, Page 194)

    Reyna draws inspiration from the immigrant experiences of others, including Kahlil Gibran, an American writer of Lebanese descent. Kahlil’s insights into joy and sorrow resonate deeply with Reyna, aiding her in finding solace amid challenges. His perspective helps her reconcile her trials as a prerequisite for profound joy, coinciding with the birth of her son.

  18. This was the first time I’d considered that my experiences might be things to celebrate, rather than be ashamed of. Was is possible that everything I had gone through had shaped me into a unique individual with a unique voice?”
    (Chapter 27, Page 211)

    Female mentors hold a pivotal role in Reyna’s life. María guides Reyna to both recognize and embrace her unique voice, emphasizing that individual communication stems from life experiences. This insight empowers Reyna to channel her adversity and suffering into a productive force, such as artistry.

  19. “I didn’t live in Disneyland, but I did live in a magical place.”
    (Chapter 28, Page 228)

    This quote underscores Reyna’s divergence in the eyes of her relatives in Mexico. During a visit to Iguala, Diana inquires whether Reyna resides in Disneyland. Reyna’s response reveals her acknowledgment of her fortunate immigration, despite the accompanying challenges.

  20. “I went home thinking about the duality of being an immigrant, our split identities, the cleaving of our hearts and bodies–half of our heart remained in our homeland, the other was here with us. One foot remained rooted in our native soil while with our other foot we dug into American soil to anchor ourselves and weather the storm.”
    (Chapter 31, Page 241)

    Reyna’s aspiration to become a writer, coupled with her perseverance in surmounting obstacles, carries a unique narrative. Nevertheless, various elements of her memoir broadly reflect immigrant experiences. This quote resonates with Reyna’s friend Rosa, an undocumented Mexican who operates under an alias in the US. Rosa shares her struggles with dual identities, prompting Reyna to empathize with this internal conflict.

  21. “And as I sat on the patio with my child and the man that I loved, the casita rising about us, I realized that for the second time in my life, my father had built me a house, but I was the one building myself a home.”
    (Chapter 36, Page 276)

    Reyna remains dedicated to providing her son a nurturing home, while her father focused on building a physical house for the family. His decision to leave Iguala was driven by the desire to construct a brick and concrete dream home, a choice that fragmented the family. When he constructs a pergola over the patio, Reyna recognizes the differing expressions of love between them. He prioritized being a provider, whereas she places greater emphasis on nurturing an affectionate environment.

  22. “For years we had criticized our father and mother for prioritizing their own needs above their children’s. I was finally beginning to understand that it takes as much courage to leave as it does to stay.”
    (Chapter 40, Page 306)

    Reyna and Mago strive to be attentive parents, tending to their children’s emotional and physical well-being, even amidst time constraints. Mago’s decision to return to Victor after an unsettling incident compels her to prioritize her children’s safety. This commitment prompts them to reevaluate their mother’s courage in leaving their father. Their previous perception of her as selfish transforms into admiration for her strength in making that crucial choice.

A Dream Called Home Themes

The Distinction Between a House and a Home

In “A Dream Called Home,” one big idea shines through: the difference between a simple house and the deep meaning of a true home. Reyna’s desire for a real home becomes a strong force in her story. It gives her the power to keep going in school and in life.

This wish comes from a tough childhood where she didn’t have a stable place to live. She grew up in a small, poor shack and had a hard life without her parents. Her grandma was in charge, but she was mean. Reyna’s dad wanted to make a dream house for his family, but he had to leave to work in the United States. By the time he built a small house, her family had already fallen apart.

Even though he tried, the house her dad made was a sad reminder of what they lost. It wasn’t really a home. The real moment of understanding comes when he builds a patio cover for Reyna. She realizes that a true home isn’t just walls and a roof. It’s something she has to create herself.

Reyna’s search for a real home ends when she gets a house in South Central through a program for teachers. The house is old and in a dangerous area, but Reyna doesn’t give up. With hard work and love, she makes it a warm and safe place for her and her son Nathan.

This house becomes a symbol of her dreams and strength. She invites her loved ones, like her dad and sister, to share in her new home. Even her bond with Cory, who becomes her husband, deepens within its walls.

But Reyna’s journey to find where she truly belongs wasn’t easy. She often felt like she didn’t fit in, both in the United States and Mexico. Meeting Marta and Erica helped her embrace her mixed background and feel at peace with who she is.

Reyna learns that a true home isn’t just a building. It’s about knowing yourself and expressing your feelings and ideas. As she becomes a writer, she realizes that her real home is made of her words and dreams. This idea is beautifully captured in her words: “I would build my home out of the only things I had–words and dreams” (106). Her first novel, “Across a Hundred Mountains,” becomes like a house she builds with her words, strong and full of meaning.

Finishing her novel shows that Reyna has built a lasting home, one she carries with her no matter where she goes. It’s a special place in her heart where her dreams and hard work create a sense of belonging and purpose.

Nurturing a Mexican Immigrant Identity in America

Reyna’s story is like a woven tapestry, where her identity as a Mexican immigrant is the vibrant thread. It all starts when she’s just nine years old and tries many times to cross the border into the United States.

In this new land, everything feels different. She has to learn a new language, English, and even in fifth grade, she struggles to express herself. She writes a story in Spanish for a school contest, but it’s like her words vanish into thin air, unheard and unnoticed. This makes her feel even more alone.

As she grows up and goes to the University of California, Santa Cruz, things don’t get easier. The campus is mostly filled with White students, and Reyna often feels like she doesn’t belong. Even places like the campus co-op and local grocery stores feel strange because of the unfamiliar food.

Reyna’s heartache is clear as she shares, “For years, I had struggled to fit in, to learn the language and culture, to find my way. But no matter how hard I tried, I still felt like a foreigner” (36).

Yet, amidst this struggle, there’s a turning point. Reyna meets Marta, who helps her see her uniqueness as a strength, not a weakness. Marta shows her that being bilingual and having roots in two countries is something special. This idea takes root in Reyna’s heart, giving her a new way to see herself.

Her connection with Erica also plays a big role. It helps her become more comfortable with her background and keeps her writing about her immigrant experiences, even when some people criticize her work. Reyna finds a sense of belonging within a community of Latino students, as well as in classes that celebrate her heritage.

Through it all, Reyna doesn’t have to give up her culture to fit in. She learns to blend her Mexican roots with her new American life, creating a beautiful blend of who she is.

Micah and María become important mentors on her journey. With Micah’s guidance, Reyna turns her memories into a powerful book, “Across a Hundred Mountains.” María encourages her to be true to herself and use her voice, a voice that becomes stronger with every word she writes.

In the end, Reyna’s story is a testament to her determination. She holds onto her heritage while navigating the challenges of American culture, showing that her dreams and hard work can build a bridge between her two worlds.

Navigating Parental Abandonment Through Child’s Eyes

The story revolves around how immigration separates the Grande family. First, Natalio leaves, then Juana follows, leaving Reyna and her siblings without parents. During this tough time, their main caretaker is Abuela Evila.

However, she is abusive, both physically and emotionally, and the children suffer. Reyna describes this period vividly: “We had to watch [Juana] walk away from us, wondering if we would ever see her again. Then we went inside Abuela Evila’s house to endure two-and-a-half years of hell” (45).

When Juana returns briefly, Reyna is overjoyed, but that happiness is short-lived as her mother leaves again with another man. Even the love of Abuelita Chinta can’t fill the void: “My maternal grandmother did her best to make up for the pain of my mother’s absence. But no matter how much Abuelita Chinta loved us–it wasn’t enough” (45).

This childhood abandonment leaves deep emotional scars that shape Reyna’s life as an adult. She seeks father figures in her relationships, like the maintenance worker at PCC or Gabe, whose features remind her of her dad. These men are often older, echoing her desire for the love she missed out on.

Reyna’s sister, Betty, follows a similar path, seeking affection from older men. As Reyna puts it, “Since our parents rarely showed any tenderness toward us, we had to look outside of home to find it” (53). Despite their difficult childhood, Reyna and her siblings break the cycle of abandonment. They become caring parents themselves, a testament to their strength and determination to provide the love they missed.

Striving for Success

Reyna’s memoir is like a song that keeps repeating the tune of the American Dream. Her father plants a powerful seed early on, teaching her that with hard work and education, a brighter future is within reach. He shows her that a university education is like a magical key that unlocks doors to better opportunities, boosts confidence, and helps you connect with others. Even when her dad loses faith in her, Reyna holds onto his wisdom.

Her journey becomes a tale of never giving up, a bit like climbing a mountain without a map. Even though she lacks the support of her parents, she pushes forward. She finishes high school, spends a year at PCC, and then transfers to UCSC, a college where she often feels like an outsider because most of the students are different from her. Still, she’s determined to graduate and become a writer.

She faces bumps along the way, like a professor criticizing her writing, but she sticks to her path. Her hard work pays off when she teams up with a literary agent and publishes her first novel with Atria Press. This book gets lots of praise from important places like Publishers Weekly, People, and even gets an American Book Award!

For Reyna, having a home is just as important as becoming a successful writer. She figures out a clever way to make her dream of owning a house come true, thanks to a program that offers discounted properties to teachers.

Her South Central home isn’t perfect—it’s kind of old, noisy, and not in the safest area. She even has to kick out squatters before she can move in! But despite all that, just owning a home fills Reyna with pride. She stands in her new backyard, rubbing her big belly, thinking how amazing it is to be twenty-six and have a home to call her own.

Owning a house is like a piece of the American Dream puzzle. It brings lots of good things, like money growing over time. Five years later, Reyna sells her house for way more than what she paid. Her journey is like a recipe where hard work and believing in your dreams are the secret ingredients.

Reyna knows this about herself from the start of her story: “I held on to my dreams, no matter how others saw them” (5). This tenacity—the stubbornness to chase after her dreams, even when others might say it’s a lost cause—is what makes her shine. It’s her superpower, guiding her toward success and helping her create a life that’s truly her own.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, “A Dream Called Home” is a heartfelt memoir that offers a poignant glimpse into the life of Reyna Grande, a Mexican immigrant in the United States. Through her experiences, we witness the resilience of the human spirit, the power of dreams, and the complexities of identity.

As I wrap up this reading guide, I hope you’ve been inspired by the summary, resonated with the thought-provoking quotes, and gained a deeper understanding of the central themes that shape the narrative. Reyna Grande’s story serves as a reminder that our journeys are unique, yet interconnected, and that the pursuit of a better life often comes with sacrifices and triumphs.

Whether you’re seeking relatable experiences, contemplating your own dreams and aspirations, or simply looking to expand your literary horizons, “A Dream Called Home” has something to offer.

Happy reading! 📖