The Distance Between Us

The Distance Between Us

by

Reyna Grande

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Mami / Juana Rodriguez Character Analysis

Reyna, Mago, and Carlos’s mother leaves them behind to go to America in the opening chapter of the memoir. The remainder of the book explores the distances—both physical and emotional—that her abandonment opens up in their lives. Even after Juana returns from America, having separated from her abusive husband Natalio, she continues leaving her children in smaller ways, constantly choosing boyfriends and her own interests over them and subjecting them to both emotional turmoil and physical danger. After the children move to Los Angeles with their father, their mother follows suit—but does not tell them that she’s living in the same city as them, under an hour away, for many months. The memoir’s thematic preoccupation with abandonment, distance, and the human capacity for forgiveness largely grows out of Reyna and her siblings’ struggles to understand their mother’s choices, which often leave them feeling lost, isolated, and unwanted.

Mami / Juana Rodriguez Quotes in The Distance Between Us

The The Distance Between Us quotes below are all either spoken by Mami / Juana Rodriguez or refer to Mami / Juana Rodriguez . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Washington Square Press edition of The Distance Between Us published in 2012.
Book One: Chapter 2 Quotes

Mago and I sat on the dirt floor, and she told me about the day I was born exactly the way Mami used to tell it. She pointed to the circle of rocks and a pile of ash and told me that during my birth, a fire had been on while Mami had squatted on the ground, over a straw mat, grabbing the rope hanging from the ceiling. When I was born, the midwife put me into my mother's arms. She turned to face the fire so that the heat would keep me warm. As I listened to Mago, I closed my eyes and felt the heat of the flames, and I heard Mami's heart beating against my ear.

Mago pointed to a spot on the dirt floor and reminded me that my umbilical cord was buried there. That way, Mami told the midwife, no matter where life takes her, she won't ever forget where she came from.

But then Mago touched my belly button and added something to the story my mother had never told me. She said that my umbilical cord was like a ribbon that connected me to Mami. She said, "It doesn’t matter that there's a distance between us now. That cord is there forever." I touched my belly button and thought about what my sister had said. I had Papi's photo to keep me connected to him. I had no photo of my mother, but now my sister had given me something to remember her by.

Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:

Don Bartolo took my grandmother's coin from his pocket and handed it to me. "Don't ever think that your parents don't love you," he said. "It is because they love you very much that they have left."

As I walked home with the needle for my grandmother, I told myself that maybe Don Bartolo was right. I had to keep on believing my parents left me because they loved me too much and not because they didn't love me enough.

Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
Book One: Chapter 7 Quotes

Part of me was desperate to wear those shoes. They were new. They had been sent to us by our parents. They were from El Otro Lado! But then I thought about my parents, and the fact that they didn't even know what size shoe I wore made me want to throw them in the trash.

If they don't even know something as basic as the size of our shoes and clothes, what else don't they know about us? And what don't we know about them?

The question was there, but neither Carlos, Mago, nor I was courageous enough to ponder on it for long. As the oldest, it was clearer to Mago, more than to Carlos and me, that the distance between us and our parents was destroying our relationship more than any of us could have imagined.

Page Number: 56-57
Explanation and Analysis:
Book One: Chapter 10 Quotes

"Do you miss her?" I asked.

Mago glanced at the mountain one more time and then jumped off the track-changer. "Who, Mami? But she's back," she said. “And why were you crying?"

I started crying again. I didn't know why I still felt that familiar emptiness inside when I looked at the Mountain That Has a Headache even though my mother was back.

Carlos came over to us, smiling and pointing toward the house. "Can you believe she's here?" He took a deep breath and said, “Finally, everything is going to go back to how it was before she left."

Mami stood at the door and told us to come inside. As I looked at her in the doorway, beckoning us to come in, I knew why the emptiness and the yearning were still there. Carlos was wrong.

The woman standing there wasn't the same woman who had left.

Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
Book One: Chapter 11 Quotes

Out of all of us, Mago was the only one who harbored any hope that Papi would not forsake us. My mother's broken promise—that she'd be gone only a year—had caused a rift between them, so Mago's loyalty to my father remained strong. He had been gone for so long that in his absence he had become bigger than life in Mago's eyes. But regardless of how much she had changed, I was too happy to have my mother back to cling to the hope of seeing my father again. And I was angry at him. I didn't have a single memory of him and Mami together—of all of us together—and I felt cheated out of the family I yearned to have. Why did he have to go and fall in love with someone else? I wanted to know. Hadn't Mami always done what he had asked of her? Hadn't it been enough that she had followed him to El Otro Lado and left us behind?

Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Book Two: Chapter 10 Quotes

Tía Güera had decided to leave her no-good husband and try her luck in this country. Mami was taking that as an opportunity to bring Betty here. So Tia Güera and Betty would both be making the long journey north together. The only thing was, Tia Güera said, that she would have to leave her own daughter behind with Abuelita Chinta. It made me sad to think of my cousin Lupita, of how now she was the one being abandoned, and I hoped that one day the cycle of leaving children behind would end.

Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
Book Two: Chapter 23 Quotes

Carlos and Mago were furious about what our father had done.

Carlos said, "I spent all that time helping him with the lawyer, defending him from Mila and her restraining orders, for what? So that he could just betray us like this?"

"I'm never speaking to him again," Mago said. "He used us. He just wanted us around because he was lonely and depressed, and now that he has her back he doesn’t need us!" Once again, we were orphans.

I thought about the border that separates the United States and Mexico. I wondered if during their crossing, both my father and mother had lost themselves in that no-man's-land. I wondered if my real parents were still there, caught between two worlds. I imagined them trying to make their way back to us. I truly hoped that one day they would.

Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:
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Mami / Juana Rodriguez Character Timeline in The Distance Between Us

The timeline below shows where the character Mami / Juana Rodriguez appears in The Distance Between Us. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book One: Chapter 1
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
It is January of 1980, and Reyna’s mother is preparing to leave on a trip to El Otro Lado. Mami, an Avon saleslady,... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Reyna’s Mami ushers Reyna, Mago, and Carlos out of the house they’ve been renting—the children are going... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
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...and his family. Having fared poorly in the United States, Papi has now sent for Mami to join him and hopefully double their income to fund the dream house. (full context)
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Mami and the children arrive at Abuela Evila’s large house. Mago and Carlos beg not to... (full context)
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Mami tells Reyna to stop whining and calls out from the gate for Abuela Evila. As... (full context)
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Evila assures Mami that soon she and Papi will raise enough money to build their dream house, and... (full context)
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Reyna, Mago, and Carlos beg their mother one last time to stay behind, insisting that they don’t need a dream house—they just... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 3
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
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...dirty clothes in the wash basin. She looks over and tells the girls that their mother will never come back for them now that she’s making money in El Otro Lado.... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 4
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Every other week, Mami’s mother, Abuelita Chinta, comes to visit them, and every two weeks their parents call them... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 5
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...tactic does not work, and the months continue to go by with no sign that Mami and Papi will ever come back. (full context)
Book One: Chapter 8
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Forgiveness and Recognition Theme Icon
Four years after Reyna’s Papi left for the United States—and two years after her Mami left, too—construction at last begins on their family’s “dream house.” Evila gives Papi a piece... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 9
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...case she falls ill again. As she falls asleep beside her aunt, Reyna thinks of Mami. Over the next few weeks, Reyna notices that Mago treats Emperatriz much like a mother,... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 10
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Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Recognition Theme Icon
...she smiles at them, asking if they are ever going to say hello to their mother. Reyna and her siblings are frozen, though, unable to believe that the woman standing in... (full context)
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Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
Evila urges the children to get their things right away—they are leaving her house. Mami hugs each of them first, and as they reluctantly greet her and the baby, Betty,... (full context)
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Reyna, Mago, and Carlos travel by taxi with their mother to Abuelita Chinta’s house, a bamboo shack covered with tar-soaked cardboard and a corrugated metal... (full context)
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Reyna cares for her little sister while she watches her mother and Abuelita make dinner. She looks forward to the idea of eating real meals again... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 11
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Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
Mami, unable to find a job and unwilling to return to her job as an Avon... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Recognition Theme Icon
Once the party is over that night, Mami announces that she never wants to come back to La Quinta Castrejón again. Reyna knows... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 12
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Reyna fills in the blanks as to what happened between her Mami and Papi in El Otro Lado. Two and a half years after arriving there, Papi... (full context)
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Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
When Papi tossed Mami out of the apartment, he did not allow her to take Betty, and refused to... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
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By November, Mami has obtained a job at a record shop. She works late, and often comes home... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
...store, Mago asks Carlos what’s wrong, and he reluctantly reveals that last night he saw Mami kissing a man at the bus stop. Carlos, wanting to avoid Mami, hid in a... (full context)
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At dinner, Mago is sullen and silent. When Mami asks her what’s wrong, Mago reveals that they all know about Mami’s boyfriend. Mami explains... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 13
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Shortly after Mami leaves, Carlos falls terribly ill. He has a high fever and terrible headaches, and vomits... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 14
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...remember. When Abuelita Chinta arrives home, Reyna asks her to tell them some stories about Mami as a young girl, and she tells them one about a time their mother tried... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 16
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
...door and tells Abuelita Chinta and the children that they have missed a call from Mami—she often calls Doña Caro’s house, as she has one of the only phones around. Caro... (full context)
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Abuelita Chinta performs a ritual cleansing on Mami to help heal her sorrow, and the next day Mami begins taking good care of... (full context)
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Things are great for a while—Mami takes Reyna and her siblings out to movies with the money she makes at her... (full context)
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Mami and the children wait together for a representative from the government to come with a... (full context)
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For days, Carlos remains on the staked-out land with the other squatters while Mami brings him scraps of food. Carlos cannot even leave to go to the bathroom, and... (full context)
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One day, Carlos’s cough has become so bad that the other squatters complain to Mami when she comes to visit. She gives Carlos cough syrup and VapoRub, but makes him... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 17
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
Forgiveness and Recognition Theme Icon
At Mago’s sixth-grade graduation ceremony, Mami’s record-store boss acts as Mago’s “godfather” during the ceremony. He and his wife bring her... (full context)
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...would return to Iguala from El Otro Lado during her junior year of college. Her Mami’s record-store boss would invite her to a party at his house—where her cousin Lupita, Tía... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 18
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After Mago’s party, Reyna and her siblings’ relationship with Mami improves. Their weekly visits with her become less awkward, and Mami often treats them to... (full context)
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That evening, though, Mami shows up to Abuelita Chinta’s house with a guest: a man named Rey. He is... (full context)
Book One: Chapter 19
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The next day, Mago and Reyna go to tell Mami the news. Though they anticipate having to beg, plead, and convince her to let them... (full context)
Book Two: Chapter 8
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Forgiveness and Recognition Theme Icon
Mago has been writing frequent letters to Mami, Betty, and Abuelita Chinta, always enclosing happy photographs meant to show Mami how well they’re... (full context)
Book Two: Chapter 10
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
...little bit. When he gets back home, he cracks open a beer and announces that Mami is in Los Angeles—she has been here for months now, and hasn’t contacted any of... (full context)
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Carlos wants to go see Mami, but Papi is outraged that he would want to see a woman who has been... (full context)
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As the weeks go by, Reyna and Carlos continue begging Papi to let them see Mami. The more they ask, though, the more he withdraws from them, locking himself up in... (full context)
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...about Betty, and a month later, Tía Güera writes back. She explains that come summer, Mami is returning to Mexico to bring both Betty and Güera back to the States. Lupita,... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Distances Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
...in the U.S., Reyna and Carlos at last convince Papi to let them go see Mami. They tell him that it’s not Mami they want to visit, but their sister—even though... (full context)
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Mami introduces the children to Leonardo, the new baby, and then tells them all about her... (full context)
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Reyna and her siblings visit Mami every Sunday, though this displeases Papi. He only allows them to go because of Betty.... (full context)
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Mago, Reyna, and Carlos slowly get used to their new “double lives.” Papi and Mami refuse to be in the same room together, and won’t even reconcile to attend Reyna’s... (full context)
Book Two: Chapter 16
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...that she will do anything it takes to make the party happen. When Mago tells Mami about the party, she, too, gets on board with the plan, and offers to help... (full context)
Book Two: Chapter 18
Abandonment and Betrayal Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Trauma Theme Icon
...out of the marriage, but he won’t listen to his sisters, either. Eventually, Carlos enlists Mami to go with him to Griselda’s house to ask for her hand, and just a... (full context)
Book Two: Chapter 19
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In 1993, during Reyna’s senior year of high school, Mago decides to go with Mami on a trip to Mexico. As a legal resident of the U.S. under the Immigration... (full context)
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A few weeks later, Reyna joins Mago, Mami, Leonardo, and Betty on their trip. Papi is furious that she is missing a week... (full context)
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...from Iguala, before pushing her. Mago and Reyna get into a physical fight, and though Mami begs for them to stop, Reyna is too furious to let up. She is angry... (full context)
Book Two: Chapter 22
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That night, when Reyna takes Betty home to Mami’s, Mami offers Reyna the chance to come stay with her. For the first time, the... (full context)