In junior high, Reyna finds herself slightly adrift at her big new school. Though she’s been living in the United States for a while, her English is still imperfect and accented, and she is shy, withdrawn, and quiet at school because of her insecurities concerning her language skills. When she’s placed in band as her elective class, her teacher takes her to an instrument storage closet on the first day of class and offers her the chance to pick out an instrument. Reyna is shocked that she can borrow an instrument, free of charge, from the school, and delighted to have her pick of flutes, clarinets, and saxophones. She selects for herself an alto saxophone. Though it’s a large and heavy instrument that dwarfs Reyna, she is thrilled by the chance to have an outlet of self-expression that doesn’t require language. Over the years, Reyna’s skill and attachment to the sax grow; it becomes one of her “favorite ways of expressing [her]self,” and a comfort in the midst of her painful life in her father’s abusive household.
The saxophone is a symbol of Reyna’s ongoing struggle to find a way of expressing herself and carving out an identity in her new life in America. Reyna both longs to comfort herself and to impress her Papi, and assure him she’s taking advantage of the opportunity he’s given her by bringing her to the United States. The alto sax, which Reyna shoulders proudly even though its straps dig into her neck and its weight tests her strength, symbolizes her commitment to growing, learning, and coming into her own despite all the challenges and setbacks she has faced over the course of her adolescence.
Reyna’s Alto Sax Quotes in The Distance Between Us
Papi was amazed. He asked me to play something. Mago rolled her eyes at me and left us alone. I took the sax from him and played the scale Mr. Adams had taught me, except I didn’t remember it that well. But Papi didn't criticize me for messing up. Instead he said, "You know, when I was in third grade, my teacher brought some drums to class and started to teach us how to play them. We couldn't take them home, but still, it was nice coming to school and having the chance to learn to play an instrument. I hoped to join the color guard when I got to sixth grade. But a few weeks later, when I turned nine, your grandfather said I was old enough to join him at the fields, and he pulled me out of school' I never got to play the drum again. And I've been working ever since."
Papi got up and headed to the refrigerator where he took out a Budweiser. Then he went into his room. I sat in the living room to practice my sax, but Mago and Carlos complained about the noise and sent me outside. I went to the yard and continued to practice, and I played with all my heart, for myself and for my papi, who never got another chance to play anything.