UC Santa Cruz grad treasures her cultural roots
The cultural patchwork that exists on the Central Coast of California is remarkable. Particularly prevalent in these parts is the Hispanic culture, which influences everything from the foods we eat to the entertainment that we indulge in. The country of Mexico has given us so much, including the colorful pageantry of Folklorico dancing which has captured the imagination and hearts of everyone that has been fortunate enough to observe its swirling skirts and mesmerizing footwork. Even if you have never had the pleasure of watching a traditional Folklorico dance, you can experience the excitement, culture and romance of this Mexican folk dance through Reyna Grande’s new book, “Dancing With Butterflies.”
Grande, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz now based in Los Angeles where she spent her adolescence, fell in love with the traditional Mexican danzas when she was a junior at the school. “The university has a Folklorico group composed of students and members of the community. One of my friends invited me to come and watch a rehearsal and I fell in love with Folklorico,” Grande says. The beauty and cultural connections of the dance stayed with Grande and when she was tossing ideas around in her head for a second novel, she thought about Folklorico. “I decided that I wanted to write about characters that were part of that world. It was a way for me to become more acquainted with the dance,” Grande says. Although she does not dance religiously, Grande appreciates the beauty and the dedication that the dancers must endure to become professionals.
“Adriana’s father was an alcoholic and she was physically abused, and Soledad is an immigrant who was raised by her grandmother who came here and had high hopes and dreams.”—Reyna Grande
“I danced a couple of semesters of Folklorico at UCSC, and I have a taken a few classes in L.A,” she adds. “I am friends with a lot of Folklorico dancers and I feel like I am a part of that world, although a bit more on the outside. Of course when I was writing the book I completely became involved with the dance.”
“Dancing With Butterflies” is set in suburban Los Angeles and is written from the perspective of four characters that have almost nothing in common. Yet through their mutual love and passion for Folklorico, they become inextricably bonded for life. There’s Yesenia, the matriarchal figure and founder of the dance troupe Alegria who regrets her uneventful life and finds solace in plastic surgery; Elena, who cannot cope with the death of her baby and longs to forget her pain in the excitement of a relationship with one of her underage students; Adriana, Elena’s sister who is unable to get past her mother’s untimely death and the resulting abuse she took from their father; and Soledad, the illegal immigrant torn between her old life in Mexico and her new life in the United States.
Grande says that the characters in the book are mainly based on her older sister, as well as experiences she has encountered in her own life. “Yesenia, director of the group is based on my older sister,” she notes. “My sister got married when she was 21 and she never really got to experience the world, which is something that she regrets. She regrets that she got married too young and had children too young, like Yesenia does.
“The other three are kind of based on me,” she adds. “Like Elena, I’ve been a teacher ever since I graduated from UCSC, Adriana’s father was an alcoholic and she was physically abused, and Soledad is an immigrant who was raised by her grandmother who came here and had high hopes and dreams.”
Grande became a player on the literary stage with her 2006 breakout novel “Across a Hundred Mountains” which tells the story of a young girl undertaking the long journey of immigration from Mexico to the United States. “Across a Hundred Mountains” was critically acclaimed and won both an American Book Award an El Premio Aztlan Literary Award.
“My sister got married when she was 21 and she never really got to experience the world, which is something that she regrets. She regrets that she got married too young and had children too young.”—Reyna Grande
At UCSC, Grande studied both creative writing and film and video. She credits her film background with helping her become a better, more vivid writer. “I was doing film and video at the same time I was writing ‘Across a Hundred Mountains’ and it really helped me to visualize the scenes like a movie in my head.”
Whether “Dancing With Butterflies” will be made into a motion picture is yet to be known, but the colorful imagery and compelling storyline draw deep connections and provide an intriguing and unforgettable insight into Hispanic immigrant culture.
Reyna Grande will be speaking about her new book, “Dancing With Butterflies” at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15. at Capitola Book Café, 1475 41st Ave., Capitola. Call 462-4415.