Being a Mexican ''Chica'' in America: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago in 1954, Illinois, U.S. She is the third child and only daughter in a family of seven children. As a Mexican American short-story writer and poet, she focuses on Mexican American life in Chicago. Her family is of Mexican descent, and the Cisneros family regularly travelled between Chicago and Mexico to visit their relatives. Cisneros would later say that she felt "displaced" during her childhood because of constant travel between Chicago and Mexico. She could not feel a sense of belonging in one place. They had to keep switching schools and find a new place to live every time. When Cisneros was ten years old, she wrote her first poem. She worked on a high school literary magazine, eventually becoming an editor.


Sandra Cisneros, American, writer, portrait, Milano, Italy, 2005. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo)


Cisneros went on to study English at the Loyola University of Chicago and then she attended the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she shaped her style and theme of writing, which is focused on her rare experiences as a Hispanic woman in a mainly alien culture. As Pilar Godayol Nogué mentions, "Sandra Cisneros is the most powerful representative of the group of young Chicana writers who emerged in the 1980s. She has a great ability to capture a multitude of voices in her fiction." In 1982, Cisneros received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. With the award money, she went to Europe, where she wrote The House on Mango Street. Sandra Cisneros's contributions to American literature include My Wicked, Wicked Ways (1987), Loose Woman: Poems (1984), Have You Seen Marie? (2012) and other notable works. Cisneros was awarded the National Medal of Arts (2015) by U.S. Pres., Barack Obama.


President Barack Obama presents author Sandra Cisneros with the 2015 National Medal of Arts during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


In the novella House on Mango Street, Cisneros describes in each chapter different characters' life the from point of view of Esperanza. Mexican- American teenager Esperanza Cordero dreams of a life far away from the indigence and patriarchal mindset of Mango Street. Following years of moving from house to house, Esperanza Cordero's parents finally buy a small red house on Mango Street, part of an urban Latino district in Chicago. The worn-out small house is nothing like Esperanza's dream home, which is neat, quiet, and entirely hers. Nonetheless, she decides to discover this new neighbourhood and Esperanza introduces the reader to the rest of her neighbours. She tells a few stories about the men and boys in the neighbourhood; however, her main issue is chiefly on the lives of women. Esperanza ponders a lot about what it means to be a woman, particularly in the community she lives.


West 26th Street&South Albany Avenue in Chicago, United States (Also known as Mexican Village)


Throughout the years, Esperanza develops emotionally, artistically, and sexually with the things she encounters in the neighborhood and school. And the novella is handled through her experiences. She especially observes women who have been forced to live without proper education and other rights. They are simply closed in the house and doing housework. Most Chicana women do nasty works in the working field too. Esperanza is exposed to incidents like when she starts her job on the first day; an old man kisses her without her permission. As she writes in the novella, "He said it was his birthday and would I please give him a birthday kiss. 1 thought I would because he was so old and just as I was about to put my lips on his cheek, he grabs my face with both hands and kisses me hard on the mouth and doesn't let go." In another damaging incident, Esperanza is raped by a boy while other boys watch. These experiences and oppressions make "contribute" to Esperanza’s growing creativity and desire to write, and her dream of a house increases Esperanza's desire to get away from Mango Street. At the end of the novel, she is determined to leave Mango Street, yet she has promised to come back so that she can help those who were not able to leave. As Maria Karafilis states, "This revision of the American idealization of mobility is important because instead of signifying the freedom to journey and conjuring the image of forward-moving progress, Cisneros reinforces the importance of community and returning to the neighborhood that helped to shape her as a Chicana growing up in American society."


MsNawrocki La Casa en Mango Street


Esperanza is torn apart between who she is or what she wants in this society. She tries to explore what Mango Street meant for her life. Her family does not have a stable house to live in and they always struggle. With each change, they start all over again and Esperanza perceives all these processes that her family is going through and gives her a prediction about the future too. Day by day Esperanza realizes Mango Street is not the place where she wants to live in the course of time. Although she feels to not belong in that society, she thinks that she could not escape her roots so easily. However, she knows staying and accepting this society will in some way restrict her limits and stop her from becoming herself and forming her identity. All these stories in the book show how she and other women struggle in the patriarchal society, even in her family. In this way, she catches a glimpse of how it feels to be a woman in this Chicana society. Esperanza wants to create a space for herself and define her existence with the help of her room. However, in this Chicano community, building an independent house for themselves seems like an impossible option. Because the number of uneducated women is high, not all women have a chance to destroy the barrier set against them. As she states in the novella, ‘’ Someday I will have a best friend all my own. ‘’ During that growing-up process to bring impact to herself, she makes dreams and expectations from life. She needs a friend to whom she can show her feelings. In this way, she can live her life and fulfill herself by getting to know more people.

Street mural at W. 18th Street and S. Wood Street in Pilsen\Chicago by Christopher Dilts


Esperanza writes, "In English my name means hope. In Spanish, it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting… It was my great-grandmother's name and now it is mine… She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow… I have inherited her name, but I don't want to inherit her place by the window." She has different women around her but the most important are her mom and grandmother; her role models who explained to her what it means to be a woman in this community. On the other hand, they are the kind of women who could not make their dreams come true. Therefore, Esperanza understands that she can feel captured in a hole like her grandmother. She has consciousness about her Mexican identity. This process is like heredity that passes from one to another.


That is the position of women in society. Their sexuality and marriages turned into a reason for "imprisonment. She struggles between her desire for a new identity and her Chicana roots. She knows there is a reality that carries this root in her name, yet she determines not to be like these women. If she becomes like them, there is no chance of escaping from the environment. Esperanza mentions her society as, "Those who don't know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we're dangerous. They think we will attack them with shiny knives.’’ Those issues reflect how the Chicana community is perceived by American society. Because of that, she considers the community's impact on her identity and the country that she lives in. Because Chicana's people are the kind of people that get into trouble, always fight against being poor, uneducated, and restricted by racism.


“I want to be like the waves on the sea, like the douds in the wind, but I'm me. One day I'll jump out of my skin. I'll shake the sky like a hundred violins.’’ Based on that quotation, Esperanza starts seeking her freedom inside of words. She expresses her deep wish to be an outsider. She is getting ready for real moments in her life. Though she has not cleared her mind to start a new beginning, her instincts made her prepared to strive. Writing provides the support she needs, helps her to run away from Mango Street. As Maria Elena de Valdés states, ‘’Writing is a means of liberation for Esperanza.” She promised herself not to be like that and she makes a kind of pact with her aims while writing. When she goes to fortune-teller she says to Esperanza, '' I see a home in the heart. '' If Esperanza succeeds to find a house in her heart, all those conflicts, problems, confusions will disappear. She will grasp the real house by getting to know herself. If she can make peace with herself, she will manage to do the same thing on Mango Street as well. She understands how it feels not to have a proper house, how to be excluded from society, confronting the sense of loss in a place where she wants to fit in. Gradually she will find her dream space and create a new life. She is on her way to finding her identity. “I am an ugly daughter. I am the one nobody comes for.” According to that statement, she focuses again on the standards of beauty. This shows us that the patriarchal mindset brought an immense impact on Esperanza's life. However, she is already ready to challenge that pattern. "I have begun my own quiet war. Simple. Sure. I am one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate." The reason for this war is Esperanza's desire to fight against all taboos that are imposed on women. She challenges her Chicana society and wants to do the same thing with all stereotypes imposed by men.


A Mexican Girl In Traditional Clothes With A Sombrero On Her Head, Mexico, October 1968. (Photo by Mario De Biasi;Sergio Del Grande;Giorgio Lotti/Mondadori via Getty Images

“You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can't erase what you know. You can't forget who you are…. You must remember to come back. For the ones who cannot leave as easily as you.” Based on that quote, Esperanza converts into a role model for all those young Chicana girls since it is almost impossible to separate from her roots. She is a hope that shows the true paths for those who desperately wait for any kind of chance getting out from this society or creating reformation for Chicana's mindset. "No, this isn't my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I've lived here." Even here, she is still fighting and resisting to accept that belonging to Mango Street. But eventually, she will be understood. “I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes… One day I will go away… They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out.”


A segment of Barbara Carrasco's mural "L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective."


In conclusion, she succeeds in being in her dream world and she opens a new door for those who want to be like her. This story not only covers Esperanza, but she also represents "all" Esperanzas. All these conflicts, denying her inner war with her Chicana roots had a reason and reached a goal. She accepts Mango Street and is ready to be an adviser to all women.


Resources


Cisneros, Sandra, The House on Mango Street, Vintage, 1991

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Sandra Cisneros, retrieved https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sandra-Cisneros (November 16, 2021)


''Sandra Cisneros'', Famousauthorsorg, retrieved https://www.famousauthors.org/sandra-cisneros (November 16, 2021)


Hobby, Blake, The American Dream, Blooms Literary Criticism; 1st edition, 1 Mar. 2009

Karafilis, Maria, Crossing the Borders of Genre: Revisions of the "Bildungsroman" in Sandra Cisneros's "The House on Mango Street" and Jamaica Kincaid's "Annie John", retrieved https://www.jstor.org/stable/1315091?seq=6#metadata_info_tab_contents (November 16, 2021)

T.C. Dokuz Eylül University, Ake 3016 American Bildungsroman, Lecture Notes, 2021


Nogue, Pilar Godayol, Interviewing Sandra Cisneros: Living On The Frontera, Coreacuk, retrieved https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/13308513.pdf (November 16, 2021)


Image Resources

Sandra Cisneros, [Portrait], https://www.forbes.com/sites/courtstroud/2021/09/15/author-sandra-cisneros-on-her-new-novel-martita-i-remember-you/?sh=14de1e1c6f9d


Barack Obama and Sandra Cisneros, [Photography], https://www.oklahoman.com/gallery/6035119/president-obama-confers-national-medal-of-arts-to-writers-musicians-more


Albany Avenue in Chicago, [Photography], https://www.choosechicago.com/neighborhoods/little-village/


MsNawrocki La Casa en Mango Street, [Illustration], https://tr.pinterest.com/pin/390194755190558098/


S. Wood Street in Pilsen, [Photography], https://www.eater.com/a/mofad-city-guides/chicago-mexican-history


A Mexican Girl In Traditional Clothes, [Photography], https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/mexican-girl-is-wearing-traditional-clothes-a-long-horse-news-photo/141565832


L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective, [Illustration], https://www.chicagotribune.com/la-ca-jc-murales-rebeldes-20170817-story.html

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