Thursday, November 30, 2006

Home

The child’s perception of the house in, The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, is a very Americanized observation. She believes that a house can only equal a detached building with room for her. She does not view a house as a simple apartment or “flat”. Espranza confuses the structure of a house with the meaning of home intertwined in the vision of the American dream.
Her perception of a house is her determination to accomplish her version of the American Dream. Throughout the novel, Espranza describes the harsh realties of her world through the lens of a child. Her desire for a house represents the desire to get out her improvised world and into a world where she can, “point at her house” (4). She aspires to go beyond the financial stage of her parents and obtain a house of her own.
My experience with Beans and Bread and my conversations with the attendants of Beans and Bread have given me a new insight into the way the people of the city view their houses. They do not perceive a house as a structure that symbolizes their financial state as Espranza does. The people I have interacted with view their houses as simply shelter and protection from Baltimore elements. Their focus is not on the building, but rather the inhabitants of that house which makes it a home.
An elder lady I spoke with described the area she lived in. She said that her house was an apartment near the stadium. It was not a good location, but it was close to her job. She said that she chose to live in that area so that to should could take care of her daughter, who just had a baby. It does not matter where you live as long as you enjoy the company you are keeping.
Ezpranza wanted to go beyond the “company she was keeping”. She wanted something more for herself, and was not focused on what her parents had already provided for her.
As mentioned in Jane Jacobs Death and Life of the American City, city planners do not focus on community and the necessary aspects of a city and community needs to survive. It is not about how the city is laid out to best suit the planners, the planners need to look beyond blue-prints and reach into the heart of humanity and seek how humans survive and thrive, through the support of each other. Cities nurture their inhabitants with each other.

No Speak English

Seeing the powerlessness of her neighbors on Mango Street, Esperanza knows that she can succeed with the art of language. A majority of Esperanza’s friends, family, and neighbors suffer from a lack of knowledge of speaking English. The struggle of language is most apparent in Cisneros’s chapter, “No Speak English.” Mamacita literally becomes a prisoner in her apartment on Mango Street, because she “is afraid of English” and misses her real home in Mexico (Cisneros 77). When her son starts speaking English, she is hysterical and exclaims, “No speak English!” (78).

The barrier between languages creates an even stronger barrier between people and their cultures. More often than not, such a blockade inhibits the communication vital to survive. Esperanza’s parents fall victim to this; Esperanza’s father ate “hamandeggs” for three months because he did not know any other word and her mother, although she speaks some English, it is apparent in the poorly written note that she lacks communication skills to those who only speak English.

I think that Esperanza is completely aware of the problem of communication in her neighborhood and she does not want to be trapped like so many by the barrier of language. By writing about Mango Street, her horrible experiences seem less terrible—and for now—she can temporarily escape such horrors. In effect, her determination to write is her hope to one day, escape from the poor living conditions of Mango Street, with the aid of her writing and strong communication skills. Once Esperanza leaves Mango Street, she will return. She will return by passing along the story of her neighborhood, her roots. She will tell her story will let the world know about her experience and culture, bridging the gap, and breaking the barrier of language. Although Esperanza hopes to escape, she will always be Mango Street—something she will one day realize with pride.

For the ones who cannot out

I think the most important thing that I have learned from this class is the amount of privilege that I have. The idea that I am able to do so many different things if I wanted to, things that others, no matter how much they desired, would not be granted the opportunity to do these things. I am able to live here in Baltimore, three hours away from the neighborhood in which I grew up, and not worry about those left behind. I also have the ability to return whenever I want; I don’t need to accomplish anything for anyone before I return. The opportunities that are presented to me seem so amazing in comparison to the situation in The House on Mango Street.
This idea of opportunity and ability is something comes up very often in The House on Mango Street. From Esperanza’s desire to leave her barrio to the women that are stuck staring out the window of their houses, it seems that there are so many things that Esperanza is able to do that the others or not. And even Esperanza’s opportunities are limited. It seems that all she wants is to leave her little neighborhood; but, even this, she must wait for.
Esperanza works for her freedom. She writes her stories down which, as she mentions in “Born Bad”, is what will keep her free. She also is told that she will get the opportunity to leave her barrio, that she will not be stuck there. She continuously works for her freedom from her entrapment in her neighborhood.
However, even she is not truly trapped. For as is mentioned in “The Three Sisters”, she is able to leave this barrio; she will get the opportunity to escape. But she cannot forget those left behind, those who don’t have the opportunity to escape.
This is of the greatest importance. This is a very clear message that needs to be remembered, not only by Esperanza, but by all who are offered an opportunity. It should have been told to Obi when he left for England. It should have been mentioned to Marco Polo when he left on his journeys. It should have been told to the people on the boat as they floated across the Caribbean Sea in Krik? Krak!. We cannot forget those who do not have the opportunities that we have.
I have the opportunity to go downstairs and get food from Primos. There are men and women confined to their beds that must have people bring their food to them. I have the opportunity to go to a college and receive a very good education. There is a woman my age within less than fifty miles of here that has at least one child and will not get the opportunities that I have received. We must always realize this and never forget “those who cannot out”.

Nombres

Do names matter? Some people may say that they don’t and that names only affect us when we let them, but I disagree, names are an essential part of any human relationship because names like all words carry weight and they do matter. Names can be used as terms of affection/ love (mi amor, sweetheart, baby, carino, etc.) and they can be used for hate (idiot, b*****, h**, bastard, etc.), throughout cultures in the word the mere utterance of a name holds great power and significance. In some cultures saying the name of a loved one who has passed or the name of a newborn child will trap their soul in an endless and empty spiritual world denying them the very essence that makes living worthwhile and human relationships meaningful, it is a curse, names define who you are and what you will become because they are a part of your identity.

Identity, what does that mean for Esperanza, the storyteller in Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street?” Esperanza, she compares her name to many things, but the most important aspect of her name that she describes is the fate of the person she was named after. Why does that matter, the fate of the person was their own, was it not? It matters because there must have been some reason why you named that child after that person, why would you name a child after a person who had all freedom and joy forcefully taken away from them (this statement is only based on what Esperanza tells us). Esperanza describes to us her inability to escape her name and her determination to escape the fate intricately connected to her name. Her name defines a large part of her identity because no matter where she is she is Esperanza is Esperanza wherever she goes, she is never a “Nenny.”

Baltimore no matter what part of the city people are in, no matter how beautiful the neighborhood Baltimore will always be known, outside of the city and in some parts of it, an incredibly ugly and unsafe city with nothing to offer. Baltimore cannot escape the meaning in its name, no matter what it does; the cities name is an important if not incredibly relevant part of its identity. Why do we name cities and schools? Why do we make distinctions between one block and the next? If all it is, is a method of finding our way around, then why is there pride in a name, why do we “represent” the school we are from or the city we live in? Why does the name of where we are from matter? Names matter because they are essential parts of identity for people and cities alike, they help to define us and connect us, they are important.

It's not what she says, but how she says it.

Through her literary style, which I would describe as choppy, segmented, and scattered, Cisneros has aptly captured one element of the city that is also present in a number of the other works we've encountered this semester.

With quickly paced anecdotes, she introduces a lot of names and stories into a very short space and without a complete picture being developed. This is so effective because it reflects the way in which many, or at least I, encounter the city. One aspect of the city for which many search is its anonimity, or at least the opportunity to remain virtually faceless, as opposed to the small-town phenomenon in which every one knows each other.

This understanding the Cisneros possesses which indicates that the city is too large and cumbersome for one point of view to encase it is also present in Calvino, who posits a myriad of definitions for a city as individual entities, and then later proposes the idea that they are all one city. Danticat also grabs hold of this in the way in which each story revolves around a seemingly separate, seemingly faceless individual or group.

The reason I take this to be so apparent and such a truthful observation is because I have recently been confronted with the realization that each person sees the city in a unique way, and I think this is never more true than on the bus. As buildings race by, I know that I am limited to only one angle, and that that angle is inherently lacking because I can't even see the structures' more important side--the inside. Moreover, as I look into the eyes of my fellow riders, I can see that they see the city differently, but I don't know what they see.

And don't even get me started on what I hear...

Getting out

With every book that we have read, I have been struck by how each one shows that both the hope that can be found in cities, as well as the sadness that can be found in them. However, The House on Mango Street, there really didnt seem to be a hope in what the city had to offer the the hope seems to be in the belief that they will someday get out of the neighborhood. I was again reminded of my conversations with Tyriek and it is saddening to remember how ironic our situations are. I came here to better my education and he thinks the only way he can be successsful is to get out of Baltimore.
In the specific story Sally, even though it is extremely sad, I was struck out how real it was. There are some boys and St. Ignatius that are known as trouble makers, they listen to no one and their uniforms are always a mess. However, at the end of the afterschool programs they become extremely quiet and slowly begin to put their uniforms back together. You can ask them what is wrong but the answer is always nothing. And maybe it is just that they want to look crisp and professional for their families, but after reading the story of Sally, you really do wonder what their family is like. Also, When Esperanza says how Sally got married so young just to get out, the reader cannot help but wonder how desperate a person can get to get out of a bad situation. Its sadening to think that people may be pushed to such extreme's.
Overall, with this semester the Jesuit way of educating seems to be at the forefront of my mind. And after reading this book I was struck by Kovenbach saying, "When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change". Granted this is just a book, but Cisneros' way of righting is so vivid that you begin to know that the situations she calls to the forefront do exist. And like everything else we have read this semester, I couldn't help but think "how can be fix this? how can we show these children that they can find ways to succeed here?"

Home Sweet Home

As we discussed in class, structurally, Sandra Cisneros’ novel The House on Mango Street is extremely complex under a deceptively simple surface. As we grow older, we view these details through the jaded lens of an experienced adult. That is perhaps why this book of vignettes is so celebrated; it allows its readers to return to the unassuming, naïve view of a child, and watch how the perceptions of experiences change and evolve over time, as a product of a seasoned and affected adult nature. I was absolutely touched by the exchange of the Esperanza and the beautifully described three old sisters, “when you leave, you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? 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”(105). Concisely and eloquently put, that is the essence of what I have learned in this class this semester through literature, discussion, and experience: the city affects you, just as you affect the city. This includes everyone. The details that shaped the identity of the city for you lie in these little exchanges; a conversation with strangers, a gathering of the community (at the baby’s funeral), a recognition of what “home” means to you. Though Esperanza may be ashamed of the building on Mango Street where her family resides, that does not make it any less her home, or a part of her that has affected and will continue to affect her, just as she has affected it.
At the time Esperanza was told that by the sisters, she has trouble understanding its meaning. She will undoubtedly return to this moment in time again as an adult, and understand its significance as if it were occurring all over again, with an illuminated understanding of what exactly they meant. As Cisneros puts it, “a story is like a Giacometti sculpture; the further you get away from it, the clearer you can see it”. The sisters press her to remember the responsibility she has to her neighborhood. Esperanza was extremely embarrassed of the house on Mango Street, and thus attempted to admonish its importance, and even existence. But the very fact that the stories of her childhood in this novel center on the people she met and the things she saw while living on Mango Street illustrate its significance, rather than the structure that served as her house.
I think that the novel subtly emphasizes the power of the decisions we make, the places we go, the people we meet, and the things we know to shape our existence—without de-emphasizing the power we have within ourselves to affect how those experiences will shape us. The past three years in Baltimore have taught me much more than I think I will ever know; I have grown in ways I am acutely aware of, and ways that I will perhaps never fully realize. Later in life, I’ll reflect on little exchanges, like the one between Esperanza and the three sisters, that I perhaps did not fully grasp at the time, but can come to appreciate. But I do understand the responsibility I have to the city as a product of the knowledge I have gained about it, and I know the importance of remembering this connection, and the implications of an active Jesuit education that will remain with me forever.

Innocence Mixed with Hard Experiences

In Esperanza, Cisneros is able to combine a childlike innocence with a real knowledge of what is going on in her neighborhood. The shift back and forth is rapid and seamless, to the point where the reader must wonder at some junctures whether it is Esperanza or Cisneros speaking. The innocence Esperanza displays with regards to men is relatively normal for a girl her age, especially with regards to her, Lucy and Rachel playing dress-up in high heels. However, the beginning of that vignette’s final paragraph, “We are tired of being beautiful” (42), reveals a serious fear for young women in the city. Looking desirable can be dangerous, if proper precaution is not taken. It is a young age for Esperanza to already be learning that.
The descriptions of the sadness in Esperanza’s life also illuminate this struggle between innocence and hard experiences. When Esperanza speaks of her Aunt Lupe, her characterization of the randomness of life is perfect: “But I think diseases have no eyes. They pick with a dizzy finger, just anyone” (59). The injustice of this life has already dawned on the narrator, further exemplified by her condemnation of Mango Street: “Only thing I can’t understand is why Ruthie is living on Mango Street if she doesn’t have to” (69). Esperanza knows how undesirable her house is, from the two nuns’ characterizations of her area, but to think that no other human being should choose Mango Street further highlights the helplessness of her situation.
While these laments may be originated in the grown-up Cisneros, I was left wondering if these insights were simply the result of extreme experiences at young ages. When pain strikes your life early and often, such descriptions are ways of coping, of searching for words to try to understand the pain. It made me think of how many young men at St. Ignatius are also experiencing such pains. Will these experiences spur them on and make them more brilliant, helping them to change the city? Or will the pain destroy them? It is a tough reality to ponder for these young men with so much potential.

No shame in belonging

In finishing The House on Mango Street I was impressed by how simply, and eloquently Cisneros brings together the themes of home, shame, belonging, and heritage through the evolution of her character, Esperanza. I really felt the book came full circle and I like how Cisneros literarily shows this in repeating some of the first lines that appear in the book. I love the last lines: “They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out”, because it shows the resolution Esperanza comes up with in struggling between her past and her future. This line also reminds me of Calvino’s book, where certain people are trapped by cities, where others are free to move about and travel from and to different cities.
I think the most important lesson Esperanza learns is not necessarily about what home means, but rather that shame can be a destructive emotion and that she should have pride from where she comes from, simply because it is where she comes from. Esperanza hears her mother say, “Shame is a bad thing, you know. It keeps you down. You want to know why I quit school? Because I didn’t have nice clothes. No clothes, but I had brains. Yup, she says disgusted”. This same lesson is reiterated to Esperanza through the character Alicia and her acceptance for Esperanza’s home on Mango Street. In learning this lesson Esperanza settles the internal conflict she has in her cultural past and her perspective future. I think she becomes comfortable with the idea it’s ok to belong at Mango Street for the time being, and it’s ok to leave it as long as she remembers her history.
By the end of the book her obsession of her very own home comes to symbolize her growing individuality, or her dream as she loses innocence and transforms from child to adult. Her desire for a house no longer stands for Esperanza’s hope for a better family life. It now represents a defining of Esperanza as her own person. On page 108 Esperanza calls a house of her own “a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go”. A house has become Esperanza’s adult goal, not just a childish dream she imposed on her entire family. In this transition Esperanza’s gradual entry into adulthood has been marked. I think she has realized she may never change the lives of her entire family, but she does have control over her own individual future. Esperanza’s mother advises her, “Esperanza, you go to school. Study hard… Got to take care all your own”. I think by the end of the novel Esperanza has come to a deeper understanding of this advice and realizes her place in the family in coexistence with her individuality. I think this understanding is similar to how people around the world define themselves in cities. One must know who they are individually and then understand who they are to the city, or what role they play in existing in a city, or if not a city a neighborhood or smaller community. The search begins internally and moves outward. Structurally Cisneros has mastered this movement back and forth from internal to external viewpoints, as we have discussed in class. Her novel describes this universal search that all humanity experiences no matter what city you live in- the search of where and how an individual belongs.

"Sky" in The House on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is told from the unique perspective of a young Puerto Rican girl named Esperanza. In the beginning of the book, Esperanza wants her own house “with trees around it, a great big yard and grass growing without a fence” (Cisneros 4). Esperanza’s family is unable to leave the small red house on Mango Street and near the end of the book Esperanza still yearns for “a house all my own…a space for myself to go” (108). Esperanza desires freedom from the financial burdens that plague her family and from community to which she is confined. She wants a house without a fence and freedom to move from neighborhood to neighborhood instead of being confined to her all-Puerto Rican community. She wants opportunities that are not available in her community.

Esperanza’s desire for freedom is expressed throughout the book with the image of the sky. She says, “You can never have too much sky. You can fall asleep and wake up drunk on sky, and sky can keep you safe when you are sad. Here there is too much sadness and not enough sky” (33). Esperanza seeks liberty that is not granted in her community. She worries about becoming like her grandmother who “looked out of the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow” (11). Esperanza’s grandmother was not blessed with the freedom to do what she wanted and Esperanza does not “want to inherit her place by the window” (11) looking at the sky and world instead of experiencing it. The sky again represents Esperanza’s desire for freedom in a poem she writes: “I want to be like the waves on the sea, like the clouds in the wind…One day I’ll jump out of my skin. I’ll shake the sky like a hundred violins” (61). Her aunt tells her to keep writing because it will keep her free.

Although Esperanza still wishes for the sky at the end of the book, the advice of the three sisters (105) influences her. Esperanza is no longer a “red balloon, a balloon tied to an anchor” (9) waiting to float into the sky. She will instead keep her feet planted firmly on the ground and “march so far away” (110), but she will always return again. She says that she will leave Mango Street, but that her family and neighbors “will not know that I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot out” (110). Esperanza recognizes that there is a part of her that belongs to Mango Street and she has a responsibility to the neighborhood she wants to escape. The aunts help Esperanza realize that leaving a neighborhood is not only leaving crowded houses, but also leaving people. Esperanza does not want to leave the people on Mango Street, but the circumstances in which they suffer. Esperanza will leave Mango Street, but she will return to the people whose hair and smells she knows because not everyone is able to escape. Esperanza also seems to realize that her earlier desire for a “house on a hill like the ones with the gardens where Papa works” (86) will not provide the freedom she seeks, but rather it would impose new constraints upon her. Esperanza will need to balance the outside world she seeks with the close-knit community she knows to live fully and experience what the whole city of Chicago has to offer.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wanting Out

Throughout House on Mango Street Esperenza's need to get out off of Mango Street and have that dream house is a pattern I've seen among the children of Baltimore. Whether it was in Lippman's novel or comments I've heard about the students at St. Ignatius from students in the classroom, or videos in class about Baltimore, Baltimore children do everything in their lives to achieve the goal of getting out of Baltimore. I read an article in the City Paper about a student run organization to over-throw the Maryland Board of Education and one of the students in the program stated he wanted to receive a good education to get out of Baltimore.

I see this pattern with Esperenza as well. She seems to want to escape everything that is Chicago and Mango Street. She doesn't fully accept everything that is part of her life on Mango Street whether it is her house, her family members, her friends, or the actions she takes while living on Mango Street. Her aunt even tells her to keep writing because it would set her free. I couldn't help but think while I was reading that section that the aunt meant that Esperenza's writing could take her to a life outside of Mango Street in Chicago. Because of the narrator's childish narration I couldn't tell whether or not he aunt meant it that way, or that Esperenza took it that way, but it seemed that the aunt thought her talent in writing could take her away from the fate of becoming the adults on Mango Street.

At the end of Mango Street Esperenza is a writer and she no longer lives on Mango Street, so for me it proved that writing did take her away from Mango Street and that was what her aunt meant or at least how Esperenza interpretted it. Esperenza was finally able to get out of Mango Street due to her education and her ability to write, much like the children of Baltimore hope to get a decent education that will give them the opportunity to leave the city if they choose to. Although Esperenza was given the opportunity to leave Mango Street and she had every ability to make her life however she wanted it to be, she still had that connection to Mango Street and the urge to go back to it. I wonder if the children of Baltimore will feel that way too. If they will ultimately leave if given the opportunity but realize their connection when they are not forced to stay in it anymore. In the end the freedom Esperenza aunt was talking about was the freedom to choose where one could live or be from to know whether they choose to stay where they grew up or go somewhere else it was based on their choice, not because they had to.

Writing to Remain Free

In the chapter "Born Bad" of the novel The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Esperanza reads her sick aunt a poem that she wrote, and her aunt responds: "That's nice. That's very good, she said in her tired voice. You just remember to keep writing, Esperanza. You must keep writing. It will keep you free, and I said yes, but at that time I didn't know what she meant." (61). Throughout the novel, Esperanza is digusted by her surroudings, embarassed to live in her family's house on Mango Street. She is constantly seeking a way to grow up and out, to become an independent woman. Without even knowing, she finds that in writing, which comes naturally to her. Her ability to interpret her world and express her insights is the power she needs to live her dream.

The final chapter in Edwidge Danticat's Krik? Krak! is very similar because the narrator, addressing a second person, reveals the power in writing, especially for women. Written expression is a way for women to express power without yielding a club or being too visible; it's a secret, self-satisfying power that can also be therapeutic. "And writing? Writing was as forbidden as dark rouge on the cheeks or a first date before eighteen. It was an act of indolence, something to be done in a corner when you could have been learning to cook." (219). In Esperanza's case, so much is made forbidden to her by her parents and her culture. Everything seems that much more appealing because it is sinful or inappropriate. Writing is a productive way for both characters to rebel against their cultural norms.

At the end of The House on Mango Street, Esperanza finally understands what her aunt meant. "I put it down on paper and then the ghost does not ache so much. I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes. She does not hold me with both arms. She sets me free." (110). Esperanza realizes that this power of hers allows her the ability to let go of Mango Street without really letting go of it. By writing about it, she is able to distance herself from it but also commemorate it in a way. With Mango Street, it's a love/hate relationship. A writer always finds it difficult to show writing to close relatives and friends because these people might identify the aspects of the writing that are true to life. These people, "They will not know I have gone away to come back." (110). Esperanza both satisfies her own needs and her need to help her people.

Neighborhoods and Vignettes

Like all of the stories that hold Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street together, the neighborhoods of Baltimore function in the same respect. They bridge the gap between races, sexes, and income. They are an example of how diversity can coexist. Therefore, we can look at the myriad of different neighborhoods as little vignettes, each with a unique story to tell.

In class on Tuesday, one of our classmates, Brittnay, who is in the Real Estate industry, told us an anecdote about her boss' reaction to different zipcodes within the City of Baltimore, even going so far as to describing some of them as being "scary." The reputation of Baltimore is something that needs to be changed; it was given the moniker "Charm City," after all. When I tell people that I go to school in Baltimore, they give me this "are you kidding?" type of look. People who are not from the area, or have not spent prolonged periods of time here fabricate harsh and unfair opinions about the city. In addition to our efforts to forge stronger bonds between Loyola and the City of Baltimore, as part of the Year of the City campaign, we also have the obligation to promote the city in a positive light.

One of the guys that I work with is a couple of years older than me, he is African American, and he has lived in Baltimore his whole life. Today, we started talking about how Baltimore has such a bad reputation, and how unfair it is for people to draw such conclusions. Our conversation touched upon a lot of things: The Wire, of course; the weather here, and how Baltimore actually experiences all four seasons; a friend of his from California who mocks Baltimore at every chance she gets. I felt a sense of pride after this discussion; I was proud to go to school in Baltimore, something I never though possible.

The second half of the book The House on Mango Street really develops the ideas of home and family and heritage that are set up by the characters in the first half. The neighborhood, while in the first half is made up of unique and interesting characters, develops into more of a place of longing or desperation and in some cases hope. Instead of focusing on the makeup of the city, Cisneros brings out the attitudes and emotions of the city through it's people. The primary method of doing so is through the idea of home and the various ways in which it becomes defined.

Cisneros creates characters that think of home in different ways. There is the woman who is brought from Mexico for a better life who spends her days rejecting English and her new "home". She refused to belong and to interact because she sees it as temporary. That apartment can never be home to her. Geraldo is anonymous and we can never know that he had died alone and far from his home. He does not have anyone looking for him here, no family and no home. In the end, Esperanza herself believes that she is without a home because she refuses to embrace the house on Mango Street. She feels that she does not belong there; that she is better than that tiny, sad house. But she learns that she is part of Mango Street and it is up to her to make it a place to which she belongs. By leaving and returning and proving herself to the world, she can help Mango Street in a way that nobody else can and will. In so doing, she can save Mango Street and give other little girls the change to belong to something great.

Finally in the last portion of the book there is a very strong focus on women. These women are strong, weak, and places in between. They are locked in their homes and controlled by abusive and jealous men, and they are silently rebelious. While they may not have the freedom to move they have a stregnth to deny themselves for their children or their parents. In some cases they are just trying to escape and don't know how to do any better. Cisneros is making a very quiet commentary on the lives of poor and abused women. It would be easy to judge her characters as weak and stupid, but by showing how desparate their lives are the reader must ask what else can they do? For these women home is an even more confusing subject because to them, home is a place of oppression and pain.

Cisneros Embraces Her Heritage

In the House on Mango Street, Esperanza is indeed a sign of hope for the community of Mango Street. She is an ambitious character who strives to achieve more than her ancestors or neighbors. Through her, Cisneros delivers a powerful message to her community, which is a message of love and respect for one’s heritage, in my opinion. When Esperanza speaks of Sally, she declares, “She says she is in love, but I think she did it to escape” (102). Esperanza notices that the people in her life, particularly women, allow their own individuality and dreams to be taken away without much resistance on their part, or they may try to accomplish their dreams in the wrong way. These women submit to their husbands or give up their desires without acknowledging what they want out of life. In reference to Sally’s submission to her husband, Esperanza says, “she sits at home because she is afraid to go outside without permission” (102). Esperanza’s witnesses this hopeless attitude in her own mother. Her mother says, “‘I could’ve been somebody, you know?’...She has lived in this city her whole life.” (90). Esperanza’s mother reminds her to keep going to school so that she can achieve more than she was able. It is almost as if the women on Mango Street realize that they could have achieved more, but that they just do not care enough to take that extra leap that would allow them to break free of the restrictions that Mango Street seems to have. Or maybe is it just that they did not have the opportunities that Esperanza’s generation does.

Eventually, Esperanza realizes that she has to take action in order to avoid a life of unfulfilled dreams like the people around her. She says, “I am tired of looking at what we can’t have…One day I’ll have my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from” (87). Even if Esperanza does break free of the cycle present in The House on Mango Street, she will never forget her roots, which is a very powerful statement on her behalf. The aunts tell Esperanza, “When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, you understand? You will always be Esperanza, you will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget what you are.” (105). Clearly, remembering one’s heritage is valued and lessons can only be learned from the past. In order to start anew, we must acknowledge where we originate from.

In regards to our class discussion yesterday concerning criticism of Sandra Cisneros, I firmly believe that any criticism directed towards the author is wrong and that Cisnero’s work embraces her own culture to the highest degree. She values tradition and memory, yet she insists on pursuing an improved culture with better living conditions, fulfilled dreams, and healthy family life for all, among other things. Cisneros wants her culture, in my opinion, to be the happy and comfortable, not longing for more. She wants her generation to take advantage of the opportunities that are before them-opportunities that older generations may not have had. Therefore, she is not turning her back on her heritage. She is embracing it and calling it to improve itself, so that everyone can be healthier and happier with the general condition of their lives. She, like Naylor in The Women of Brewster Place, wants to urge her community to strive for better. She wants that dream deferred that Langston Hughes speaks so of so profoundly to come to fruition. The truth is that these people deserve it; they owe it to themselves for being such a powerful community, rich in diversity, with so much to offer. This, to me, is a message of sincere, unconditional love for a community and does not constitute rejection at all. Cisneros returned to aid her heritage with her talents, when she could have abandoned it as a successful author. She, like Esperanza, acknowledges where she came from. Cisneros used these talents in order to reach her highest potential, and in turn wrote many works that should inspire others like young Esperanza to reach higher and accomplish all that they are capable of achieving (which is certainly not a bad thing). After all, Cisneros was once in the shoes of these young Hispanic women. In my opinion, she is an example to these of women of what they can become if they are determined. I would like to ask Cisneros’ critics why they feel this is such a negative thing to aspire to.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Cisneros and Lippman - the importance of home

Although many people move from their original cities in order to make fresh starts in other locations, they must realize that they will always carry with them a piece of their past. No one is able to completely forget what has previously occurred. Past experiences shape a person’s life, even if this individual wishes to escape the environment in which they took place. Both Laura Lippman and Sandra Cisneros delve into this attempt to flee one’s surroundings in order to shake off one’s encounters, illustrating that one is never able to ignore the past forever.


In Laura Lippman’s Butchers Hill, she presents the reader with Jackie Weir, a woman who has attempted to forget her past but finds that she is haunted by its absence. Jackie has been avoiding her past since her youth, stating that she was ashamed because of her economic circumstances, her giving birth at a young age, and her residence in Baltimore. Jackie states,

Mama wanted me to keep the baby, so she could raise it, get a little extra AFDC money and food stamps every month. I almost went for it, too. But you know, I had finished high school and I had this nothing job, and I suddenly saw my future. I told myself, ‘This is it, girl. You’ve still got a chance to make something of yourself, but not if you keep this baby…And when I got a scholarship to Penn, I decided to change my name legally, sort of a symbol of my new life. In the back of my mind, I think I didn’t want my baby to come looking for me one day. You see, I figured I was going to be somebody real famous, real successful, and I didn’t want any tabloid trash reunion in my future. Lippman 80-81

Jackie only thought about herself and her future plans, instead of thinking about the impact that her actions could have had on her daughter. Jackie wanted to do anything in order to evade being associated with a child born out of wedlock to a man who “wasn’t interested in being a father” (Lippman 81). Jackie believed that the only way to ensure her success was to completely alienate herself from her past life in order to begin a fresh, new life without any visible stains, even though she adamantly states, “I don’t want to hide. I’m not ashamed of my past” (Lippman 81). She contradicts herself in that she did everything to put her past at a distance, yet assures Tess that she does not regret it. Jackie viewed her pregnancy as a blemish on her life that could haunt her in the future, and did not consider that it would haunt her because she missed her child’s presence in her life: “Once [my mother] was gone, I waited to feel bereft. Instead, I felt haunted, as if someone were following me. I found myself blowing off appointments, driving around Pigtown and looking at the young girls there. I kept thinking, Are you out there? What became of you? Do you hate me?’” (Lippman 82). Jackie soon realized that she could not forget her past and her proper home with her child because it resulted in her not having an identity: “Her mother was dead, her daughter was someone else’s daughter. Jackie Weir was about as alone as anyone could be in this world” (Lippman 163). Jackie’s attempts to distance herself from her family by changing her name, moving away, and creating a new life for herself resulted in her returning back to the child that she had abandoned. She was drawn back to the life that she had scorned because she had taken a piece of her past with her. One cannot avoid the past, even though one may try as many ways as possible.


One can see the same desire to move away from one’s present circumstances in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, in which Esperanza wishes to leave her community because she finds it to be unacceptable. Cisneros begins the novel with Esperanza’s stating, “I knew then that I had to have a house. A real house. One I could point to. But this isn’t it. The house on Mango Street isn’t it. For the time being, Mama says. Temporary, says Papa. But I know how those things go” (Cisneros 5). From the outset, Esperanza expresses her dissatisfaction with her house and her desire to escape it. She cannot accept the current conditions in which her family lives because they do not live up to the vision that she has created in her dreams. Esperanza does not want to continue with the way that her family has lived in the past, in houses that she deems as deplorable because she is not proud to point them out to those who ask about her residence. Esperanza’s family has an outing of driving along roads and looking at houses, which the little girl does not find to be proper. She states, “I don’t tell them I am ashamed—all of us staring out the window like the hungry. I am tired of looking at what we can’t have” (Cisneros 86). Esperanza believes that her humble beginnings will lead to a future of want, in which she will never be satisfied with what she has. Like Jackie, Esperanza believes that her current conditions will lead to her inability to ever escape them in order to create a new life for herself. Thus, the little girl “[begins her] own quiet war. Simple. Sure” (Cisneros 89) because she “[has] decided not to grow up tame like the others who lay their necks on the threshold waiting for the ball and chain to come” (Cisneros 88). Like Jackie, Esperanza believes that she is the only one on whom she can rely in order to ensure that she changes her situation. And yet, unlike Jackie, Esperanza knows from the outset that she can never completely forget her past because it has formed the way that she has grown up: “One day I’ll own my own house, but I won’t forget who I am or where I came from. Passing bums will ask, Can I come in? I’ll offer them the attic, ask them to stay, because I know how it is to be without a house” (Cisneros 87). Instead of totally rejecting her past, Esperanza plans to use it as a spring-board for the future, yet still keeping in mind that she believes that her past situation hindered her life. She refuses to follow in the footsteps of those who came before her, who she believes did not live fruitful lives. Esperanza prepares to leave Mango Street, but will keep in mind what others have told her countless times, “When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? 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” (Cisneros 105), and, “No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here. I don’t belong. I don’t ever want to come from here. You have a home, Alicia, and one day you’ll go there, to a town you remember, but me I never had a house, not even a photograph…only one I dream of. No, Alicia says. Like it or not you are Mango Street, and one day you’ll come back too” (Cisneros 106-107). Although Esperanza attempts to deny her living on Mango Street and coming from a particular past, she know that she will never leave it behind because she has to return to those who live in similar situations. She knows that she must provide a link between the outside world and Mango Street. Just as Jackie returned to visit her child, so must Esperanza come back to visit her street and her neighbors.


I hope that the youth of Baltimore recognize the need to better their lives, but not at the cost of forgetting from where they come. One needs to grow and explore in order to create a new chapter in one’s life, but this does not mean that one needs to rewrite one’s own book of experiences. One cannot forget the past because it is this past that shapes how people have matured.


Preserving a Culture with Neighborhood Care

Many parallels exist between Cisneros The House on Mango Street and Danticat’s Krik?Krak! They shared the same structure, using vignettes to tell their stories. In these vignettes they rely tremendously on characters to tell the story of a place. They both use the stories to pass on their respective cultures. Cisneros, as a Mexican American herself, she understands how important it is to keep your heritage with you in America. She uses Esperanza to briefly illustrate some of the daily struggles of being Mexican in America, such as the examples where Esperanza wants to change her name, or when she brings a rice sandwich to school. Danticat describes the stages of Haitian people on their move to the U.S. as well as those Haitian people stuck in Haiti. She uses the last few stories about the family in New York as a way to convey her belief that it is so imperative to keep your culture alive.

Cisneros, on the very last pages, illustrates the importance of holding onto your culture but also stepping ahead into the future. Danticat and Cisneros understand that as a progressive people we cannot just sit there and continually stew in our past. Rather, we must move ahead into the future while we hold onto our past. The steps our ancestors took in the past mold our steps in the future. The chapter The Three Sisters depicts this importance of holding on while moving on. They tell Esperanza her name is beautiful and so special, while she believed it was an awful name. They also go into the fact that she is one of the special children that will have the chance to go onward, off of Mango Street. They tell her that she cannot forget to help the others who are just like her, living on Mango Street. It is her responsibility, not only because they share the same culture but also because they are neighbors.

Danticat doesn’t really address the responsibility we have for each other as neighbors. She stayed close to just the theme of keeping the culture alive in the future. Cisneros believes that part of keeping your culture alive is taking care of your neighbors. She takes the stance that a community is only as strong as their weakest member. A culture will only be able to flourish with the support of a community.