When people who belong to different cultures need to find their place in society, they can choose to preserve their heritage or combine cultural traditions for the purpose of integration. Issues of cultural identity and social assimilation are actively discussed in The House on Mango Street, the book written by Sandra Cisneros in 1983. Esperanza Cordero is the main female character of the work that consists of forty-four vignettes describing the realities of living in the Chicago barrio that is inhabited by Mexican Americans, or Chicanos, and Puerto Ricans (Cisneros, 2013). In her book, Cisneros aims at discussing the challenges faced by a young Mexican American woman on her path to finding a better life that is based on the integration into the American culture.
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The vignettes presented in The House on Mango Street describe the daily experiences of Esperanza, and they demonstrate the particular features of the Mexican Americans’ life in a low-income neighborhood. From this perspective, it is possible to identify several main themes discussed in the book. The first theme is Esperanza’s coming of age during which she understands her roles as a young woman in the Chicano society. The second theme is the problem of preserving the Mexican American cultural heritage in the context of the American culture (Betz, 2012). In her daily life, Esperanza observes how her friends and other people in the barrio cope with conflicts of determining gender roles and focusing on the Chicano or American cultural norms.
From this perspective, the personal conflicts of Esperanza are associated with the everyday problems faced by Mexican Americans who live in a poor community. On the one hand, Esperanza does not like the family’s house on Mango Street, she tries to reject the submissive role of women in the Chicano society, and she wants to leave this community in order to cope with poverty and live a better life (Cisneros, 2013). On the other hand, while overcoming gender conflicts, communicating with neighbors, and coping with stereotypes and fears that are typical of both Chicanos and Americans, Esperanza understands that her roots are in the Mexican culture, and she is connected almost with everyone on Mango Street.
While focusing on the personal conflict of Esperanza, Cisneros represents the general challenges faced by Mexican Americans. Women and girls in the Chicano society accept the dominant roles of males, but they try to preserve their independence. The use of both English and Spanish languages allows Mexican Americans to receive more opportunities and integrate into the American culture (Veras, 2011).
The focus on overcoming cultural barriers and finding the place in American society allows for coping with poverty and instability. While communicating with Rachel and Lucy’s aunts, Esperanza pays attention to the following words: “You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are” (Cisneros, 2013, p. 105). These words mean that Chicanos need to preserve their cultural traditions and heritage in order to avoid losing their identity.
It seems to me that The House on Mango Street is an example of a book that discusses the complex problems of the cultural identity, assimilation, and socialization of Mexican American women with the focus on the personal experience of Esperanza. As a result, the stories told by Esperanza seem to be exciting and rather dramatic. Cisneros appealed to the reader while demonstrating difficulties associated with Mexican Americans’ lives in the United States and explaining the role of a young woman on her path to becoming older and making the choice that can influence her vision of identity.
Betz, R. M. (2012). Chicana “belonging” in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. Rocky Mountain Review, 1(2), 18-33.
Cisneros, S. (2013). The house on Mango Street. New York, NY: Vintage.
Veras, A. F. (2011). Language and identity in Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. ANTARES, 2(5), 228-242.