Sources of Joy: La Casa en Mango Street

It’s taken about a year since I started working at Hoy, and I finally finished reading my first book in Spanish: Sandra Cisneros’ classic, The House on Mango Street (In Spanish, it goes by La Casa en Mango Street.).

The author and the book are now the source of a couple of firsts for me, as  writing about Cisneros’ speaking at the Mexican Fine Arts Museum in 2003 was the source of my first published clip in journalism school (I still remember the excitement I felt when I saw the piece with a portrait of Cisneros on the orange pages of Chicago Journal, a weekly paper in the South Loop neighborhood.).

During that speech, Cisneros read in her surprisingly high voice from Carmelo, a book on which she labored for nine years and which had recently been published.  She also spoke about her deep purple house which has sparked all sorts of controversy in San Antonio, where she now lives.

She didn’t talk much about Mango Street, which remains the work from which she is most well-known.

For those who are not familiar with the work, it’s the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Mexican-American girl growing up in a Latino neighborhood in Chicago.

Told through a series of short vignettes, this slender volume brings us into the joys and sorrows of Esperanza’s world.

Through her we learn about her great-grandmother, a wild and spirited woman whose name she bears.

We hear about her mother’s frustration, her insecurity about her feet size, her struggles with her friends and her being violated by a boy after being set up by her friend.

The language is simple and spare, with each vignette being self-contained and party of a larger whole.

On the Spanish side, it did help to have read the work in English as well as to have seen the play at Steppenwolf with Dunreith and our dear friend Ava.

I also made it through the introduction, in which Cisneros shares her writing journey.  She writes much of the piece in the third person, talking about how she bucked family pressure and cultural tradition to go her own way and follow her writing passion.  She also talks about the high school dropouts students she taught in Chicago, many of whom became the basis for individual or composite characters in Mango Street.

The reading was not totally smooth.

There were plenty of vocabulary words I did not know, and I know I missed quite a bit of the literal and layers of meaning.

But I made it to the end.

I’ve definitely got plenty of work to be able to read more complicated works-I tired Garcia Marquez’s Love In the Time of Cholera, which was too far above my level-and this was a start that feels good.

On to Lorca’s Search for Duende next.


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