THE HOUSE ON
BY SANDRA CISNEROS
We have a lot to learn from Esperanza Cordoro, the heroine of “The House on Mango Street.” With her bright-eyed curiosity and colorful reflections, she beckons us to return to wisdom of our youth. Written in short vignettes, Cisneros lays out snapshots of Esperanza’s life almost as if they were Polaroids assisting a spirited regaling of a favorite childhood story. Those Polaroids come to life through Cisneros’ vibrant story-telling; instantaneously you are transported to the sunny Chicago city street where Esperanza experiences heart-break, skins her knees, and dreams of the world waiting for her.
Esperanza is the eldest child in a family of six. Strapped with responsibility, she struggles to carve out her own identity in a family bursting to its seams with lively personalities. She laments the virtue she must display for her younger siblings, describing herself in one vignette as a red balloon tied to an anchor. Cisernos stitches inter-generational fibers through her prose, binding the Cordero family tightly together. In one passage, Esperanza describes her namesake- her great-grandmother, a fierce woman who rebelled against tradition, ultimately succumbing to its control over her. Desperate to define herself, Esperanza declares: “I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.”
As the reader discovers, a centerpiece of Esperanza’s identity rests soundly in her experiences as a first-generation Mexican immigrant, striving to find a home after living her short life in rapid transition. Through the vivid sketches of characters from the neighborhood, Esperanza tells the story of young love, sudden loss, and immigrant dreams cut short in “Geraldo No Last Name.” Cisernos writes, “His name was Geraldo. And his home is in another country. The ones he left behind are far away, will wonder, shrug, remember. Geraldo- he went north…we never heard from him again.” Through artful prose, Cisernos offers a deep sorrow for dreams unfulfilled and reveals Esperanza’s genuine hunger to leave an impervious mark on her community.
Similarly, Cisneros blends tragedy, family, and immigrant identity in the vignette “Papa Who Wakes Up Tired in the Dark.” Esperanza witnesses familial loss and confronts the fragility of life. She clings to her father in an intimate moment- holding onto his physical form as if to hold him to the Earth forever. Esperanza confronts poverty and societal struggle, and by doing so, Cisernos adds depth to Esperanza’s experiences as a child in a working-class immigrant community. These experiences are colored by a single mother, Minerva, who strives and struggles in “Minerva Writes Poetry.” In a delicate and heartbreaking vignette, Esperanza reveals her friendship with Minerva and how the young women share their poetry and joy. The vignette ends agonizingly when Esperanza realizes Minerva is a physical abuse survivor and acknowledges her impotency in defending the friend she loves.
Dispite many heavy themes, Cisernos’ literary tapestry is accented with threads of abounding joy, laughter, and hope. Esperanza plays on the playground, makes new friends, and reports to her first job. She marvels at the characters on her block and in the broader community. She models the teenagers she sees with boyfriends and bold dreams. She comes into her own in a beautifully divine way. Esperanza is the culmination of her family’s hopes, the collective experiences of her community, and most importantly, the dreams she has for herself. It is fitting that Esperanza means “hope.”
Every time I read “The House on Mango Street,” it dares me to dream again, remembering the child I once was. Cisernos is a master at crafting a young girl’s unique stories into timeless lessons which transcend age, identity, and geography. I hope you identify with her youth, mourn her losses, and reflect on your own journey. Cisernos wrote a seemingly effortless classic and pieces together a collage of Polaroids which remind us of our own past and our dreams to be fulfilled.