Cisneros readings – Essaylink

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* Read both of the Cisneros readings. Make one observation for each reading. Look at both through the lens of
Sontag and/or Gay. Consider intersectionality.
“My Name”
by Sandra Cisneros
excerpted from The House on Mango Street
In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It
is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he
is shaving, songs like sobbing.
It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the
Chinese year of the horse–which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female-but I think this is a Chinese
lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.
My great-grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild, horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t
marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a
fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.
And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women
sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she
couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her
place by the window.
At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But
in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’s name
Magdalena–which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least- -can come home and become Nenny. But I am
always Esperanza. would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one
nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.
Name__________________________________ Date_____________ Period__________
Respond to the following writing prompt with two or more paragraphs. Be sure to use correct grammar and
Explain what your name means. Does it have a special meaning in a foreign language? How did you get your
name? Do you have a nickname? How did you arrive at that nickname? If you could change your name, what
would you change it to? Would a name change make you feel differently about yourself? Why? Try to include a
personal anecdote about your name. Has your name ever gotten you into trouble?
The topic is your name. Your purpose is to inform us about your name, and the audience is your classmates.
Before you begin writing, listen to the following questions. You may use these questions, but you don’t have to.
You can say anything about your name.
Do you know why your parents chose your name? Who chose it? Were you named after a particular person?
Why were you named after him or her? Are you like that person or different from him or her? How?
Does your name have a nickname? What is it? How do you feel about it? Do you use it? Why?
Do you use your middle name instead of your first name? If so, explain why.
Has anyone ever commented on your name? What did he or she say? How did that comment make you feel?
Do you think your name causes people to treat you in a particular way? How? Cite an example or two.
Would you change your name if you could? Why or why not? What would you change it to? Why did you select
this name? Would changing your name make you feel different than you feel now? How? Why?
Try to add metaphors to your writing; consider what your name would be if it were a color, a day, a car, a
tree/flower, animal, or feelings and sounds you associate with it. Review how Cisneros creates a name that
conjures up meanings beyond the surface to reveal the character’s personality.
Only Daughter
Sandra Cisneros
from Latina: Women’s Voices From the Borderlands. Edited by Lillian Castillo-Speed. New York:
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Once, several years ago, when I was just starting out my writing career, I was asked to write my own
contributor’s note for an anthology1 I was part of. I wrote: “I am the only daughter in a family of six sons. That
explains everything.”
Well, I’ve thought about that ever since, and yes, it explains a lot to me, but for the reader’s sake I should have
written: “I am the only daughter in a Mexican family of six sons.” Or even: “I am the only daughter of a Mexican
father and a Mexican-American mother.” Or: “I am the only daughter of a working-class family of nine.” All of
these had everything to do with who I am today.
I was/am the only daughter and only a daughter. Being an only daughter in a family of six sons forced me by
circumstance to spend a lot of time by myself because my brothers felt it beneath them to play with a girl in
public. But that aloneness, that loneliness, was good for a would-be writer— it allowed me time to think and
think, to imagine, to read and prepare myself.
Being only a daughter for my father meant my destiny would lead me to become someone’s wife. That’s what
he believed. But when I was in the fifth grade and shared my plans for college with him, I was sure he
understood. I remember my father saying, “Que bueno, mi’ha, that’s good.” That meant a lot to me, especially
since my brothers thought the idea hilarious. What I didn’t realize was that my father thought college was good
for girls—good for finding a husband. After four years in college and two more in graduate school, and still no
husband, my father shakes his head even now and says I wasted all that education. 
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In retrospect2, I’m lucky my father believed daughters were meant for husbands.
It meant it didn’t matter if I majored in something silly like English. After all, I’d find a nice professional
eventually, right? This allowed me the liberty to putter about embroidering3 my little poems and stories without
my father interrupting with so much as a “What’s that you’re writing?”
But the truth is, I wanted him to interrupt. I wanted my father to understand what it was I was scribbling, to
introduce me as “My only daughter, the writer.” Not as “This is only my daughter. She teaches.” Es maestra—
teacher. Not even profesora.
In a sense, everything I have ever written has been for him, to win his approval even though I know my father
can’t read English words, even though my father’s only reading includes the brown-ink Esto sports magazines
from Mexico City and the bloody ¡Alarma! magazines that feature yet another sighting of La Virgen de
Guadalupe on a tortilla or a wife’s revenge on her philandering husband by bashing his skull in with a molcajete
(a kitchen mortar4 made of volcanic rock). Or the fotonovelas, the little picture paperbacks with tragedy and
trauma erupting from the characters’ mouths in bubbles.
My father represents, then, the public majority. A public who is disinterested in reading, and yet one whom I am
writing about and for, and privately trying to woo5.
When we were growing up in Chicago, we moved a lot because of my father. He suffered bouts of nostalgia6.
Then we’d have to let go of our flat7, store the furniture with mother’s relatives, load the station wagon with
baggage and bologna sandwiches and head south. To Mexico City.
We came back, of course. To yet another Chicago flat, another Chicago neighborhood, another Catholic
school. Each time, my father would seek out the parish priest in order to get a tuition break8, and complain or
boast: “I have seven sons.”
He meant siete hijos, seven children, but he translated it as “sons.” “I have seven sons.” To anyone who would
listen. The Sears Roebuck employee who sold us the washing machine. The short-order cook where my father
ate his ham-and-eggs breakfasts. “I have seven sons.” As if he deserved a medal from the state.
My papa. He didn’t mean anything by that mistranslation, I’m sure. But somehow I could feel myself being
erased. I’d tug my father’s sleeve and whisper: “Not seven sons. Six! and one daughter.”
When my oldest brother graduated from medical school, he fulfilled my father’s dream that we study hard and
use this—our heads, instead of this—our hands. Even now my father’s hands are thick and yellow, stubbed by
a history of hammer and nails and twine and coils9 and springs. “Use this,” my father said, tapping his head,
“and not this,” showing us those hands. He always looked tired when he said it.
Wasn’t college an investment? And hadn’t I spent all those years in college? And if I didn’t marry, what was it
all for? Why would anyone go to college and then choose to be poor? Especially someone who had always
been poor.
Last year, after ten years of writing professionally, the financial rewards10 started to trickle in. My second
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. A guest professorship at the University of California, Berkeley. My
book, which sold to a major New York publishing house.
At Christmas, I flew home to Chicago. The house was throbbing11, same as always: hot tamales and sweet
tamales hissing in my mother’s pressure cooker, and everybody— my mother, six brothers, wives, babies,
cousins—talking too loud and at the same time. Like in a Fellini12 film, because that’s just how we are.
I went upstairs to my father’s room. One of my stories had just been translated into Spanish and published in
an anthology of Chicano13 writing and I wanted to show it to him. Ever since he recovered from a stroke two
years ago, my father likes to spend his leisure hours horizontally14. And that’s how I found him, watching a
Pedro Infante movie on Galavisión and eating rice pudding.
There was a glass filled with milk on the bedside table. There were several vials of pills and balled Kleenex.
And on the floor, one black sock and a plastic urinal that I didn’t want to look at but looked at anyway. Pedro 

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