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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   



16. The Search For Identity

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Toni Cade Bambara
- Sandra Cisneros
- Judith Ortiz Cofer
- Leslie Feinberg
- Diane Glancy
- Maxine Hong Kingston
- David Mamet
- Toni Morrison
- Thomas Pynchon
- Alice Walker
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Sandra Cisneros (b. 1954)

Altar de la Virgen de Guadalupe
[6394] José Guadalupe Posada, Altar de la Virgen de Guadalupe (1900), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [PGA-anegas, no. 127 (AA size)].

Sandra Cisneros Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago but spent most of her childhood and youth moving back and forth between Chicago and Mexico. By addressing themes of identity, poverty, and gender in lyrical and sensual language, she has become one of the nation's most well known and respected Chicana authors. Nonetheless, her vibrant style has not always been welcome, as she faced a battle with her San Antonio neighbors when she painted her historic King William District home purple. A Houston Chronicle article quoted the city commissioner as saying, "If you, because of your heritage, are allowed to paint your house purple, then we have no rules." Cisneros eventually agreed to paint her Victorian-era home in an approved, "authentic" color combination: pink with red trim.

Like many of the writers in this unit, Cisneros uses fiction to point out how some Americans actively exclude or passively forget to include people unlike themselves when they define what it means to be American. Cisneros has stated that while she refuses to make concessions to Anglo readers, such as translating all Spanish language words in her texts into English, she nonetheless wants to open doors so that readers of any background can appreciate her stories and their implications for one's understanding of "Americanness."

By creating a voice and style uniquely her own, Cisneros tells stories that reflect her interests as well as those of her community. Cisneros's novel The House on Mango Street modifies stories that she heard throughout her life, especially those she witnessed firsthand while working as a counselor for inner-city high school children in Chicago. The novel's innovative style--it is a collection of short, poetically phrased vignettes--allows her to depict urban life in a unified way while representing the varied influences that shape the feminist consciousness of her main character, Esperanza.

Much of Cisneros's writing asks how women have been complicit in permitting the perpetuation of their own oppression. She writes frequently about sex and relationships between men and women, focusing on the dangers incumbent in many women's hyper-romanticized notions of sex, love, and marriage. If our girls play games in which they practice fighting over men, Cisneros seems to ask in "Barbie-Q," then why are we surprised when they grow up and make men the centers of their lives? It is impossible to separate the Chicana and feminist elements in Cisneros's work, and many readers believe that one of her greatest contributions has been to bring more attention to the needs of women of color, who have sometimes been overlooked by women's movements. Cisneros's works include two books of poetry, My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987) and Loose Woman (1994), and a collection of short stories, Woman Hollering Creek (1991).



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