space and bilingualism in The House on Mango Street – Kuribayashi


Tomoko Kuribayashi made some really interesting comments on the use of space and language in Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street – they are really in line with some of the things that interested me about this text. Kuribayashi wrote:

“Cisneros’ narrative illuminates the linguistic, spatial and sexual oppression that racist society imposes on minority – more specifically Chicana – women, but also offers a somewhat hopeful perspective on future possibilities. Architecture is a central means by which society as well as Cisneros express and experience oppression as well as hope for change. In the beginning of Cisneros’ novel, Esperanza yearns for acquisition of cultural ideals of the white society, most specifically the white, middle-class house widely displayed in the mass media.” (p.166)

“Cisneros’ narrator, Esperanza, also wants a house just like the ones she sees on television and all her family members share her dream… Young Esperanza is keenly aware of how houses define and represent the resident’s social status; so simply having a roof over one’s head is not enough.” (p.166) However, as Kuribayashi notes “later her vision changes and she contemplates the possibility of housing the poor in her future house” (p.167)

“Owning and controlling her own space is to own her self. One cannot become oneself without having one’s own place. As Cherríe Moraga asserts, the “anti-materialist approach [that some white, middle-class feminists take] makes little sense in the lives of poor and Third World women”, when material conditions are so much a part of their oppression that coming into possession of material necessities is a must for becoming one’s own person.” (p.167)

“In The House on Mango Street, as sociocultural oppressions and future hopes are architecturally expressed, so are the female characters’ experiences of social and sexual violence inseparably linked to their spatial experiences.” (p.168) Kuribayashi’s discussion of the different ways space is inhabited, or prohibited to, the women of this text is a great read. I think the connection between space and body, as well as the point that Esperanza finally occupies another space entirely through her writing are fitting criticism of the text;

“Esperanza […] also has another vision of space outside, that is, a space that her imagination and her writing – and bilingual ability – will create for her outside and beyond the limits of her Mexican-American community and of the dominant white culture of America.” (p.169)

“Cisneros’ narrative highlights how language – and taking control of it – is a determining factor for Esperanza’s future. Taking control of language means taking control of one’s spatial experiences. The narrative of The House on Mango Street is a linguistic manifestation and product of the process in which Esperanza creates a new self and a new world. The text also testifies how she can do this through giving herself a new name and discovering a new language, without disowning the cultural background from which she comes.” (pp.169-170)

“Through the very text of The House on Mango Street the narrator moves back to her native community. The narrative is a textual documentation of the homeward movement of her body as well as of her spiritual homecoming.
The narrator’s leaving home is necessary, though, for her to find her self. Anzaldúa  says of herself, “I had to leave home so I could find myself, find my own intrinsic nature buried under the personality that had been imposed on me”. Esperanza is taking tremendous risks, and she is fortunate to be able to choose to do so, since so few of her group of people can afford it. As Anzaldúa says, “As a working class people our chief activity is to put food in our mouths, a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs”. While most women of her ethnicity have had to choose between “three directions… to the Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, or to the home as a mother,” Esperanza is making the newly and sparingly available fourth choice, “entering the world by way of education and career and becoming self-autonomous persons,” or claiming a public identity.” (p.174)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Tomoko Kuribayashi “The Chicana girl writes her way in and out: space and bilingualism in Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street” pp.165-177 Eds. Tomoko Kuribayashi and Julie Ann Tharp Creating Safe Space: Violence and Women’s Writing. Albany, State University of New York Press, c1998

politics of space in Chicano/a writing – Mermann-Jozwiak


A decade on again, I find my notes on an article by Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak that connected with my interest in (Mexican/American) place in Cisnero’s House on Mango Street. It still catches my eye. She wrote:

“In the preface to her edited collection Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo caras Gloria Anzaldúa uses the metaphor haciendo caras (making faces) for the construction of Chicana identity. This identity, she claims, exists in the interfaces, the spaces “between the masks we’ve internalized, one on top of another….[I]t is the place – the interface – between the masks that provides the space from which we can thrust out and crack the masks” (xv-xvi). Like Anzaldúa, other Chicano/a writers and critics situate Mexican-American women through various and recurring spatial metaphors of nepantla, borderlands, brinks, and interstices. Chicanas speak from the “cracked spaces” (xxii), which, according to Anzaldúa, are simultaneously the spaces of revolutionary potential (“gestos subversivos” [xv]). [end p.469]
Two decades have passed since Anzaldúa’s articulation of a spatial poetics of resistance and, I might add, since Sandra Cisnero’s famous departures from Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space in her House on Mango Street (1984).” (pp.469-470)

Reviewing Mary Pat Brady’s Extinct Lands, Temporal Geographies: Chicana Literature and the Urgency of Space (2002, Durham: Duke UP), Mermann-Jozwiak observes that the “book’s focus […] is on processes that shape our understanding of places, as well as on the effects of space on subject formation.” (p.472)She notes that Brady “examines border discourses and the simultaneous aestheticization, militarization, and representation of the border as abjection machine.” (p.471) Indeed, Mermann-Jozwiak felt that “In her conclusion, […] she reiterates the now common insight of “the border’s centrality to the field of Chicana/o critical analysis”” (p.473)

Going on to review Monika Kaup’s Rewriting North American Borders in Chicano and Chicana Narrative (2001, New York: Peter Lang), Mermann-Jozwiak writes that “Like Brady, Kaup is interested in tracing Chicano/a interventions in spatial politics. Her discussion of writers’ rearticulations of the spatial ordr derives from Michel de Certeau’s analysis of spatial practices that have the potential to subvert relations of power. The migration narratives she examines, for example, challenge the construction of nation-spaces and its concomitant rhetoric of alterity. Women, she shows, effectively employ the discourses of architecture to renovate male-authored narratives’ construction of domestic spaces. As the interstitial gaps are the “locations [where] oppositional, subaltern histories can be found” (Pérez 5), and as the interface is the place of revolutionary potential (Anzaldúa xv), Kaup and Brady both convincingly demonstrate the “urgency of space” in Chicano/a literature, as the writers they discuss engage in discursive constructions and reconstructions of spaces important to Chicano/a history and culture.” (pp.475-476)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak (2004) Cartographies of resistance: poetics and politics of space in Chicano/a writing. Modern Fiction Studies, 50(2)Summer; pp.469-476

The multicultural condition


I stashed this article so long ago, I don’t even think I had read The House on Mango Street at that stage, but that’s what I was thinking of just now… and especially in its Spanish translation – Elena Poniatovska’s translation really gets you thinking about the relationship between Spanish and English!

Anyway, as Cristina Ros i Solé writes: “El encuentro entre dos o más culturas puede incentivar la creación de nuevas identidades. Del mismo modo el estudiante de una L2 debe crearse una identidad cultural híbrida capaz de representar su condición multicultural.” (p.58)

She begins by quoting Ilán Stavans, who explains: “Antes de que me entrara esta passion por el spanglish tenía la sensación de vivir encerrado en dos prisiones, la del idioma español y la del idioma ingles (…) y envidiaba a la generación de mis sobrinas yam is estudiantes porque hablaba spanglish, pero yo como professor y como intellectual tenía que mostrar corbata, el buen corte de pelo, el afeitado… (…) de repente me lancé y decidí utilizarlo en mis clases, y en ese momento una libertad interior me invadió… Le parecerá una estupidez, pero soy más feliz” ~ Ilán Stavans (2002)

“El relato de la experiencia de Stavans,” continues Ros i Solé, “nos recuerda que las culturas en contacto y sus comunidades lingüísticas – en este caso la hispana y la anglosajona – no son entidades aisladas que no se comunican entre sí, ya que en muchos casos se dan en la misma persona. Esto no nos debería sorprender si recordáramos que hay más personas bilingües o plurilingües en el mundo que monolingües (Rampton 1995), hecho propiciado por el fenómeno de la globalización y a emigración masiva a países desarrollados. Por una u otra razón, las grandes metropolis están habitadas por individuos de identidades culturales mezcladas. Son ciudadanos mestizos, con identidades híbridas y fronterizas que luchan para crearse un sitio en un mundo todavía dominado por idealogías monoculturales y donde la identidad cultural se identifica con estados-nación y sus fronteras. Sin embargo, muchas de estas personas no se conforman con identificarse con un país, con una comunidad lingüística emigrada, o con aislarse creando un gueto cultural. La meta del ciudadano multicultural no es adaptarse a una nueva lengua y modo de vida, renunciando a su herencia dultural desprendiéndose así de su pasado; todo lo contrario, quiere enriquecerse y acumular nuevas experiencias añadiendo a su repertorio nuevas maneras de ver el mundo.

El spanglish, una lengua híbrida, representa esta nueva manera de ser. Es la fusion entre dos culturas que ha dado lugar a una nueva lengua e identidad cultural. …Como apunta Gloria Anzaldúa, …para vivir entre dos culturas hay que aprender a tolerar la ambigüedad y construer un tercer camino. Tanto es así que el individuo no es prisionero de una lengua y una cultura que le oblige a ser fiel a unos códigos sociales y manera particular de ver el mundo.” (p.58)

“El Spanglish: un ejemplo de construcción de identidad lingüística” (p.58)

“El Spanglish es el motor de una identidad lingüística y cultural que se está imponiendo con fuerza en los estados Unidos desde hace ya varias décadas. Pero el número de hablantes de Spanglish en este país, la naturaleza híbrida y creative del Spanglish, y la historia del español en este territorio hacen que éste vaya más allá de un simple fenómeno lingüístico.

El Spanglish está en alza, según algunos lingüistas, es la lengua del mañana en EE UU (Siguán 2002). Es una lengua sin fronteras y sin ejército, pero una lengua hablada por más de 35 millones de hablantes.” (p.58)

“Geográficamente hablando, el spanglish tiene una capital, Los Ángeles.” (p.59)

El spanglish es el bastion de Resistencia cultural a una ocupació políca-lingüística y a la necesidad de mantener lazos culturales con el pasado.” (p.59)

“Efectivamente, el spanglish no es una lengua mal aprendida. Los hablantes de spanglish mexclan dos lenguas porque quieren indicar su pertenencia a dos culturas. Con el spanglish se crea una nueva manera de hablar y de entender el mundo.” (p.59)

“Pero si decimos que la mezcla de dos culturas en el fenómeno spanglish crea una nueva identidad, ¿qué efecto tiene el aprendizaje de una lengua y una cultura en el estudiante de lenguas? En el siguiente apartado vamos a aplicar esta visión de la identidad cultural híbrida a la pedagogía del aprendizaje de lenguas.” (p.59) – which is also really interesting, but enough quoting for now!

Ref: Cristina Ros i Solé (2004) ‘La construcción de identidades culturales híbridas: Del spanglish al aprendizaje de la lengua extranjera’ Cuadernos Cervantes 53: pp.58-60