space and bilingualism in The House on Mango Street – Kuribayashi

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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

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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