Cisneros masterly depicts this form of identity via the person of Esperanza in the chapter from The House on Mango Street. She said: “ In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It’s like the number nine. A muddy color. …songs like sobbing.” (10) In that brief comment Esperanza shows the interconnection between two cultures. By using bilingual explanation of her name origin she suggests coexistence of both identities in her own person. However, when shifted from one language to the other one, the name changes its length, sound and also shifts the meaning from positive to negative mode as if the unfair relation between the two cultures was predestined by their matters.
Also in “Woman Hollering Creek”, Cisneros reminds us that relation between the perception of self, including the perception of one’s name, has a direct influence on the performance in life. She tells us through Cleófiles mouth that “she would like to change her name…Everything happened to women with names like jewels. But what happened to Cleófilas? Nothing. But a crack on a face.” In her desperate situation, Cleófiles lost not only her self-esteem but also a vital power, and faith in her own abilities to change her conditions. Unrealistically, she expresses the desire to change at least her name, which she believes would bring her new identity and consequently better life as well.
7.3Phenomenon of telenovela:
Media nowadays represents the most powerful tool to influence public opinion. Almost dictatorship attitude in deciding what is good and fashionable divides the society to those who fit the culture of mainstream, and those who do not. The second group further consists of many sub-groups, but basically they might be labeled as those who differ intentionally and are (un)reasonably proud of that, and those who suffer from an outsider status. In this chapter I am going to examine the impact of media dictate on women of color. As members of ethnic minority they are never able to fit the standards of beauty settled by major white society . Furthermore, the pompous imaginary world is permanently confronted with the reality of their lives. The deeper the gap is, the lower their self esteem decreases.
Traditional television genre connected with Mexican culture and mentioned by both authors is telenovela or soap opera in English. It typically portrays women as passive heroines, defenseless and sexual objects to men. Cisneros illustrates the impact of this genre on two of her heroines. Cleófiles, the first one, started her narration just before her wedding. The naivety she expected her life as turning into a romantic parade after she gets married, is corresponding to the theme of telenovelas and is reflected in several references to that genre. She said:”Somehow one ought to live one’s live like that. Don’t you think? You or no one. Because to suffer for love is good. The pain all sweet somehow. In the end.” (45) Accepting this delusion as general truth, she devoted herself to longing for eternal love and passion. What she is longing for is “passion in its purest crystalline essence” (44) Obviously, Cleófiles had never been exposed to the toughness of life before, and instead she was kept in the protective space of her father’s house. In that safe place she was allowed to watch telenovelas since her early childhood. Then it was only natural that she grew unrealistic perception of the world and in her mind she accepted the illusionary world of telenovelas as a model for real life.
Before the wedding we witness Cleófiles weaving her vision of bright future: “She would get to wear outfits like the women on the tele, like Lucía Méndez. And have a lovely house, and wouldn’t Chela be jealous.”(45) However, soon after her arrival to new home Cleófiles found out that reality differs from the glaring movies. Not being prepared to that, she kept herself trapped in an alternate identity: “ Cleófiles thought her life would have to be like that, like a telenovela, only now the episodes got sadder and sadder. And there were no commercials in between for comic relief. And no happy ending in sight.” (53) She seemed not to be able to leave the model role of imaginary world and kept thinking within the frame of TV series. She thought of herself as an actor who is not capable to change the scenario, remaining in her passivity. To escape to imaginary reality of telenovela is the only way of help she can think of.
The second Cisneros’ heroine however seemes more matured. She is the protagonist of “Bien pretty” story, and is presented as young educated woman, with some experience of life already. Living independently, having a job as a painter, after some mishaps in her love life, she grew into awakening. At last she grew to understand feminine power, female role in life and also the stereotypes which negatively influence women’s perception of self and of the world:
In my dreams I’m slapping the heroine to her senses, because I want them to be women who make things happen, not women who things happen to want them to be. Not loves that are tormentosos. Not men powerful and passionate versus women either volatile and evil, or sweet and resigned. But women. Real women. The ones I’ve loved all my life. If you don’t like it lárgate, honey. Those women. The ones I’ve known everywhere except on TV, in books and magazines. Las girlfriends. Las comadres. Our mamas and tías. Passionate and powerful, tender and volatile, brave. And, above all, fierce. (161)
The same person also contest the cult of “blonde queen” she used to be “terrified of confronting.” by presenting a fairy tale for little children:
God made men by baking them in an oven, but he forgot about the first batch, and that’s how Black people were born. And then he was so anxious about the next batch, he took them out of the oven too soon, so that’s how White people were made. But the third batch he let cook until they were golden-golden-golden. And honey, that’s you and me. (152)
The shift within one character’s perception of reality, as well as the contrast with the character of Cleófiles, enables us to follow the development of female consciousness from a young naïve girl to the matured woman aware of her own value. Cisneros blames the television as the mediator to spread harmful stereotypes and urges girls to think about the entertainment they are offered. She also emphasizes the role of education and books as more appropriate sources of information.
Contrary, in Cuba, after socialist revolution, the phenomenon of telenovelas almost disappeared, since its ideals did not fit the new ideology. I have already mentioned that communist regime with its effort for emancipation and equal rights for both genders, was quite progressive up-to-date. The gender of telenovelas is mentioned only with connection with weak, dying people (Jorge, Felicia) or with the bourgeois generation to point out their decline:
Lourdes never accepted the life designated for its women…The Puente women clung to their rituals as they did their engraved silverware, succumbing to a cloying nostalgia. Doňa Zaida spent long afternoons watching telenovelas on television and perfuming her thickening wrists.” (130)
Watching telenovelas is connected with the comfort of doing nothing more than staying at home and decorating or perfuming oneself, which is considered too low for a modern woman. Here is the point I also mentioned earlier - when I claimed that communist way of emancipation was rather degrading for femininity. In fact, the sense of beauty is for women’s identity one of the crucial foundation stone since pre-historical times, and socialist ideals lack that feature. It simply made women forgot their femininity, and replaced it by male elements. That is why we feel disdain in Lourdes words when she talked about Puente women, and also her pride of her successful business. Also the character of Celia, Lourdes mother, is mainly introduced as a hard-working woman participating in public affairs. The only moments when Celia actually reveals her soul are depicted in the forms of letters to her first boyfriend, she kept writing for 34 years and she has never sent. In those letters we obtain different image of Celia, when she used poetic voice, we learn the details about her inner life and yearnings. These letters, however, like Celia’s romantic self, remained hidden to the world till Celia’s late age. Comparing to letters Celia actually exchanged with her husband, we learn that they were written in pure pragmatic way and “full of facts”. Typical feminine features, such as sensitivity, love or passion are mentioned sporadically in a novel as if they were not appropriate for women. It was not before the end of the book when Celia was standing in front of the mirror was observing her aging body. I claim García intends to warn women against reaching the opposite extreme in their fight for equal position. To confirm that, I would quote the person from the other site - Cisneros’ Chicana, when she points out the irony of women who in a struggle for economic independence became the slaves of their work:
It was enough to keep us tuning in every day at six thirty, another episode , another thrill. To relive that living when the universe ran through the blood like river water. Alive. Not the weeks spent writing grant proposals, not the forty hours standing behind a cash register shoving cans of refried beans into plastic sacks. This wasn’t what we were put on the planet for. Not ever. “Live our lives the way lives were meant to be lived. With the throat and wrists. With rage and desire, and joy and grief, and love till it hurts, maybe. But goddamn, girl. Live.” (163)
Both writers García and Cisneros manage to encourage women to gain a fair position in patriarchal world. However to reach the complete identity we do not have to avoid all traditional values, instead we should try to reach reasonable level of dignity resulting from healthy perception of our selves.
The goal of the thesis was to compare social and cultural background of two U.S. ethnic groups belonging to Hispanic ethnics - Mexican and Cuban Americans - and the way it shapes the identity, particularly the ethnic and gender identity, of women who are members of above mentioned ethnics. My aim was to follow how the aspects of identity are reflected in contemporary literary works by Cristina García and Sandra Cisneros, as female representatives of each culture.
Although both groups belong to the same ethnic with patriarchal system of values, the sense of identity is rather different in each group. My aim was to compare various factors contributing to identity formation, and to find out how the identity varies in case some of the factors are missing. For purposes of this thesis, I have set three areas which, in my opinion, play the crucial role in women’s perception of self: domestic, public and inner female worlds were explored, in order to compare individual aspects of identity and its influence on the process of identity creation, and how these features are reflected in the fiction.
Comparing literary works by both authors, I found Cuban women far more progressive in a sense of their adaptability and development of their new selves. Although women from both Hispanic ethnics came to the US land as immigrants, from formerly patriarchal cultures, Cuban women are depicted as more successful in getting equal role both within their marriage and society. The first reason for that I would state as different family background - while Mexican girls were leaving their country mainly for beneficial marriage to an American, Cuban often arrive to the U.S. with their husbands. The support of the husband then, together with economical in/dependence of woman within their wedlock are directly related to female perception of self and their performance in life. I proved this by Cisneros’ character Felice – a Chicana who managed to succeed in her new life in the US and make herself economically independent. Felice represents so called “La mala mujer,” which term labels the new archetype of a woman in Chicana’s culture who does not keep herself within the boundary of traditional values, but rather she manages to utilize her potential to develop her new identity.
Further I questioned the importance of public sphere to female self- perception. In this area I examined two interesting aspects. The first one was the role of female public model to identify with in the particular culture, and the impact of its presence. Both authors hint this area, and it is clear that in Cuba, women have a lot of female models throughout the history, while, on the other hand, in Mexican culture such a model is completely missing, with the only exception of the virgin Mary. Virgin, a single acceptable model for Chicana was in literature accomplished with its negative opposite – the whore. Therefore, women’s public role was limited to two extremes either the virgin or the sexual symbol. Nowadays feminists attempt to combat this assumption by creating a new space somewhere in between those two extreme points. Sandra Cisneros in her work masterly substituted missing public sphere by suggesting the re-creation of new female public model through domestic field. Home should become a place of women’s resistance to challenge the patriarchal stereotypes. This suggested way should help women to obtain their autonomy, and reconstruct their perceiving of self.
The second aspect of public life I have examined, is the role of upbringing connected with gender stereotypes rooted in each society. Cristina García managed to reverse traditional understanding of what is generally considered male or female. In the example of Lourdes I confirmed the theory that gender is not given by nature but rather influenced by the process of upbringing and models we follow since we are born. I also attempted to track the development in time, and I came through significant differences in both cultures, caused simply by different perception of female role throughout generations. While García’s characters were given the confidence in their own abilities from their mothers and grandmothers, young Chicanas were the first in line to struggle with prejudices and patriarchal values. Here, I argue, the role of mothers is irreplaceable for any changes within the society, and only mothers who are aware of their own value are able to transfer that self-esteem to next generation.
The last sphere I went through in this thesis is female inner perception of self. This area covers mainly women’s inner feelings, i.e. how do they see themselves as women. I argue, women will not be treated with respect unless they are able to respect themselves. The theme of lack of self- respect and self-love is reflected mainly in Cisneros’ works, since she portrays her heroines mainly in subordinate position both towards men (either white or of color) and white women. Women of color are permanently confronted with standards of both cultures, they are not capable to fit with, and this fact deepens their feeling of insufficiency even more. Each of the author touches this sphere from different point of view. While Cisneros urged women to live their lives and not to allowed anyone to enslave them, García rather points out the lack of femininity of her heroines. I argue, women nowadays tend to lose the feeling of what is traditionally considered to be feminine - in order to obtain the fair position in public, they lose their influence in domestic field, in their fight for equal rights they tend to suppress traditional features of womanhood, which is only reversed extreme to the subordinate confinement in domestic field. I claim, and both authors confirmed that, women to enjoy their lives as autonomous beings need the balance between domestic and public sphere, so that they could fully utilize all her virtues given them by nature and do not have to be afraid of being a women.
As I proved in my thesis, the sense of identity and self esteem always comes from inside the individual. There is no matter whether any of the outside conditions are fulfilled or not, since there is always the way for alternatives as we saw in depicted literary works. No matter how disadvantageous position Cisneros’ heroines had at the beginning of their life line, each of them succeeded in their struggle for identity. All of these heroines, whether Cleófiles, Chayo, Esperanza or the last mentioned character from “Bien pretty” story have all rights to become literary models to readers and this is Sandra Cisneros’ contribution to female issues in Latin America countries.
The message, Latinas’ feminists convey through their literary works contributes to the counter-hegemonic discourse they are engaged in. They managed to re-define themselves as women and introduce new representation of Latino American women to the world. All suppressed people including Chicanas should be aware that their redemption does not come through men but, rather, comes from giving up the illusion of security and safety that results from being chosen by a man. Former image of Hispanic woman as passive, subordinate and oppressed being is not lasting any longer. Instead we obtained the portrayal of educated and rebellious women as active members of society. Moreover, it is not only in the images presented in their works, but the act of producing the literature itself which has changed worldwide perception of Latinas to creative and intellectual women who deserve respect and attention.
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1 Martha E. Giménez, Latino/Hispanic“ - Who Needs a Name? The Case against Standardized Terminology, International Journal of Health Services 19, no., (1989), p. 41
2 "Queer Theory" by Mary Klages, University of Colorado at Boulder, 1997
3 The Mariel boatlift was a mass exodus of Cubans who departed from Cuba's Mariel Harbor for the United States between April 15 and October 31, 1980 as a consequence of so called President Jimmy Carter’s permissive attitude to Cuban political refugees (Swanson, 110)
4 García, Alma M., ed. 1997. Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings. Vol. 1. New York , NY : Routledge.
5 Excerpt from Fidel Castro & the Quest for A Revolutionary Culture in Cuba by Julie Marie Bunck, Chapter3: The Goal of Sexual Equality:
6 A tradition associated with the Virgin of Guadelupe says that a shrine to Tonántzin, an Aztec corn goddess, once stood at Tepeyac, a hill to the north of Mexico City, and that the Virgin replaced Tonántzin as the goddess mother of the Mexican people. (http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Le-Me/Mexican-Mythology.html#ixzz1Sj7GavSL)
Santeria,the Cuban religious tradition, a synthesis of West African and Roman Catholic religious, seek the guidance, protection, and intervention in their lives of orishas —divine personages who trace their lineage both to Yoruba West African gods and Roman Catholic saints. The practice of santeria involves healing rituals, spirit possession, and animal sacrifice.