Right from the dedication "A las Mujeres" (to the women), Cisneros's book highlights the role of women in the male-dominated community of Mexican Americans as one of its main themes. The sphere of the house and domestic work tend to define the lives of women, while the men have access to wider American society. The narrator Esperanza rebels to this attitude and could thus be perceived as confrontational as she challenges this gender division (see, for example, the sketch "Boys and Girls" or "There Was an Old Woman She Had So Many Children She Didn't Know What to Do" which focuses in particular on single mothers). The Mexicans "don't like their women strong," the narrator claims and yet the collection portrays several ways in which women like Esperanza resist patriarchy, refusing the traditional role that has been reserved to them.
Ethnicity is another territory in which Esperanza is confronting received norms. In this case, she confronts the prejudices of the larger American society against Maexican immigrants and its stereotyped views (see the sketch "Those Who Don't").