In The House on Mango Street, why does Esperanza say, "All brown all around, we are safe"?

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In Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street, the passage that you refer to takes place in Chapter 12. Cisneros writes:

All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes.

This quote refers to Esperanza’s sense of self, which is in part informed by her cultural identity. Esperanza is saying that in her neighborhood, they are surrounded by people who look like them and face the same struggles that they do because of their race. She recognizes that people of different colors who come into their neighborhood are afraid, unnecessarily, because of their own prejudices and racism.

At the same time, Esperanza feels that once they leave the safety of their own neighborhood, they are subjected to the prejudices of those of other races and cultures, and that can be frightening. By “That is how it goes and goes,” Esperanza means it is a cycle that doesn’t end.

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This quote comes from the chapter, "Those Who Don't." The meaning of Esperanza's statement, "All brown, all around, we are safe," bespeaks the reality of racial division and prejudice that exists in the segregated world of contemporary society for Latinos and Latinas living in Chicago in the mid 1980s.

Esperanza has already witnessed the clashes of racial identity in previous chapters. She never truly feels safe and comfortable unless she is among her own race. She has felt the discomfort of being in an integrated school where she is perceived as the "other" ("Our Good Day"), has seen her cousin's friend Louie arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time ("Louie, His Cousin, and His Other Cousin"), and other injustices that have nothing to do with character but everything to do with prejudice. This is why Esperanza says when able to relax in her own environment,

"All around brown, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That's how it goes."

Other neighborhoods have proved dangerous, causing the fear. Their car is secured to keep the friends safe. Their eyes look forward to keep from inviting trouble.

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