Black, white, and orange illustration of Esperanza standing in front of a building or structure

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

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What cultures apply to Esperanza in The House on Mango Street?

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Esperanza is a member of many cultures, and she feels affinity for and experiences others. She is Latina, as her family comes from Mexico, and she is also a Chicana, which means an American person of Mexican descent. She is an American, as she's growing up in Chicago and experiences the American culture and way of life. She watches TV in English, knows about American ads and television shows, and goes to the library to read English-language books. She is also associated with the Catholic church and attends a school where nuns teach. 

Living in a poor urban section of Chicago, she learns about other cultures. She has friends from Puerto Rico, like Louie, her brother's friend, and she hears different dialects of Spanish. She compares her own culture to Chinese culture and says of her great-grandmother: "She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse." She is a member of many different cultural groups and is exposed to others in her life on Mango Street. 

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One of the cultures which is most powerful in this novella is the Hispanic culture that Esperanza and all of her neighbours emerge from. It is this culture that exerts such a powerful influence on her identity, as her Hispanic background separates her from Americans and also associates her with a certain economic class that is working class and has an interesting relationship with the law. The various vignettes present Latino life in all of its richness and diversity, with the influence of the homeland and Spanish forming a massive part of the various characters' cultural identity. In "Geraldo No Last Name," for example, Esperanza paints a very vivid picture of the kind of conditions and lack of rights experienced by Hispanic immigrants:

They never saw the kitchenettes. They never knew about the two-room flats and sleeping rooms he rented, the weekly money orders sent home, the currency exchange. How could they?

Esperanza therefore through her narrative identifies a large variety of cultural influences that coalesce to form her own unique identity. The biggest of these is of course her Hispanic heritage, but at the same time her upbringing on Mango Street, associating with other Latino families who struggle to make ends meet and miss their home countries and have a tenuous relationship with law and order are very important influences as well.

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