In Sandra Cisneros' autobiographical short story she explores the advantages of overcoming "impossible" obstacles. Cisneros discusses a number of different obstacles that she has overcome in her life, ranging from being asked to make tortillas at a dinner party, a task she has never learned or performed, to overcoming cultural expectations, both in her own mind and in her family. Cisneros explores the difficulties of overcoming obstacles throughout her life, recognizing that obstacles come in a variety of forms, including poverty, transience, and self-doubt. The story explores the difficulties that she has faced during her life, but the focus is on the lessons, knowledge, and confidence that emerged from her conquering her fears and taking on the obstacles, emerging ready for the next obstacle to appear.
First, let's begin with the full title of Sandra Cisneros' essay: "Straw into Gold: The Metamorphosis of the Everyday Literary Analysis." Even though it is not usual to include a "summary" for an essay, I am happy to do so.
This essay is about how culture can command certain assumptions. Because Sandra is Mexican, there are certain things that are assumed about her. Sandra is invited to a meal and realizes quite quickly that she is supposed to be the one cooking tortillas because she is Mexican.
What I didn’t realize when they made this invitation was that I was supposed to be involved in preparing the meal. I guess they assumed I knew how to cook Mexican food because I am Mexican. They wanted specifically tortillas, though I’d never made a tortilla in my life.
To Sandra's surprise, she IS able to make tortillas! This ability translates into other abilities in Sandra's life. She says:
I’ve managed to do a lot of things in my life I didn’t think I was capable of and which many others didn’t think I was capable of either.
Sandra has been able to turn "straw into gold" (hence the title of her essay) by actually CHANGING the perceptions of her culture. As a result, she challenges individuals to see cultures, and especially the Mexican culture, differently. In this way, Sandra has been able overcome some pretty difficult obstacles: poverty, doubt, fear, and migrant expectations. In this way "straw" in regards to what could be seen as the worst aspects of being associated with a culture has been turned into "gold," what can be seen as a great benefit.
The theme of Sandra Cisneros's essay "Straw into Gold" is that experiences in her life that seemed difficult resulted in positive outcomes. She starts the story by speaking about a situation that developed when she was living in an artists' colony in the south of France and was asked to make corn tortillas, though she had never done so in her life. Tossed a bag of corn flour, she somehow made tortillas that the other members of the dinner party liked. She follows this story with the comment: "I’ve managed to do a lot of things in my life I didn’t think I was capable of and which many others didn’t think I was capable of either." She then narrates a series of events in her life in which her difficulty produced something positive, much as straw is turned into gold.
She grew up in a poor Mexican family that spent much of their lives wandering from house to house. She also did not enjoy school, as she felt that the teachers never really got to know her. Cisneros was only able to move into a house when she was older, at a time when she was caught between girlhood and womanhood. This is the time she captured in her book The House on Mango Street. Her vagabond lifestyle as a child and her ability to observe others carefully—perhaps because she felt a bit out of place at all times—resulted in her ability to be a fiction writer and to travel and find interest in whatever she sees. In other words, she turned these difficult childhood experiences into literary gold.