Geraldo No Last Name

by Sandra Cisneros

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Last Updated January 16, 2024.

“Geraldo No Last Name” is written as a vignette—a short story designed to offer a sketch or snapshot of a person, place, or event. While it can be read and understood alone, it primarily exists in the context of a broader series of vignettes that depict various events and episodes in the lives of the narrator, Esperanza, and her community. 

In the broader context of The House on Mango Street, “Geraldo No Last Name” represents a moment of rising sociocultural awareness for Esperanza, who recounts the story of Marin and Geraldo while also infusing her own thoughts and opinions. While Marin seems to want to brush the incident off in order to avoid the shock and distress of knowing someone who died, Esperanza seems saddened and angered by the way Geraldo’s accident and death were handled. She affirms Geraldo’s humanity by repeating his first name and all of the details about him she knows, refusing to allow him to be dehumanized and forgotten.

The story ruminates on how a person is interpreted and understood in different scenarios. In many cultures around the world, a “last name” defines familial relationships. Whether inherited matrilineally or patrilineally, surnames connect people socially and emotionally across generations. Geraldo’s lack of a last name—or rather, the fact that no one alive to tell his story knows his last name—represents both a literal denial of his identity as well as a more figurative isolation from his family and culture. 

In his home country, he may have been well-known and cared for. He would have been able to communicate with hospital staff and police, and he would have been treated as a human being. However, in the United States, he is stripped of respect and personhood simply because he is a Hispanic man with no legal identification.

To the police and the hospital staff, Geraldo is, effectively, nobody. His lack of personal identification information and inability to speak English suggest that he may be undocumented. Furthermore, the story is set in an impoverished sector of Chicago, where the resources to investigate such matters are scant. In the eyes of society at large, Geraldo is invisible and unimportant, and with no one around to identify or fight for him, his death can be written off by the police with platitudes, such as ”Ain’t it a shame.” Even the hospital surgeon could not be bothered to provide efficient treatment, and Geraldo dies without anyone present really knowing who he is—with the only person available to care being a virtual stranger he met at a party that same night.

Marin meets Geraldo at a dance party, and the few details she is able to obtain about him during their brief acquaintance are all that readers are given to form an incomplete picture of him as a person. He does not speak English, and he works at a restaurant. He was wearing green pants and a shiny shirt. Marin does not even have his last name or any information that would help the hospital or police identify him. All Geraldo will ever be to her is a boy she danced with who died in a car accident. 

However, the experience of sitting with Geraldo in the hospital for hours while he died makes a mark on Marin, even if she cannot “explain why it mattered.” Geraldo may not have been someone important to her, but seeing the casual disregard the hospital staff and police have for his plight makes her decision to stay with him a poignant display of empathy and humanity in a place where both are difficult to find.

(This entire section contains 709 words.)

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However, the experience of sitting with Geraldo in the hospital for hours while he died makes a mark on Marin, even if she cannot “explain why it mattered.” Geraldo may not have been someone important to her, but seeing the casual disregard the hospital staff and police have for his plight makes her decision to stay with him a poignant display of empathy and humanity in a place where both are difficult to find.

While the societal forces that dehumanize immigrants try to rob Geraldo of his personhood, the narrative of the short story fights back using small descriptive details: He was young and attractive, he wore flashy, colorful clothes to go dancing, he lived in rented flats, and he sent “weekly money orders'' home to his family. “His name was Geraldo. And his home is in another country.” The narration asserts that, while he may have died in anonymity, Geraldo did matter; somewhere out there, people care about him and will spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to him.

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