Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1418
Cathy: one of Esperanza’s neighbors
Joe: man who lives next door to Cathy
Benny and Blanca: owners of the corner store
Edna: owner of the building next to Esperanza’s house
Alicia: Esperanza’s neighbor who is attending college
Rachel and Lucy: sisters who live across the street from Cathy
Tito: a neighborhood boy
Esperanza describes the meaning and origin of her name. The English translation is “hope,” but in Spanish, she says, it means something different, something sad. She was named after her great-grandmother, who, like Esperanza, was born in the Chinese Year of the Horse. That is supposed to be bad luck for women, Esperanza is told, but she doesn’t believe it. She thinks it’s a lie made up by men who “don’t like their women strong.”
Esperanza says she would have liked to have known her great-grandmother, a wild woman who refused to marry until her great-grandfather literally “carried her off” one day and forced her to marry him. After that, Esperanza’s great-grandmother was sad and spent the rest of her life looking out the window. Esperanza worries that because she inherited her great-grandmother’s name, she may also inherit her grandmother’s seat by the window.
Esperanza describes how the people at school have trouble pronouncing her name. She thinks “Esperanza” is prettier than “Magdalena,” but Magdalena can be shortened to Nenny, whereas Esperanza is “always Esperanza.” She would like to give herself a new name that is more like the real person inside her, a name that is different, like “Zeze the X.”
Cathy Queen of Cats
Esperanza meets Cathy, who tells her about some of the people in the neighborhood. Cathy agrees to be Esperanza’s friend, but only for a few days—her family is moving out because the neighborhood is “getting bad.” Cathy brags about being related to the queen of France, but Esperanza calls Cathy the queen of cats, since she has so many of them.
Our Good Day
Esperanza is sitting with Cathy when they are approached by Rachel and Lucy, the girls from across the street. Rachel says she will be Esperanza’s best friend forever if Esperanza gives her $5, which Lucy and Rachel need to buy Tito’s bike. Cathy tells Esperanza not to talk to these girls, but Esperanza likes them and gets the money for them. When she returns, Cathy is gone, but Esperanza now has two new friends and is part owner of a bike. Esperanza worries about how Rachel and Lucy will respond to her name, but they don’t laugh at it. The three girls ride the bike together around the neighborhood.
Although Esperanza’s name means “hope” in English, Esperanza sees it meaning something altogether different in Spanish. In her native language, it means sadness, waiting—a longing or yearning for something past or missing rather than a hope for something yet to come. She compares her name to the Mexican songs her father plays, “songs like sobbing.” Hearing her name in Spanish seems to build in her a longing for Mexico, a nostalgia for the time when she didn’t have to worry about people laughing at her name, a time when she didn’t have to worry so much about fitting in. It also carries the sadness of her great-grandmother, from whom Esperanza inherited her name.
Like her great-grandmother, Esperanza was born in the Year of the Horse. Horses are strong—and strong-willed—animals. At her young age, Esperanza is already keenly aware of the patriarchal society that wishes to rob her of this strong will and independence. She has been told that being born in the Year of the Horse is bad luck for women, but Esperanza exposes this as a lie since “the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.” In reality, when a woman like Esperanza’s great-grandmother is born in the Year of the Horse, it is bad luck for both the men and the women. The men don’t have the quiet, submissive wives and daughters a patriarchal society demands, and they are forced to question the legitimacy of their dominance. More importantly, the women, whose strong spirits are unable to roam free, suffer as their independence is stifled.
This is precisely what happened to Esperanza’s great-grandmother. So wild that she refused to marry, utterly determined to be independent, she was at odds with her society. Eventually her society proved a stronger force: treating her like an animal, a conquest, a “fancy chandelier,” Esperanza’s great-grandfather literally threw her great-grandmother over his shoulder and forced her to submit to his will. Esperanza’s great-grandmother could not forgive this violation of her freedom, and so “[s]he looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.”
Esperanza is aware that with her name she has also inherited a history and a role, but she does not want to have the same sadness as her great-grandmother. And because her name is Esperanza, there is hope that she will not suffer the same fate.
Despite the fact that in Spanish Esperanza’s name means “sadness, it means waiting”—a reference to the sadness and waiting of Esperanza’s great-grandmother—it sounds much better to her when pronounced in Spanish than in English. Her teachers and classmates say her name “funny, as if the syllables were made out of tin,” but in Spanish, her name is made “out of a softer something.” In her native language, her name, sad as it may sound, doesn’t sound awkward. It doesn’t single her out as different or strange as it does in English.
Esperanza envies Nenny because her name, Magdalena—ugly as Esperanza thinks it is—can be varied. Nenny doesn’t always have to be Magdalena, but Esperanza is “always Esperanza.” She feels restricted by her name, as if someone else has predetermined her identity. She would therefore like to choose her own name, a name that reflects the “real” Esperanza, the one “nobody sees.” However, it’s not so much the name that Esperanza wants to change; it’s the history and expectations that come with it. Esperanza wants to reinvent herself, and she can do so, she thinks, by giving herself a new name.
In “Cathy Queen of Cats,” Esperanza finally gets herself a best friend, but it’s only temporary. It has to be, because Cathy’s family is moving away. Unaware of—or perhaps insensitive to—the potential insult to Esperanza, Cathy tells Esperanza that they’ve “got to” leave Mango Street because “the neighborhood is getting bad.” The implication is that Cathy’s family is moving because the neighborhood is getting too Hispanic. Cathy’s claim that she is related to the queen of France indicates that she is Caucasian, and Esperanza says that Cathy’s family will continue to move “a little farther away” from Mango Street each time “people like us”—poor and minority—“keep moving in.”
Cathy is quick to judge, as is revealed when she tells Esperanza about some of the people in the neighborhood. Joe is a “baby-grabber” and is dangerous; Benny and Blanca are “okay”; Alicia is “stuck-up”; and Rachel and Lucy are “raggedy as rats” and, Cathy warns, “you don’t want to know them.” But Esperanza, unlike Cathy (who associates herself with royalty), does not feel “above” Rachel and Lucy because they’re raggedy. In fact, that’s precisely why she likes them.
While Cathy refuses to associate with Rachel and Lucy because of their poverty, Esperanza is drawn to them because of it. In fact, she is so strongly drawn to these two unpretentious, unprejudiced girls that she takes Nenny’s money to secure their friendship. And they don’t laugh at her name, which makes Esperanza like them all the more. Lucy and Rachel are from Texas, which has a very large Chicano population. Though they are probably part Chicana themselves (their last name is Guerrero, we later learn), they are “white” enough for Esperanza to fear their laughter. Still, Esperanza identifies with them and their poverty, and so the decision to choose between Cathy’s friendship until next Tuesday or Rachel and Lucy’s friendship (and a bike) for $5 is an easy one. Though the title of this vignette is not mentioned anywhere in the story, it is especially apt: For Esperanza, who got two new friends and part ownership of a bike, it was indeed a good day.
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