Last Updated on May 17, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1218
Uncle Nacho: Esperanza’s uncle
Esperanza’s cousin by communion: a boy Esperanza knows through church
Aunt Lala: Esperanza’s aunt
Oriental man: a man who works with Esperanza at Peter Pan Photo Finishers
Esperanza’s mother comes home from buying new clothes for the family to wear to Esperanza’s cousin’s baptism party. Esperanza gets a beautiful new dress and slip, but her mother forgot to buy her new shoes. Uncle Nacho takes them to the church, where everyone seems to be having a good time except Esperanza. She feels stupid in her new dress and old shoes.
Esperanza’s cousin by communion asks her to dance, but she says no because she is too self-conscious about her shoes. Then Uncle Nacho convinces her to dance, and even though at first she’s very worried about her shoes, she soon forgets about them and enjoys herself dancing. Everyone watches them dance and applauds when they finish. Esperanza is proud, and she is also aware that her cousin watches her dance the rest of the night.
Esperanza, Nenny, Lucy, and Rachel play double dutch and talk about hips. Nenny says something Esperanza thinks is stupid, but Esperanza agrees with Nenny so that Lucy and Rachel won’t make fun of her little sister. Esperanza repeats with authority facts about hips she’s learned from Alicia and says that they need to know what to do with their hips once they get them. Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel practice shaking their hips and make up songs about hips for their double dutch game. Nenny, however, is lost in her own thoughts about babies and sings an old song instead of making up a new one about hips.
The First Job
Esperanza decides to get a job because she needs money to help pay for Catholic high school. Before she even starts looking, however, her Aunt Lala gets her a job. Esperanza, who must lie about her age, starts the job the next day.
Esperanza’s job is easy, but she is self-conscious and shy. She is afraid to eat with strangers in the lunchroom, so she eats her lunch in the bathroom. At break time, she sits in the coatroom where she meets an older Oriental man. He talks with her for a while and makes her feel less alone. Then he tells her it’s his birthday and asks her for a kiss. Esperanza tries to kiss him on the cheek, but he grabs her face and forces a long kiss on the lips.
Chanclas, which translates as “old shoes,” also has the Spanish-American meaning of “good for nothing,” which is exactly how Esperanza feels at the baptism party in her new dress and old shoes.
The contrast between these shoes and the high heels she wore earlier is striking. Where the high heels at first made her confidence soar, her chanclas make her self-esteem plummet. The two pairs of shoes elicit two very different emotions in Esperanza: sensuality and shame. This chapter is important because Esperanza learns, with the help of Uncle Nacho, to overcome that shame. Whereas earlier the shoes themselves were what made her feel attractive, here, once she forgets about her shoes and begins to dance, she herself begins to feel attractive. The shoes become incidental, not elemental, to her beauty. Her cousin by communion watches Esperanza all night, and she is acutely aware of his eyes on her—and acutely aware of her blossoming sexuality.
Esperanza’s emerging sexuality is also the subject of “Hips.” Hips are the only bones on the skeleton that distinguish women from men (a fact, like many others, that Esperanza learns from Alicia). Hips are, therefore, an all-important feature; they are what separates women from men, and they serve as a physical dividing line between the genders. By acknowledging the importance of hips and practicing the “shake,” the girls are acknowledging the literal sway that female hips have over boys and men.
At least, this is what Esperanza, Lucy, and Rachel are thinking about. Nenny, “because of her age,” is thinking about hips and the babies that come from them, not about hips and the men that are attracted to them. And so she doesn’t make up a song about hips like the other girls do.
Nenny is not troubled by—and apparently not even aware of—the disappointment of the other girls when Nenny starts to sing a familiar song. That’s because Nenny is “too many light years away,” Esperanza explains. “She is in a world we don’t belong to anymore”—the world before hips. Ironically, it is Nenny, the least physically mature, who says the most mature thing about hips—that women sway their hips to rock the baby inside to sleep. While the other girls worry about seduction, Nenny is concerned only with reproduction.
While “Hips” and “Chanclas” are not excessively descriptive, they are notable for their attention to details: The chair Esperanza sits in at the church is “a metal folding chair stamped Precious Blood”; her new slip has “a little rose on it”; Nenny is wearing “the little gold earrings our mama gave her for her first Holy Communion.” In “Hips,” Cisneros also includes the lyrics to the girls’ songs and a series of vivid metaphors and similes to describe hips and Nenny. Hips are “[r]eady and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition” (though it is important to note that Esperanza asks, “Ready to take you where?”). Hips “bloom like roses,” and in Esperanza’s song they are “skinny like chicken lips” and “baggy like soggy band-aids.” The double-dutch ropes “open wide like jaws”—and like hips—for Nenny, who is “the color of a bar of naptha laundry soap, she is like the little brown piece left at the end of the wash, the hard little bone.”
On the heels of this vignette dedicated to hips comes Esperanza’s first real experience of what can happen to her now that she’s on the verge of getting them. At her new job, Esperanza is hesitant to assert herself. She is insecure and afraid to eat with strangers, so she hides herself in a bathroom stall for her meal. No one makes an attempt to befriend her except the Oriental man, who is himself a minority.
However, his intentions are none too admirable. He is friendly to Esperanza so that she will like him and trust him, and once he gains her trust, he takes advantage of her. He knows that she doesn’t perceive him as a threat because he is nice to her and because he is old. He also knows that she is naive and innocent and easily taken advantage of. Esperanza learns that male sexuality is often asserted by force, not by sway, and that there are moments when she may be at its mercy. Unfortunately, this is a mere precursor of things to come.
It is interesting that Esperanza tells us what happens but does not tell us how she feels about the incident. By ending the vignette abruptly with the unwanted kiss, the reader is able to feel both Esperanza’s shock and discomfort. It is an experience that leaves her speechless, too surprised and ashamed for words.
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