Esperanza Cordero (ehs-pehr-AHN-sah), a preteenage girl and beginning writer who narrates a chronicle of her Latino neighborhood in Chicago. She describes how some women are victimized by men, and how others resist traditional roles. Briefly, as she begins to develop sexually, she idolizes Sally, a pretty girl whose father beats her for seeing boys. Esperanza is raped when she accompanies Sally to a carnival. To become a writer, she seeks guidance, friendship, and encouragement from Alicia, a struggling student; her friend Minerva; and her Aunt Guadalupe. Her family’s “sad” house embarrasses and pains her yet is the catalyst for her imagination and the source of her identity. Esperanza leaves Mango Street but vows to return to her community, her source of inspiration. She often describes a dream house and insists on her need for a house of her own.
Sally, the beautiful older girl whom Esperanza admires and at first tries to emulate. Sally, in makeup and nylons, is attractive to boys. Her strict father equates beauty with trouble, so he confines her inside and beats her for talking to them. The night Esperanza is assaulted at the carnival, Sally has gone off with a boy, abandoning her. Sally escapes her father by marrying a salesman but finds she has traded one imprisonment for another.
Alicia (ah-LEE-see-ah), a struggling university student whose mother has died. As eldest daughter, she must run the house and care for her large family. She gets up with “the tortilla star” to make the day’s food. Like Sally, she has a domineering father, but she escapes the house by taking classes. Alicia convinces Esperanza that Mango Street will always be her home, thus instilling in her younger friend a sense of social responsibility and self-determination.
Elenita (eh-lehn-EE-tah), the “witch woman” who reads Esperanza’s cards. Elenita reads “a home in the heart” for Esperanza, who leaves disappointed because she wants a real house. Elenita’s divination, however, indicates that Esperanza will create a home for herself through her inner life and her writing. Elenita inspires Esperanza with her knowledge of old Mexican folkways and magic.
Guadalupe (gwah-dah-LEW-peh), Esperanza’s Aunt Lupe, a former swimmer who is now terminally ill and bedridden. Esperanza and her friends ridicule Aunt Lupe in a game. Later, Esperanza feels guilty and sad, so she brings Aunt Lupe books and reads to her. Esperanza shares her poems with Aunt Lupe, who is the first person to encourage her to keep writing.
Minerva (mee-NEHR-vah), a girl slightly older than Esperanza who has two children and an absent husband. They share each other’s poems. Minerva’s desperation is a fate Esperanza will avoid. Minerva’s life is troubled, most of all by her husband. He returns occasionally, talks his way into the house, then inevitably beats her. To escape her troubles, Minerva writes poetry on scraps of paper.
Lucy, Esperanza’s new friend from Texas. Lucy is truly a little girl, in contrast to Esperanza’s other friends in the barrio who have matured quickly from exposure to the adult world and by social necessity.
Rachel, Lucy’s little sister. Rachel is the talker for the two sisters.
Magdalena Cordero (mahg-dah-LEH-nah), called Nenny, Esperanza’s little sister. Nenny represents the world of childhood innocence Esperanza is about to leave behind.