“Little Miracles, Kept Promises” is a catalog of Cisneros’s strengths and appeals as a fiction writer. The collection of notes left at saints’ shrines may recall the letters of Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts (1933), but the tone of these is more consistently comic, showing well the witty and humorous side of Cisneros that appears in many of her stories and poems. For example, Barbara Ybañez threatens to turn the statue of San Antonio de Padua upside down until he sends her “a man man. I mean someone who’s not ashamed to be seen cooking or cleaning or looking after himself.”
Rubén Ledesma somewhat reluctantly, yet desperately, appeals to San Lázaro, who was “raised from the dead and did a lot of miracles,” to help him deal with his “face breaking out with so many pimples.” These letters are especially rich in the variety of voices and tones they present, from the devout who speak to their saint as a friend, to the pious who lapse into almost meaningless formulas, to the inexperienced who are uncomfortable addressing a person they do not know personally, to the irreverent and skeptical.
These many voices lead finally to that of a young woman, Rosario, who has cut off a braid of hair that has never before been cut and pinned it by the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Rosario is an image of Cisneros, the young Latina artist rebelling against the restrictive roles of women in her culture, especially as they have been reinforced by the massive cultural authority of the Catholic Church. She says that she has resisted religious belief until her discovery that the Virgin is not simply a passive sufferer but also one manifestation of woman as goddess, the powers of fertility, healing, creative energy. This discovery made it possible for Rosario to love the Virgin, to stop being ashamed of her mother and grandmother, and, finally, to love herself.
Of Rosario, Cisneros said, “That’s me. . . . I’m very, very much devoted to the Virgin of Guadalupe, but not exactly the same figure celebrated in Church.”