“It wasn’t as if I didn’t know who I was. I knew I was a Mexican woman. But, I didn’t think it had anything to do with why I felt so much imbalance in my life, whereas it had everything to do with it! …” – Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros is like a modern day literary Frida Kahlo. Cisneros is admired as not just a Latina writer – but as a writer – period, in the same way Kahlo is admired as an artist and not just a female Mexican artist – and yet, that female-ness – that Latin-ness is an integral part of their creations. Both women radiate strength and creativity, even as they struggle with life in the same way we all do. In reality, it is those same struggles that they examine, re-shape and ingrain in their work which is what makes them so relatable.
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1954, Cisneros was the third born of seven children and the only daughter. According to Cisneros, her “otherness” was heightened by her father’s use of the words “seis hijos y una hija” (“six sons and one daughter”) rather than “siete hijos” (“seven children”), when referring to her and her siblings.
In part due to the instability and loneliness caused by moving between Chicago and Mexico City multiple times as a child, Cisneros developed a love for writing. Libraries played a vital role in shaping the young Cisneros. “I always tell people that I became a writer not because I went to school but because my mother took me to the library. I wanted to become a writer so I could see my name in the card catalog,” she is quoted as saying.
With the encouragement of her teacher, Cisneros became known for her writing in school, but did not really start writing until her first creative writing class in college in 1974. Even then, she claims, it took awhile to find her own voice.
Cisneros graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1976, and received a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1978. It was during this time that Cisneros realized the differences between her and her classmates: “It wasn’t as if I didn’t know who I was. I knew I was a Mexican woman. But, I didn’t think it had anything to do with why I felt so much imbalance in my life, whereas it had everything to do with it! My race, my gender, and my class! And it didn’t make sense until that moment, sitting in that seminar. That’s when I decided I would write about something my classmates couldn’t write about.”
Cisneros has gone on to write multiple award winning novels including, The House on Mango Street, Caramelo, and Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories. Her writing is known for its evocative use of imagery, creative symbolism and seamless blending of Spanish and English. Not only is Cisneros a writer of fiction, but she has held professional positions including teacher and counselor among others. Cisneros has contributed greatly to a wider acceptance and definition of Chicana and feminist identity, and opened doors to other American Latino/a writers by establishing the Macondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation.
Sandra Cisneros currently resides in San Antonio, Texas where she continues to write. You can find her at SandraCisneros.com.
Tracy López is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family. She can also be reached via Twitter @Latinaish.