Writing with puro amor and no expectations

Sandra Cisneros discusses personal experiences, her career and more

Saryvette Morales Cádiz, Arts & Life Editor

Author of the beloved Chicano novel, “The House on Mango Street,” Sandra Cisneros took part in a panel discussion sponsored by AARP Texas (American Association of Retired Persons) during Hispanic Heritage Month. The panel was hosted alongside San Antonio civil rights activist Rosie Castro and monitored by AARP Texas Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Lisa Rodriguez. Even though the panel was held virtually, the atmosphere was very lighthearted and energetic as Cisneros and Castro enthusiastically conversed like best friends finally catching up after a long time apart. Sandra Cisneros opened up about her experiences as a young writer, healing from lifelong trauma and expressed nostalgia for her beloved San Antonio. The audience showed their admiration for Cisneros, proving that she remains a powerful influence for audiences young and old. 

When Cisneros’s debut novel “The House on Mango Street” was published in 1984, she received criticism from her “macho” colleagues. “They would say, ‘Oh, that’s not a Chicano book, it’s not a political book, it doesn’t say Viva la Raza,’ that’s the reception I got … they made me feel very unwelcomed,” she said. Even though her colleagues didn’t think it was a political book, Cisneros still believed it was: “I was bringing up feminist themes and critical themes about our own community, maybe they didn’t want to hear about it … I was writing from my heart, trying to make change in the community that I knew in Chicago.”  

Once she moved to San Antonio that same year, she started a writer’s workshop to help other creatives with her attained knowledge. If Cisneros could get a novel published, she asserted, then others could too. “My aim was to support one another so that we could get more books on the shelves that would have a long life: not something that would get published and run out after print run. I wanted things to have a long life. To me, that meant helping each other, editing each other’s work, getting people to finish their books, giving them criticism — constructive criticism so the book would be better.” Her writer’s workshop kept growing until it eventually became the Macondo Foundation. 

Cisneros talks about her books as if they are her children, appreciating each one deeply. When Castro brought up the question: “Looking back at your illustrious career; this is hard I know, it’s like asking which kid you like better, what’s the work that you think had the most impact?” Cisneros replied, “You know ‘House’ is my oldest child and it’s only right that he should go out and get a job and keep the rest of us living in the style that we’ve been accustomed to, so I don’t mind that it’s the most popular, but it’s not my favorite. I like what I did for that age, I was a young woman, I was looking for my direction as a feminist and as a political being. I was creating my ‘isms,’ my camino, but I’m so happy it’s doing the work. I’m so happy it’s healing people and allowing people to speak about things they’re ashamed about.” 

When Cisneros was asked about how she deals with feelings of inferiority she answered, “When I was younger I was ashamed of being poor, for not being smart enough, for not being pretty enough … I realized that my whole career I’ve been working to ‘unshame’ myself: whether it’s my neighborhood … my house … later on, love affairs where I was abandoned, stories of exploding relationships. Women, we have to work so hard not to be mujer sinvergüenzas because that’s someone judging you, but to be a una mujer sin (space) vergüenza. You’re not judged, you are who you are, you don’t care about what que diran. It takes a long time to build up to that. My whole life [has been dedicated to] it’s been to detonate that shame that I feel and to not care. To be in some place where I feel I’m grounded and I know who I am.”

Cisneros recognizes that she made many mistakes when she was younger and she desires to write about more of them. “The biggest mistakes I’ve made, which I still want to write a novel about, were the men that I chose in my relationships. One of the first major relationships I’ve had was with my professor when I was an undergraduate. That’s why I tell women to be very careful when you get involved with someone that you look up to… So many young women don’t know their own power. They go into a university setting or some other job setting where their pure beauty and youth is powerful and men behave with their ‘lower chakras.’”

As the conversation progressed, Cisneros reminisced about her favorite memories in San Antonio, she found her home and the nearby nature to be very comforting. “I miss walking behind where I used to live by the river. There was this beautiful big tree, a Texas cyprus tree and it was so special to me. I would always take my dogs into the river and wade in the river with them… I think that’s one of my most beautiful memories. I regretted it when I left it and I said ‘okay I’m gonna have to let this go, but that’s alright. There’ll be something just as beautiful.’ When I come back to [visit] San Antonio I go visit the tree,” she described. 

Upon the end of the panel, Cisneros was asked: “It’s difficult for lower-income people to dedicate time for creative ambitions. How do you suggest they do so?” she replied with: “I wrote ‘House’ when I had no money, I was working part-time at the beginning and I was teaching high school, which is a lot of work. I decided I would just write small stories and I would write them on the weekends. Make whatever it is you’re trying to create small and not so out of your time range. Make it a priority for yourself, you have to say ‘okay I’m going to get up early before everyone else gets up and I’m going to go to bed after everyone’s asleep…’ Try doing something small. Try reading writers that are writing very short pieces. Look at poetry. And look at writers that are living a life of yours.”

Throughout the panel Sandra Cisneros encouraged whoever was interested to start writing, to do so: “Think about the pure reasons why you want to write. What’s the real reason?… Con puro amor and no expectations, te va a salir bonito.”