Study Guide

The House on Mango Street Foreignness and 'The Other'

By Sandra Cisneros

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Foreignness and 'The Other'

Chapter 5
Esperanza Cordero

In the meantime they'll just have to move a little farther north from Mango Street, a little farther away every time people like us keep moving in. (5.4)

When Esperanza says "people like us," we suspect she's referring to her ethnic background. Cathy represents the segment of society that associates Latinos with bad neighborhoods.

Chapter 9
Esperanza Cordero

Meme Ortiz moved into Cathy's house after her family moved away. His name isn't really Meme. His name is Juan. But when we asked him what his name was he said Meme, and that's what everybody calls him except his mother. (9.1)

Meme represents a younger generation of Latinos – the children of native Spanish speakers who, growing up in the United States, possess a sort of dual identity that's reflected in their bilingualism and their two names.

Meme has a dog with gray eyes, a sheepdog with two names, one in English and one in Spanish. (9.2)

Like his owner, Meme's dog has an English name and a Spanish name.

Chapter 10
Esperanza Cordero

Louie's girl cousin is older than us. She lives with Louie's family because her own family is in Puerto Rico. (10.2)

Depictions of foreignness in literature are often associated with feelings of exile. Louie's cousin, whose family is in Puerto Rico, brings up the issue of exile for the first time in the novel.

Chapter 25
Esperanza Cordero

His name was Geraldo. And his home is in another country. The ones he left behind are far away, will wonder, shrug, remember. Geraldo – he went north…we never heard from him again. (25.9)

Foreignness, and the experience of exile, is portrayed as a dangerous status in this story. The foreigner is in a precarious position – he's unable even to guarantee the preservation of his own identity, or that anyone will know what happened to him when he dies.

They never saw the kitchenettes. They never knew about the two-room flats and sleeping rooms he rented, the weekly money orders sent home, the currency exchange. How could they? (25.8)

Here Esperanza imagines what the life of Geraldo must have been like.

But what difference does it make? He wasn't anything to her […] Just another brazer who didn't speak English. Just another wetback. You know the kind. The ones who always look ashamed. (25.5)

The derogatory statements made here could be the imagined commentary of the hospital workers and police offers that interview Marin, asking her questions about the unidentified man who was killed. Geraldo is regarded as an insignificant loss because of his lack of personal connections, his nationality, and his status as a laborer.

Chapter 30
Esperanza Cordero

The man saved his money to bring her here. He saved and saved because she was alone with the baby boy in that country. He worked two jobs. He came home late and he left early. Every day. (30.2)

The experience of foreignness and exile motivates Esperanza's neighbor to work extremely hard so that he can be reunited with his family.

My father says when he came to this country he ate hamandeggs for three months. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hamandeggs. That was the only word he knew. He doesn't eat hamandeggs anymore. (30.7)

Esperanza's father can relate to Mamacita. His refusal to eat hamandeggs anymore can be read as his way of trying to forget the isolation he felt as an immigrant.

¡Ay! Mamacita, who does not belong, ever once in a while lets out a cry, hysterical, high, as if he had torn the only skinny thread that kept her alive, the only road out to that country. (30.15)

Here Esperanza describes foreignness as a state of not belonging – which is how Esperanza herself feels a lot of the time.

I believe she doesn't come out because she is afraid to speak English, and maybe this is so since she only knows eight words. She knows to say: He not here for when the landlord comes, No speak English if anybody else comes, and Holy smokes. (30.6)

For Mamacita, foreignness is an isolating experience. Her inability to communicate with people in her community is the ultimate expression of her foreignness.

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