A House of My Own: Stories from My Life- Sandra Cisneros

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“I have always been a daydreamer, and that’s a lucky thing for a writer. Because what is a daydreamer if not another word for thinker, visionary, intuitive–all wonderful words synonymous with ‘girl.'”

It’s official: I’m a Sandra Cisneros fan. This is the first book of hers that I’ve read and over the last few years I’ve found that reading a writer’s non-fiction before reading their fiction has helped me better get into the writer’s mind, understand their influences and what drives them. for a long time. This collection of essays and  book reviews span 30 years of Cisneros’s writing career and go into stories of her life, including her meeting Gwendolyn Brooks and others, her travels, and relationships with her family and friends.

I’m always looking for certain words to detail my experiences of being raised in different cultures and looking for a place to call “home.” I pick  up a lot from different writers and books, but through language and content, I got closest to my feelings through this book .All these essays are excellent, so warm, and relatable. Cisneros inspired me to write and to talk about my own experiences, she showed me these stories are important:

“For those of us living between two worlds, our job in the universe is to help others see with more than their eyes. . . . Our work as bicultural citizens is to help others to become visionary, to help us all to examine our dilemmas in multiple ways and arrive at creative solutions. Otherwise we all will perish.”

I loved Cisneros’ thoughts on writing, inspiration, and her need for her own space. I could relate to this and I often think of how, due to my introvertism, I desired lots of time alone. It that was impossible due to my culture, being an introvert created some suspicion it seems. So I’ve always loved the night time:

 ” When I was young and still living at home, my father would call me vampira for writing at night. I couldn’t tell him the night was my own private house.”

Very prevalent were the themes of a house/home, not only the importance of a home as a place where you live which contains memories, but also as your own place in which to organize and decorate as you wish, based on your wants, needs, etc. There was an interesting essay in this where Cisneros was talking about her love of bright colours and how her neighbours did not take too kindly to her periwinkle purple-coloured home in San Antonio:

“Colour is a story. An inheritance. Were the San Antonio missions rascuache because they imitated the elaborate Moorish tiles they could not afford? Nobody wants to live like they’re poor, not even  the poor. They prefer to live like kings. That’s why they paint their houses with the only wealth they have–spirit.

       Mango yellow, papaya orange, cobalt blue. When colours arrive from the ‘nobodies who don’t create art, but handicrafts, who don’t have culture, but folklore,’ as Eduardo Galeano sardonically says of the poor, they don’t count, they’re not available until a Rockefeller or a Luis Barragan borrows them and introduces them into the homes of the rich and gives them status.”

One essay in particular stood out to me,  one in which Sandra Cisneros talks about a graduate seminar she attended on memory and imagination. The books assigned in seminar were Speak, Memory (Nabokov) , Out of Africa (Dinesen), and The Poetics of Space (Bachelard). This is what she said about the seminar:

“I went home that night and realized my education has been a lie– had made presumptions about what was ‘normal.’ I wanted to quit school right then and there, but I didn’t. Instead, I got mad, and anger when it’s used to act, when used nonviolently has power. I asked myself what I could write about that my classmates couldn’t. I didn’t want to sound like my classmates; I didn’t want to keep imitating the writers I’d been reading. Their voices were right for them but not for me.”

And there, I believe, is the strength one eventually has when they realize that what makes them different makes them unique and is a good thing. And we can celebrate our culture and experiences through our writing, and that’s what Cisneros did without worrying about how her work would be perceived by those who didn’t know, or didn’t care to understand, her culture and experiences. This unapologetic writing is what I’ve come to associate with feminists of colour such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Gloria Anzaldua, and it’s so refreshing to see.

 

I read a library copy of this book but I will definitely be buying myself a copy.

To end this review, a link to Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion.

“I think Piazzolla’s music demands you dance alone, preferably under the stars.”-Sandra .Cisneros

Astor Piazzolla- Oblivion

 

 

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