Dynamics and Structures of Power and Oppression in the Hispanic Community
The House of Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and the poem You Who Seek Grace from a Distracted God by Luis Alberto Urrea are filled with vivid images and descriptions of the hispanic community. The accounts in these works give small details which showcase the lives of the people in them. The small details point to dynamics and structure of power such as class and earning ability. At the same time, they point to the dynamics of oppression such as freedom and dignity.
The aspect of class is evident in both Cisneros and Urrea’s work. Cisneros begins her work by telling readers that they have moved a lot in their life until they finally bought the house on Mango Street. She writes that “”We didn’t always live on Mango Street. Before that, we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that, we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina and before that, I can’t remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot” (Cisneros). From that statement, it becomes evident that Esoeranza comes from a poor background. Their family can be classified as a low class family because the narrators parents could not find a stable household to raise their children safetly, every house they found was crumbling down in some way. They had to keep shifting from one area to another. The narrator Esoeranza stated that she remembers moving a lot. This automatically brings out a class dynamic. More importantly, however, is the conditions in these houses that they lived. Esoeranza says that they had to live the flat on Loomis because water pipes broke and the house was too old.
At the same time, the house had hallway stairs and they had to share a washroom. However, the case was not different in the house they bought on Mango Street. Esoeranza says that the house is “”small and red with tight steps in front and windows so small you’d think they were holding their breath”” (Cisneros). Additionally, she claims that the bricks are crumbling in places and the front door is so swollen you have to push hard to get in. The house lacks many things she had been promised it would have. This points to the class dynamic. Her parents cannot afford a house with better facilities because apparently, they live according to their earning power. From the way they live, it becomes evident that this family can only fit in a lower class.
Cisneros class dynamic contrast that of the person Urrea talks about in his poem. Urrea writes that “”your great fortune is to have a job, / never ate government cheese, / federal peanut butter”” (Urrea). From that statement, it becomes clear that the person has never received government aid for the sole reason he is from an able family. Surprisingly, however, the able family is no longer able. This is evident because, at the moment, the person sleeps in the spare rooms of his brother. There are several lines that show the lives of this person turned upside down. For instance, Urrea writes that “”You Kneel in Ma’s broken tub now, no shower/- no heat- plastic tarp over crumbled wall- gonna fix that”” (Urrea). He expresses that there is no shampoo. Additionally, he says that “”You have no car, rush part house windows bright” (Urrea). From those statements, it becomes evident that this person does not experience the thing he used to have before, simply because his financial life has changed. Before he was from a high class household but life has changed. However, Urrea writes that he has a chance to turn his life around. He says that “”Your great fortune is to have a job”” (Urrea). At another point, he says that “”here is your chance to drag home, / eighty dollars a week, for her electric. Food”” (Urrea). This person now has a chance to turn his life and that of his family around. Unlike, Esoeranza parent who cannot afford the luxury, this person has a chance to afford luxury with eighty dollars a week.
The case of racial profiling is also evident in both works. In The House of Mango Street, the narrator Esoeranza remembers a time when she met with a nun from her school near her home. The nun asked the narrator, “”Where do you live?”” (Cisneros) Esoeranza remembers pointing to the house they lived and the response she received from her teacher. “”You live there?”” (Cisneros). The narrator says that she pointed at the third floor but goes ahead to describe it and says that “”the paint peeling, wooden bars, Papa had nailed on the windows so we wouldn’t fall out”” (Cisneros). What is important is what followed since the narrator says that the question of “”You live there?””(Cisneros) made her feel like nothing. That amounted to racial profiling because the you live there question obviouly invoked the narrator’s emotions. What the nun did amounted to racial profiling. It made the narrator as Hispanic have a low esteem of herself. She stated “I knew then I had to have a house. A real house. One that I could point to”” (Cisneros).
It is the same case in You Who Seek Grace from a Distracted. The person uses some words with the aim of racially profiling the Hispanic community for reasons best known to him. For instance, he says that “”the papists, the terrorists, these aliens”” (Urrea). He starts with the word “”these”” to mean that it is not one person he is talking about but many people. Given that he is talking about many individuals, it can be concluded that he deliberately profiling these people who happen to hail from the Hispanic community. By those words he tries to mean that all Hispanics are terrorists which apparently is not the case. At the same time, he depicts the Hispanics as aliens. This is not only profiling but derogatory because though people from the Hispanic community are not originally from America, they have a right to live in America legally. One does not have to remind another that because he or she hails from a different race, then he or she is an alien. The other aspect of racial profiling comes out when he says that “”Bus comes, gasps, doors unfold alike aluminum scorpions jaws- Oh Christ /everybody there just dug panicked between couch pillows”” (Urrea). This statement has a racial profiling intent because the persona he seems to enjoy the state Hispanics are living in. He says that “”everybody there”” to show how he profiles Hispanics. This is astonishing because though it is a Hispanic neighborhood, Hispanics do not live in isolation but with other people from different races. He thus fails to realize that there could be a white or a Black person on that bus.
Dynamics and structures of dignity are also evident. The narrator in The House of Mango Street constantly craves to live a dignified life. She constantly yerns a time when they would have a better house for themselves with sufficient amenities which they would not have to share with other people. When they get to their own house, she constantly outlines the benefits of having their own house. She says that “”we don’t have to pay rent to anybody, or share the yard with the people downstairs, or be careful not to make too much noises”” (Cisneros). By her outlining these benefits, she shows that she would like to live a dignified life. The narrator always yearns a real house and says that “”a real house that would be ours for always so we wouldn’t have to move each year.”” This also brings out an aspect of the dignity that the narrator would achieve to having their own house and not having to move from one house to another.
This craving grew even more towards the end of the story when a nun from her school downplays their house. At that point when the narrator says that she had to have that house “But this isn’t”” (Cisneros) It showed that the narrator was after dignity because though they had achieved to have a house, it still did not dignify her.
The issue of dignity is also prevalent in You Who Seek Grace from a Distracted. The persona depicts the kind of life Hispanics lives. He tries to show that the person in question does not live a dignified life. For instance, he says that “”you, who sleep where you fall, sleep/beside women, not yours who keep you warm, sleep”” (Urrea). This depicts the undignified life the person lives. At another point, the persona says that “”Bus comes, gasps, doors unfold alike aluminum scorpion jaws- Oh Christ /everybody there just dug panicked between couch pillows””(Urrea). This shows the kind of live the people in this neighborhood lives. They struggle to makes ends meet at all levels but Urrea seems to find fun in that. He says however that the person in question has a chance of turning around his life and live a dignified life. This is because he has a chance of making eighty dollars a week.
It is evident from the two works by Urrea and Cisneros that dynamics of power and oppression are there. Instances of difference in class for the people of the Hispanic community is prevalent with the people in both works struggling in the lower class. At the same time, there is also racial profiling whereby people in this community are racially profiled because of being Hispanics. This people, however, try to restore their dignity in a community where racial profiling and poverty is the order of the day.