For Latino Heritage Month I’d like to try to expand our understanding and conversations about Latino sexuality during this month. Read previous people highlighted: Gloria Anzaldúa, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Gwen Araujo.
You’ll hear a lot about Sandra Cisneros during Latino Heritage Month. I hope you hear even more about her every other month too! Cisneros has made a name for herself through her writing, storytelling, poetry, and testimonies. For many of my friends of various ethnic backgrounds, Cisneros’ poems and literature has affirmed many of our identities and choices we have made for ourselves.
I’ll admit, that when I read House On Mango Street I was much younger and did not appreciate the text upon first or second read. Her text was a part of a US Latino literature course and I remember thinking “why are all the authors Chican@ and only two authors from other countries?” This was a very usual space for me to occupy: trying to find myself represented in the texts we were reading. Yet, there were no LatiNegr@ authors on the syllabus at that time.
Not until I read >Loose Woman: Poems did my love affair with Cisneros begin. When I knew I was to do this work in the sexual science field, I was very much alone. There were so many people who made assumptions about the work I wanted to do and how I wanted to create change within our communities. As I began to read Cisneros’ poems in Loose Woman, I realized that the stereotypes and questioning of my intentions was nothing new, but had occurred for generations to women, especially women of Color who challenged the ways we were socialized to examine and understand our sexuality.
There was power that I found in reading about the ideas, and the forms of resistance that Cisneros' presents through her poetry. It was as if her words were a new weapon in my arsenal towards becoming the radical sexuality educator I desired to evolve into. Aside from having her books translated in over 10 languages, Sandra Cisneros represents resistance through creativity and spirituality, many things Anzaldúa wrote about creating.
Cisneros approaches the ideas of assimilation from a very different perspective than we hear about usually. The idea that any group of people is “better off” or more successful assimilating to a dominant culture, or a different culture (whatever it may be), is overwhelming. Almost all the research I’ve read that connects teenage pregnancy, STI rates, and sexual violence mention assimilation. This is especially true for Latin@s living in the US. This data always left me with the questions of: what about youth who grew up like me? What about youth who grew up to 4th and 5th generation families who are not Chican@?
I’ve always taught Cisneros’ book Loose Woman: Poems in my Women, Art & Culture and in my Human Sexuality classes. Not only does she give voice to lived experiences that are often demonized in some Latin@ communities, but also among communities that have socialized women to desire monogamous partnerships and marriage. Her poem "Old Maids" is one I reread often as a reminder that the choice I have made about partnering and marriage. She writes:
But we’ve studied
marriages too long—
Señora Pumpkin Shell—
Lessons that served us well
Pg. 10 [italics in the original]
This poem speaks to choice, expectations, and wisdom. It is rare when critiques consider how observation may play a role in the choices some people make, especially women, in their choice to not partner in traditional ways. Cisneros discusses women from Greek mythology (Ariadne and Penelope), women from the Old Testament (Vashti), Nahua women from Mexico (Malintzín), and discussed in popular nursery rhymes (Pumpkin Shell) as people she and her cousins have observed.
Other poems I adore from this text include “You Bring Out The Mexican In Me” where her line “I am evil. I am the filth goddess Tlazoltéotl./I am the swallower of sins./The lust goddess without guilt” (p. 6). Her poem “Full Moon and You’re Not Here” I’ve literally recited to potential lovers as an important example of women of Color "controlling the gaze" and controlling our own sexuality. She ends the poem: “You’re in love with my mind./But sometimes, sweetheart,/a woman needs a man/who loves her ass” (p. 55).
I recall reciting the poem “Down There” about menstruation and claiming how “I’m artist each month” (p. 83) at a Latino Heritage Month event 7 years ago. The room was silent. What I most adore about Cisneros is her metaplasm, or word play, on names. In her poem “Loose Woman” she declares “By all accounts I am/a danger to society./I’m Pancha Villa” (p. 113). She feminizes the iconography of Pancho Villa, Mexican revolutionary, by claiming herself “Pancha Villa.”
The many ways Cisneros has made a space for herself in US Literature is something folks usually hear about. The many ways she’s moved conversations about sexuality, Latin@ sexuality, and our bodies as women of Color are often overlooked or a side or footnote. Yet, for many of us doing this work around reproductive justice, she gives us a form of art in amazing forms that represent, appreciate, support, and transmit culture. A culture where Latina sexualities are not dichotomies, centered in pleasure, expected and celebrated. This is my kind of party!
foto credit:© Ruben Guzman via Random House, Inc.