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Culture and Change in The House on Mango Street Essay

The House on Mango Street presents a strong cultural background. Cisnero allows Esperanza to reveal her Mexican background in My Name. Esperanza introduces herself, explaining the meaning of her name and how she inherited it from her grandmother. She shows her love for her culture when she points out how her name sounds better when said in Spanish. She also complains about her disdain for how it sound when said in English. However, Esperanza also writes about how she wishes to change her name into something that would represent her better.

Changing her name would also mean letting go of a part of her that greatly spoke of her ethnicity and background. It is not only her name that Esperanza wishes to change but the direction of her life as well. She speaks about how her grandmother used to be a wild woman, like a horse – free and independent. But after some time, her grandmother was forced to marry and to live a life she had not chosen for herself. This is not what Esperanza wants.

She does not want to relinquish herself to the customs of her culture of getting married and adopting the female roles of a wife and mother. The main character’s negative feelings for the way she is growing up and where she is doing so are not only seen in her desire to change her name but in the way she speaks of her house as well. Although the family’s house in Mango Street is a better change from their old one, Esperanza is still disappointed with it. She does not see it as a house that she can show off to her friends or that she, herself, can take pride in.

Esperanza’s parents continuously assure her and her siblings that the house is only temporary but Esperanza know that it is not. She keeps thinking of the house that she wants, a spacious house with many bathrooms. Esperanza’s disappointment with their house is also indicative of her disappointment with their neighborhood. The house, for her, is the epitome of the destitute neighborhood they live in. Esperanza constantly writes about wanting to leave the house and escape the limitations of the neighborhood.

It is clear here that Esperanza not only wants to change her name but the house and neighborhood she lives in as well. This can also be construed as a turning away from the culture she has grown up in. Change, in Esperanza’s case, can still be made, however, without detracting from the culture and ethnic backgrounds on which her life has been founded. This is what Esperanza learns near the end of the stories. She realizes that even though the environment and the circumstances are not ideal, she still belongs in Mango Street, in her culture and background.

Even though she still wants to improve her situation, she knows she can not do it without coming to terms with her background. Acceptance of who one is and where one comes from is essential when trying to move on into a brighter future. Change does not necessitate throwing away the past. In fact, change requires the use of the foundations of the past. Taking one’s culture and background and shaping it to be more appropriate for the uses of the present allows change to take place without disregarding heritage.

How far can this “shaping” go, however, without subtracting too much from the quality of the culture? There is no exact answer but one truth should be acknowledged: culture is ingrained, instilled in an individual no matter how great the change. Especially in individuals like Esperanza who grew up in the thick of the customs and traditions of their culture, even changing their name or their residence would not hide their culture. Esperanza was correct, however, in realizing that change could only be done by accepting the past and building from it.


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