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Photo by Nancy Traugott

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Susan McNeilly

Chevak, AK U.S.A. 
March 13, 2017
Hi Sandra,

A class of middle school students are asking if Esperanza is Latino and also Mexican?  We are in the middle of reading The House on Mango Street and a group of students came up with this question:  Is Esperanza Mexican?" 

I am a teacher's aide, and researched a little bit about Hispanics, Latinos and the students came up with "Mexican."  Can you clarify?  Our school is composed of Cupik Eskimos in Chevak, Alaska. Since the book cover said "Latino" some thought she was not Mexican.

Thank you.   

7th & 8th grade students from Chevak School in Chevak, Alaska Photo courtesy of Susan McNeilly

7th & 8th grade students from Chevak School in Chevak, Alaska

Photo courtesy of Susan McNeilly

Sandra replies:

Dear Ms. Susan McNeilly,

I believe this is the first letter I’ve gotten from a group of students in Alaska, and I can understand their confusion.  Let me explain the terms for you and your class. When I was a child living in Chicago, we called ourselves “Mexican” when people asked what we were.  We said it in English, not Spanish, which would have been “mexicano” in Spanish.  So we assumed folks knew we were Mexicans born in the United States.  

When I wanted to speak about myself and include my friends from Panama, Guatemala, Argentina, Puerto Rico, and other Latin American countries, we identified ourselves as “Latinos.”  This was the name we gave ourselves, a term FROM our community.  

However, once President Nixon was in office, the census forms from D.C. started to name us “Hispanics.”  This didn’t go over so well with most of us, since we already had a name we called ourselves, and we felt disrespected.  Also, Nixon and subsequently Reagan, were not popular presidents with the Latino community, so we naturally dismissed the name “Hispanics,” which was akin to a slave name for us. (Younger generations now do not know their history, so they claim the term “Hispanic” without knowing why or how it came about.)

Finally, when I was an adult and moved to South Texas, when asked to identify myself, I found myself in a problematic situation.  If I said “Mexican,” folks asked what part of Mexico I was from, as if I’d been born there.  And when I said “Latina,” they thought that odd too because the Southwest is predominantly Mexican-American.  Because of the civil rights movement, the activist Mexican-Americans gave themselves a new name—Chicanos, but you had to pick this name up as an arm the same way women had to pick up the name “feminist.”  It meant you knew the history of your people’s oppression, and you chose to resist.  So “Chicano” was a political term, just as “feminist” is a political term.

Now at 62 years of age if you ask me what I am, I say “mexicana con raices estadounidenses” (Mexican with U.S. roots)  or I say “Mexican-American,” or “Latina,” or “Chicana,” or “U.S. with Mexican roots.”  I have dual citizenship with both Mexico and the U.S., by the way.  

Most recently, I say I am from the Americas, North and South, because my ancestry is indigenous on my mother’s side, with a mix of DNA from tribes across Mexico and beyond; and southern European, North African, Sephardic, on my father’s side.  I am a bridge between communities afraid of one another.  I am here to serve as a unifier, a peacemaker, a road to the future. And that is how I see myself. Thank you for asking. 

So in answer to your question about Esperanza.  She is Mexican, Mexican-American, a U.S. citizen, Latina, and possibly when she grew up she would claim to be a Chicana and a feminist.  It’s important we name ourselves and not have others name us.  We need to know our own stories and not have others tell them for us.

I send you all a big hug from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to Chevak, Alaska. We are all one cloth.

Sandra Cisneros


Natalia Loera

Murfreesboro, TN U.S.A. 
April 29, 2016

Hola mi nombre es Natalia Loera me gustaria preguntarte Que harias de tu vida si no fueras autora? por cierto me gusto mucho tu libro The House of Mango Street.Gracias que tengas un buen dia ( tengo 13)

Sandra replies:

Hola, Natalia Loera,

Hay muchas cosas que me encantaria ser si no hubiera logrado ser escritora, pero seguro seria algo que ver con el arte — danzante, cantante, artista, música, algo por allí. 

Gracias por preguntar.


Jessica Cooley

Whitehouse, OH U.S.A
March 1, 2016  

 I was reading your book, The House On Mango Street, in school, and it was very interesting, however; I have a few questions. Why would you think to write a book like The House On Mango Street? Is this book based on someone you know?

Sandra replies:

Dear Jessica, 

The House On Mango Street is indeed based on people I knew. See the introduction essay in the more recent editions. Or look at my most recent book, A House of My Own, for the same essay. Thank you for writing!