The lost children archives – Who are the lost children?

I am ending the first part of the Lost Children Archives, but I am still wondering who are the lost children in this book. As far as I am concerned all the characters in this book are kind of “lost children”.

Naturally, she notes that they refer to refugee children, many of whom are missing, as “lost children”. She explains: “These are children who have lost the right to a childhood”. Part of the book is devoted to the story of these missing voices, or more precisely how she can tell the story of these thousands or millions of forgotten voices in order to give sense to this human tragedy. A crucial question that runs through the book is about the legitimacy of telling such a story. Indeed, the narrator, who is a journalist by training, criticizes this “fashion” of sensationalism that is de rigueur in journalism, portraying immigrants as aliens and insisting on the urgency of this crisis. Another question is about who should be the main subjects of her sound documentary. Indeed, at the beginning of the book she starts with the idea of recording the voices of these children in the courtrooms but changes her mind in the will to tell the story of these children who are forgotten because they are lost or missing.

However, this is only an almost minority part of the book, which makes me think that the lost children are not just those refugee children. The children in this peculiar family are also the lost children. Through their questions, their imagination, their maps, the Polaroid camera, the children are trying to make sense of both their family’s crisis and the larger story of thousands of children trying to cross the southwest border of the United States. Although the children’s lives seem to depend on the outcome of their parents’ marriage, they seem to express their agency through a particular understanding of their surroundings. These children are lost in the complexity of the world and their uncertain place in the future of this family on the point of breaking up, even as their parents try to hide this tragedy from them.

Last but not least, as far as the parents are concerned, it is also about lost children. Lost Children Archive begins with the journey not of a refugee child, but of an unhappily married couple. It is difficult to understand the reasons for their love because of the permanent “silence” that reigns in this couple. The parents are also lost children because they seem more concerned about their own feelings and plans than about the fate of their family. The father looked into this Apache project without even telling his wife and without evaluating the concrete possibility of carrying it out. Moreover, throughout the book, the mother is very cold with all the members of the family as if she were disconnected from this reality. It is as if the parents were dreaming of being able to rewrite their whole life again, forgetting that they themselves had forged this reality. Parents are lost, but they are also children because they are locked in their own reality, imagination and dreams.

Lost Child Archive (part i)

So while I haven’t quite finished the first half of Lost Children Archive, I think I am far enough into it that I want to start my blog now. A few things strike me as peculiar about this novel, but I have to say, so far I am thoroughly enjoying it; it may even be my favourite of the term.

The first thing I find peculiar is the fact that none of the main characters are named. We know of Manuela, the woman whose children migrated from Mexico (I think?) but that’s it. The
first-person narrator is the main character in the story. We know her as Mama or Ma. She refers to her children coldly as ‘the boy’ and ‘the girl’—sometimes out the determiner. Only twice does she stray from this: the first time on page 5 to tell us that she refers to her son (stepson) and daughter as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’; the second time on page 16, when she says “…I had a conversation with the mother of one of my daughter’s classmates”. Even then, the narrator isn’t referring to her daughter; she is merely a point of reference for the mother of the classmate. It stuck out like a sore thumb to me and I am waiting to see if at any other point in the narrative this comes to light…and what this means. Is it foregrounding? Is it simply a slip in style?

The other thing I find interesting about this book is the first-person narration. We don’t get to see exactly what the characters are thinking, only the narrator’s opinion or interpretation of their thoughts. We also only see things unfold from the narrator’s point of view and through her participation in the events she describes. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book written in this manner, which is perhaps why I like it so much. In my youth, before computers, I used to write letters—pages upon pages—to my best friend after I moved away. To this day, she has seven
2-inch binders filled with my letters and I too have about the same from her. From time to time I revisit these letters and I get a snapshot, in detail, of what we were doing back then. This novel provides us with sequential snapshots of the events as they unfold, almost like the scenes in a movie. Each scene is titled as if the camera angle changes, giving a slight different perspective of the surroundings, whether it is the children playing ‘Apache games’ with their father, the next chapter is the narrator/ mother, in the same scene, reading up on how to use Boy’s polaroid camera (which for you iGeneration folks was a camera that developed it’s own film…back before photos turned up instantly on a cellphone… ???? ).

No song specifically comes to mind so far in reading this book, except that they are on a road trip which seems to never end. I love road trips and I usually revert back to my high school days, when I used to write all my letters, and make playlists which provide us for hours (or days) of endless music. One of the best road trip songs, in my opinion, is Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”. The words almost apply to what our world is going through. So I am making it my blog song. I hope everyone is well and staying healthy.

 

The House on Mango Street

mango-streetDozens of characters flit through the pages of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Alicia, for instance, who “is young and smart and studies for the first time at the university”; but her mother has died and so she has “inherited her mama’s rolling pin and sleepiness” as she has to get up early and look after the family, before taking “two trains and a bus” to study because “she doesn’t want to spend her whole life in a factory or behind a rolling pin” (30-1). Or Elenita, “witch woman,” who earns a few extra dollars by telling fortunes in her kitchen where “the top of the refrigerator [is] busy with holy candles” (62, 63). Interrupted by her kids, who she has shunted out to a living room where the sofa is covered in plastic, she “gets up to hit and then hug them. She really does love them, only sometimes they are rude” (64). Or there is Sire, a boy who hangs out on his bike with his friends and watches as the narrator, Esperanza, passes and crosses the street: “It made your blood freeze to have somebody look at you like that” (73).

Many of these characters disappear in the wake of these quick but arresting pen portraits. It is as though the book can hardly settle long enough on any of them for us to come to know where they come from or where they are going to. Yet almost always we are left with a startling detail, revealing perhaps more than the child narrator knows or intends to tell, a detail that indicates that there is much more still to be said. In Alicia’s case, this is when we are told that she is afraid of nothing except the mice she sees (or imagines she sees) late at night as she burns the candle at both ends. “And fathers” (32). Then the narrative swiftly moves on–to a tale of “Darius & the Clouds”–leaving the suggestion of some unmentionable violence hanging in the air. Mango Street is as vibrant and colorful as the tropical fruit that gives it its name, but it is also permeated by shadow, not least the shadow of gendered violence and the expectations that young women above all find it nearly impossible to shake off.

In fact, Alicia returns almost at the end of the book, in one of its final vignettes. Not that we hear much more about her fears. She and Esperanza are talking, and “she is listening to my sadness because I don’t have a house” (106). But Esperanza does, Alicia points out, have the house that gives this very book its title:

You live right here, 4006 Mango, Alicia says and points to the house I am ashamed of.
No, this isn’t my house I say and shake my head as if shaking could undo the year I’ve lived here. I don’t belong. I don’t ever want to come from here. (106)

Shame is a recurrent feature of Esperanza’s experience in this Chicago neighborhood: she is made to feel (and internalizes) shame for being female, poor, and Hispanic. In some ways, indeed, shame is the book’s dominant affect, if it weren’t for the humor and quick-witted observation that also pervade almost all these brief stories. And Alicia, perhaps the one (other) possibly upwardly mobile figure we meet, already knows that Esperanza will not so easily be able to deny her origins, for to do so would be to try to erase something that is by now integral to her very self: “No, Alicia says. Like it or not you are Mango Street, and one day you’ll come back too” (107). This may sound like a prediction (or projection) of failure: that every attempt Esperanza makes to escape will be doomed.

But Cisneros suggests that Esperanza (or Cisneros herself, in so far as this book is broadly autobiographical) will be able to negotiate the tension between escape and acknowledgement, between shame and pride, though writing itself. “You just remember to keep writing, Esperanza,” her Aunt Lupe tells her, “It will keep you free” (61). At the time the young girl “didn’t know what she meant”–and in fact she and her friends treat her aunt shamefully, imitating her, mocking her blindness and incapacity, “with our heads thrown back, our arms limp and useless, dangling like the dead” (61). But by the end of the story, Esperanza has realized that the stories she is telling are a means to take her distance from Mango Street: “I write it down and Mango says goodbye sometimes” (110). But they are also, of course, a way to return, to render homage to those who stayed, to those, “las mujeres” to whom the book is dedicated, who were unable to leave and had to live in the shadows. Without exactly shining a light on that darkness, without pretending to give us anything like a full representation of these lives at the margins, Cisneros’s book at least offers a glimpse of a myriad of stories that would otherwise go untold, stories that if told in full should shame us all.

Lost Children Archive: How to Shape a World View

While reading the first half of Lost Children Archive, I was struck by the constant idea of how Valeria and her partner’s parenting and interests shape their own kids’ perceptions about the world around them. This concept of developing a world view, of course, is paralleled throughout the book with the constant discussion about refugees’ struggles to reach the haven known as the United States. Though there are many major themes in the book (because Luiselli asks a ton of thought-provoking, philosophical questions), I want to discuss how children’s minds are blank slates; and whether having a comfortable life or being a refuge in search of a better life, one’s world view is malleable especially in childhood.

The two perspectives in the book are one of the American child, with a good upbringing and parents to guide them in their lives, and the refugee child, often having to brave the treacherous journey of making it North of the Rio Grande by themselves.

The American child, in this case, is represented in both “the boy” and “the girl”. Their odd names were given to them preventing a hyphenated relationship between non-biological relatives. This “family lexicon”, however, does not inhibit the children from having the best relationship with one another, always making sure the other is taken care of. Furthermore, as the kids have an intimate connection, they also share similar world views simply because they have lived essentially the same lives and have received identical parenting in recent memory. Through their parents’ shared work, recording and archiving sounds of daily city life, the pleasure of capturing the world around them is passed on to their kids; especially their “boy”. It’s also interesting that through the father’s love of the Apaches, telling them seemingly magical stories of the long-ago, and the mother’s interest in helping recover the stories of “lost children” at the borders, those two worlds are amalgamated into one by the two siblings. Through skits, stories, and songs between the kids, they combine these two passions of their parents into a passion of their own. These are the major scenes that stuck out to me. However, the minute interactions reveal the same idea as well. By asking who “Jesus Fucking Christ” is by “the girl” or prodding about what’s the point of archiving by “the boy”, these two kids, with a safe and secure upbringing, are learning their parents’ beliefs and mannerisms and reproducing them page after page. However, we learn that not all children can be so lucky to have extensive and caring conversations with their parents.

The travel of the refuge child to the USA, revealed slowly through small snippets, is one that the child has to endure alone. In the case of Manuela and her two girls, they were left to find their way to the United States and reunite with their mother. However, as Border Patrol found the kids, they were detained and their whereabouts soon became unknown. I want to unpack how a traumatic journey and detainment to and in the US border could have detrimental psychological implications for mental growth and maturation. Braving the travel to the USA, usually by taking “La Bestia” (a railroad that is commonly used to take hopeful refugees to the border) is a route where children could become sick, injured, or even dead. If one manages to avoid those challenges, the effects of being detained, being captured and ultimately criminalized, could ruin a child’s perspective of the world around them. Wanting to be with their family or live in a place free from violence, the trauma experienced by children seeking refuge could lead to long term depression or other illnesses; not even including the potential to inhibit healthy mental maturation. Also, the heartache of being deported back to a dangerous place and erasing your chances at seeing a loved one in the USA is not only mentally damaging but physically dangerous as well.

Lost Children Archive tackles many issues regarding philosophical dilemmas of love, loss, deportation, identity, etc. However, through her juxtaposition of the life of children in America, safe and having parental guidance, to the life of a refugee, fending for their life and suffering through a dangerous journey, it’s apparent that the mentalities of a child are formed by the world they experience. This book not only speaks to how the refugee “crisis” of people seeking asylum in the United States is a threat to one’s security, but mental well-being and growth too

-Curtis HR.

The House on Mango Street

This book let me a little confused when I finished reading it. I’m not quite sure as to what angle I have to take in analyzing it. It is definitely not like the other books we have read in class. The chapters are shorter and there is no linear story to follow. I noticed that there weren’t quotation marks whenever someone other than Esperanza was speaking. Since I’m not a book fanatic, I’m not sure how to look at this book. To be quite honest, I consider this book boring because there’s no “climax” and even the ending confused me.

I would describe Esperanza as a typical person coming from an immigrant family. It helps that the whole book is from her point of view. In this way, we are able to see her emotions and uncertainties. She wants to be able to process things on her own. Not just things in general but those that come as a girl turns into a woman. I believe that even if this book were to be written from a non-Chicano point of view then it can still carry out the same message, which I’m struggling with right now.

This whole time I was trying to find a significance as to why the street is named Mango. Maybe it was just a random name, maybe not. I think one thing that I got out of this book though, is for some reason I thought of the house on Mango Street as being composed of the different people we see in every chapter. There was a point that I just forgot how many people there were because of their similarities and the stories specific to one that weren’t very lengthy. Perhaps that was the whole point all along. There is this stereotype, this culture, that exists in the neighborhood of Mango Street. Esperanza is able to pinpoint those who are living a life “expected” of them and she wants to find another way to do things, to approach things a different way. Towards the end, Esperanza expresses a feeling of discontent about having lived in a house on Mango Street. She expresses that among their other places of residence, the Mango Street house is merely just another house that is part of the list. It is a house that she “belong[s] to but do not belong to.”

The House on Mango Street

I must say that The House on Mango Street was one of the books that I was most looking forward to in this course. As I first started reading this book, I found myself a bit confused and wasn’t quite sure how to understand the structure in which the book is written. As I continued reading, I soon found myself quite interested in Esperanza and the way she shares the stories of the people that surround her and her own life on Mango Street. This book offers the reader a compilation of stories of different stages or different events and people in Esperanza’s life. What makes this book unique is that you don’t have to read the book from beginning to end to understand it, the reader can open any chapter and start reading. Each chapter offers us a distinct story.

I would say that one of the main takeaways for me after reading this book would be Esperanza’s desire to become her own self and not one of the many women found on Mango Street. The ones that sit by the window looking outside, the women who do not have a way out. Esperanza observes the women in her family and in her neighbourhood as her only role models, women who have been unable to break from the traditional roles imposed on them. These women are trapped in a culture that promotes and enforces patriarchal control and oppression. Esperanza is witness of this from a young age and she puts it on herself to not become one of these many women stuck in a life that denies them freedom in becoming their own self. These women are trapped either by their fathers, husbands, children or their regrets of not rejecting these traditional roles that keep them locked up, unable to escape. As Sandra Cisneros puts it at the beginning of the book: A las Mujeres, To the Women. I believe that this book is for those women that feel stuck and chained up to a life that has been unfair and that has seen them withstand mistreatment from traditional patriarchal roles. Esperanza sheds light on these women and on her culture that continuously disregards the independence of women and incessantly promotes their codependence on a male figure. Esperanza is determined to escape and aspires to be much more as she does not want to become just another woman sitting by the window.

The House on Mango Street: A Tale of Sexual Assault

The House on Mango Street! Wow. This book has so many themes and major ideas that it discusses in such a short format. Every page offers so much insight and such profoundness that I was blown away. One theme in particular that kept reoccuring was that of sexual assault and the subordination of women. This book contains a ton of uncomfortable topics, however with themes like sexism, it puts them into easily digestible concepts that read like a children’s story book.

In the book, there are characters that have multiple unwanted sexual encounters; Esperanza and Sally. Through Esperanza’s three experiences, she uncovers that sexual aggression is all too common for a young girl of her age. In “Chanclas,” Esperanza dances at a wedding, and is creepily stalked by a “boy who is a man [watching her] dance.” He is claimed to be her “cousin by first communion,” but through the progression of the night, he seems to prey on Esperanza the entire night; violating her with his eyes. This reveals that even though Esperanza thought she knew and trusted an almost family member, anyone has the potential to be a sexual aggressor. “The First Job” was one of the first chapters I’ve read THIS YEAR where I’ve had to put the book down and pause. As Esperanza gets her first job and realizes she doesn’t really fit in, she “befriends” an Oriental man who talks to her during her lunch breaks. They get along, but then claiming it is his birthday, asks for a birthday kiss and “grabs [her] face with both hands and kisses [her] hard on the mouth and doesn’t let go.” Utterly disgusting. An old man, seemingly mild and friendly, becomes a monster, a predator, in the blink of an eye. With this scene, we see Esperanza get used for a man’s pleasure yet again. Also, the book carries a message of not letting your guard down and not wholeheartedly trusting people; fearing they have a secret agenda or desire. Finally, in “Red Clowns,” Esperanza experiences physical sexual assault by an unknown man who repeatedly says, “I love you, Spanish girl.” Esperanza begs him to stop, but he continues to have his way with her. A soul-wrenching scene that I am lost for words to even describe. Through the progression of the book, sexual assault is brought to light while also an idea of apprehensiveness about unknown men is constantly reinforced; begging readers to take precautions and not endure the same trauma she has in the past.

The other character, Sally, is the character of choice for Cisneros to display the devastating consequences of both parental assault and being taken advantage of. Sally, whose traumas stem from an abusive father, is often talked about by the boys; thinking she is the most beautiful girl they have ever laid eyes on. Sally’s one wish is “to love and to love and to love,” but as she cannot get that from her father, becomes eye candy for boys around the school, frequently hooking up with them. When Sally and some boys are fooling around in the back of a pickup truck, Sally told Esperanza to “go home” and give her and the boys time alone. Such a sad life Sally is living, obtaining the attention she needs to survive by having casual sex with boys who only care for her looks all because of the mental and physical abuse brought onto her by her neglectful father.

This book, deceptively quaint and colorful, really made me feel strong emotions (it almost made me tear up). From themes of identity, mental illness, tradition, language, and even sexual assault, this book tackles it all. I’m eager to discuss this with all of you tomorrow; attempting to scratch the surface of the book’s profound messages.

-Curtis HR

Hope in "The House on Mango Street": Do you need to be selfish to survive?

I think so far this is the book I have thought of the most, not only is my group working on a Wikipedia article that showcases it, but I think it has just left me thinking about its meaning. The more I read it, the more I look at articles about it or analyze its characters, the more contradictions I find. I haven’t made up my mind on whether I like it or not, I think I’ll never really know.

While I was reading it, I couldn’t help wonder what message this book is communicating, I am trying to pinpoint it amidst the other books we’ve read this semester. To start off the author dedicates this book “To the Women”. We can see that for most of the characters are women, and most of the stories about the struggles of women. However, it is simply narrating issues women face but not conveying any empathy nor hope. We simply get the idea that Esperanza wants to escape this, we see that she is different from the rest of her community, or she feels different. We notice the same in Piri, how he also seems to be facing a different struggle from that of the “group”. These stories are really about the protagonists and not the community. That is what I find unsettling in a certain way. It doesn’t mean that it is good or bad, just that I don’t get peace at the end because the struggles of these communities just persist, and the existence of these protagonist doesn’t generate any change in the lives of those around them. I find that in Esperanza’s and Piri’s stories they both come across as selfish individuals. Esperanza seems to be always dissatisfied with her state in life, only finding her “house” when she is older and by herself. This defies that saying of “home is where family is”. An article I read about this book also said that Esperanza was only able to leave Mango Street on the backs and sacrifice of many women, so in a way she benefits from the ‘system’ as well. When piecing this altogether, I see it as a mechanism adopted by Esperanza to survive, if you don’t empathize and set yourself apart from your community it makes it easier to look outside of it for an escape route. Esperanza lived her emancipation very privately, we don’t see her sharing this with friends of her age. We see her interaction with mentors, older women, but these are speaking out of regret, for they weren’t able to seize the right moment to escape, they either dropped out of school, got married, got pregnant, etc.  

Having this in mind, what does it say about Chicano culture? Why are these issues so prevalent? Specifically when portraying women as victims and men as perpetrators? This isn’t really a kink because these woes, sadly, are seen as a norm. Where can we find voices that speak out for equality and not for a disordered emancipation? I ask this last question because in this book there really isn’t a fixed model of femininity/womanhood, women are portrayed as objects and servants, and Esperanza herself thinks that by emulating the qualities of a man is how she escapes this “I am one that leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up a plate”. With this Esperanza associates being a women with being tame, with following orders, with being pretty, and a subordinate, when that isn’t what femininity is about. Here being a wife is seen negatively, being a mother is seen negatively and dismissed as almost nothing. There is no value put in motherhood. In my view, such an important role of a woman, a role only performed by women, is completely disregarded or badly portrayed. Is the book saying that to escape this culture women ought not to marry and be mothers? What does this say for the future of strong Chicana women, those to whom this book is dedicated to? If the cells of culture are families, how is it to be transmitted without a positive perception of motherhood? How is that communicated in these books? Where is the hope, the Esperanza, for Chicano culture? I haven’t seen it myself so far, maybe I missed something.

Hope in "The House on Mango Street": Do you need to be selfish to survive?

I think so far this is the book I have thought of the most, not only is my group working on a Wikipedia article that showcases it, but I think it has just left me thinking about its meaning. The more I read it, the more I look at articles about it or analyze its characters, the more contradictions I find. I haven’t made up my mind on whether I like it or not, I think I’ll never really know.

While I was reading it, I couldn’t help wonder what message this book is communicating, I am trying to pinpoint it amidst the other books we’ve read this semester. To start off the author dedicates this book “To the Women”. We can see that for most of the characters are women, and most of the stories about the struggles of women. However, it is simply narrating issues women face but not conveying any empathy nor hope. We simply get the idea that Esperanza wants to escape this, we see that she is different from the rest of her community, or she feels different. We notice the same in Piri, how he also seems to be facing a different struggle from that of the “group”. These stories are really about the protagonists and not the community. That is what I find unsettling in a certain way. It doesn’t mean that it is good or bad, just that I don’t get peace at the end because the struggles of these communities just persist, and the existence of these protagonist doesn’t generate any change in the lives of those around them. I find that in Esperanza’s and Piri’s stories they both come across as selfish individuals. Esperanza seems to be always dissatisfied with her state in life, only finding her “house” when she is older and by herself. This defies that saying of “home is where family is”. An article I read about this book also said that Esperanza was only able to leave Mango Street on the backs and sacrifice of many women, so in a way she benefits from the ‘system’ as well. When piecing this altogether, I see it as a mechanism adopted by Esperanza to survive, if you don’t empathize and set yourself apart from your community it makes it easier to look outside of it for an escape route. Esperanza lived her emancipation very privately, we don’t see her sharing this with friends of her age. We see her interaction with mentors, older women, but these are speaking out of regret, for they weren’t able to seize the right moment to escape, they either dropped out of school, got married, got pregnant, etc.  

Having this in mind, what does it say about Chicano culture? Why are these issues so prevalent? Specifically when portraying women as victims and men as perpetrators? This isn’t really a kink because these woes, sadly, are seen as a norm. Where can we find voices that speak out for equality and not for a disordered emancipation? I ask this last question because in this book there really isn’t a fixed model of femininity/womanhood, women are portrayed as objects and servants, and Esperanza herself thinks that by emulating the qualities of a man is how she escapes this “I am one that leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up a plate”. With this Esperanza associates being a women with being tame, with following orders, with being pretty, and a subordinate, when that isn’t what femininity is about. Here being a wife is seen negatively, being a mother is seen negatively and dismissed as almost nothing. There is no value put in motherhood. In my view, such an important role of a woman, a role only performed by women, is completely disregarded or badly portrayed. Is the book saying that to escape this culture women ought not to marry and be mothers? What does this say for the future of strong Chicana women, those to whom this book is dedicated to? If the cells of culture are families, how is it to be transmitted without a positive perception of motherhood? How is that communicated in these books? Where is the hope, the Esperanza, for Chicano culture? I haven’t seen it myself so far, maybe I missed something.