Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mango Street

“I was silent as a child and silenced as a young woman; I am taking my lumps and bumps for being a big mouth now but usually from those whose opinion I don’t respect.” Sandra Cisneros

A foot of snow was on the ground 30 miles to the east in New Buffalo, and Michigan City 15 miles away had almost that much lake effect, but Chesterton was pretty much spared – just a dusting on the ground and rooftops.  A hard frost shriveled up our plants, but I’m not complaining, what with thousands dying in the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan.

IUN’s Student Activities Office sponsored a Soup and Substance hour devoted to discussing Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street.”  A large crowd was on hand, and moderator Larissa Dragu had no trouble eliciting opinions, starting out with people’s favorite part of the book.  After a student mentioned Sandra’s mother (who had taken her to the library and encouraged her to write as a child) visiting her studio in San Antonio, shortly before her death, I compared Sandra’s upbringing with Wes Moore (author of “The Other Wes Moore”), who also had nurturing relatives.  Scott Fulk wondered if the name Mango Street (there is no such street in Chicago) was significant.  Like with Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” I thought it symbolized hope in the midst of a harsh environment.  When we lived in Honolulu, there actually was a Mango tree near our Poki Street apartment.
 Sandra Cisneros

My final contribution was in answer to someone wondering if “The House on Mango Street” was appropriate for young, impressionable adolescents, given that someone is raped and that the male characters seem like anything but role models.  I pointed out that my son Dave’s students at East Chicago Central have read it, encounter experiences and struggles in their lives, and identify with many of the episodes.  PUTEP coordinator Rochelle Brock, who works with urban teachers, mentioned activities being planned involving East Chicago students who had read the book.  In fact she recently met with Dave and some of his E.C. Central English Department colleagues.

Several folks, including a Greek fellow and African-American Mary Lee, mentioned that the book spoke to their own backgrounds, even though they are not Hispanic.  Larissa Dragu said she came to America from Romania at age 11 and before that lived in a one-room house with no indoor plumbing.  Lithuanian-American Ausra Buzenes stated that America is not the welcoming “Melting Pot” that myth would have it.  Before hardly anyone realized it, the hour was up. Kathy Malone said hi, and I got a hug from Mary Lee as I got a second helping of bean soup.  Afterwards I emailed Joy Anderson and offered to be the presenter at March’s Merrillville History Book Club session using “The House on Mango Street.”  I’ll compare it to “Maria’s Journey” by Ray and Trish Arredondo and perhaps bring Larissa with me to lead the discussion.

Anne Balay, who two days ago thought she was finally done with “Steel Closets,” commented: Editing the index again. Please never let me write a book again. Yes, I know it would be easier with support from one's institution, rather than hostility and rejection. But either way, it's endless work, and hard, too.”
East Chicago Central students Jakwan Hightower and Adrian Saavedra
Dave sent me photos Denzel Smith took when E.C. Central students visited Gardner Center in Miller for the program I put together on the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington.  I sent copies to photographer Camilo Vergara, who provided the 20 by 30-inch posters of murals that were on display.

Road construction is still going on in the Region even though winter is approaching.  Fred McColly joked that Lake Station residents are ready to impeach the mayor, and Chancellor Lowe mentioned several people dying in Crown Point due to construction.  Yesterday I nearly got hit making a left turn from Ripley onto Marquette Road.  A truck had stopped to let me go, but a car sped around him in the right lane that I saw just in time.  Work on 80/94 near the Chesterton exit appeared done last week after several months, but when the left westbound lane was again closed a truck plowed into the back of a car, causing a traffic backup for miles.  Fortunately, I was going east.

While Nicole was teaching about Richard M. Nixon, I thought back to my class 30 years ago in Saudi Arabia. Even though it just covered American History up to the Civil War, on the last day I said the students could ask me anything they wished.  One guy tried to get me to agree that Nixon wasn’t a bad President, and I relied that he was a mass murderer.  The class before, the guy was vilifying John Brown because five pro-slavery men died as a result of his raid at Pottawatomie, Kansas, in retaliation for the bloody Border Ruffian attack on the town of Osawatomie.  In my mind I was thinking that if Brown was a murderer, like he claimed, then Nixon was a mass murderer considering the 20,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who died needlessly on his watch.  I should have been more tactful because the class erupted in shock to my statement. 

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