The last time I heard Sandra Cisneros, she spoke, even she recognizes, from a place of anger.
In her defense of American Dirt–a book she blurbed as “the great novel of las Americas”–she responded to questions in a Latino USA interview with syllables tough as the footwork in a zapateado from Veracruz.
Often, the interviewer wouldn’t finish the question before Cisneros stepped in offbeat, stomping her defense of a novel viewed as inauthentic by many writers and readers in Latino communities.
Fans criticized her for saying the solution to being disappointed in American Dirt’s prominence was to “do some introspection about where it has caused you to be upset, and then I recommend you write poetry.”
But last month, when I spoke with Sandra Cisneros over Zoom, there was no anger in her voice. In fact, we laughed–a lot. In this conversation, I didn’t hear Cisneros’s words pounding out a heavy argument like a jarocha dancer’s footwork. Instead, I heard the lightness of a warm and wise voice. I heard syllables that hummed with the peace of guitar strings plucked one by one.
I’ve followed her writing from my college days at DePaul in the early 90s, and I think I’ve read just about everything she’s written. Cisneros says her latest book, Martita, I Remember You, is her best work. I agree.
Talking about the American Dirt “borlote” as she describes it, Cisneros humbly says, “I do apologize if I was angry. I should not have spoken when I was angry.”
In her latest book, this type of introspection fuels Corina, a probably forty-something Latina, to make sense of where she wanted her life to go and where it is on one Saturday morning in her Chicago home.
During revisions over the past five years, Cisneros wanted to make a novel out of this story. But the more she tried expanding it, “the more resistant it became. It wanted to be something small,” Cisneros accepts. “Then I realized: it’s a sandwich. It’s got the Paris part, the Chicago part, and the letters as the middle part of the two breads.”
But why set the opening of the story in Chicago? Chicago, after all, Cisneros has recognized in many interviews does not hold good memories for her.
Learn why Cisneros thinks she wouldn’t have found success in Chicago but credits the City for launching her career by reading Ray Salazar’s article on the White Rhino: A Blog about Education and Latino Issues.
A National Board Certified Teacher, Ray Salazar has been an English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools for over 25 years. He always prioritizes amplifying student voice. For over 10 years, Ray has written about education at Latino issues at the White Rhino on Chicago. Now, a blog that earned local and national recognition. He is a native Chicagoan who grew up in Little Village.
Follow him on @WhiteRhinoRay.
Cover Photo by Keith Dannemiller