Though the characters in Woman Hollering Creek have cultural identities that follow them throughout their lives, Cisneros portrays identity itself as flexible and mutable. Indeed, many of her characters are from Mexico but have lived in the United States for long periods of time, an experience that can influence their original sense of home and self. Above all, Cisneros is interested in what happens when cultures come together, and she examines the intersection between Mexicans, Americans, and Mexican-Americans in order to show the difficulties and possibilities of negotiating identity.
In some stories, overcoming cultural barriers is an easy and rewarding process, like when the protagonist of “Bread” recounts a happy day spent with a foreign lover; “The whole car smelled of bread. Big sourdough loaves shaped like a fat ass. Fat-ass bread, I said in Spanish, Nalgona bread. Fat-ass bread, he said in Italian […].” This cross-cultural union shows how different people can merge their lives to create new perspectives—as this couple drives around literally breaking bread and sharing their native languages, they look at the city passing them by and form a composite view; “Driving down streets with buildings that remind him, he says, how charming this city is. And me remembering when I was little, a cousin’s baby who died from swallowing rat poison in a building like these. That’s just how it is. And that’s how we drove. With all his new city memories and all my old.” This, Cisneros implies, is the unexpected and joyous alchemy that can come from adopting cross-cultural open-mindedness.
Sometimes, though, it can be difficult to mingle two different cultures to create new perspectives or composite identities. For example, when Lupita, the Mexican-American narrator of “Bien Pretty,” falls in love with Flavio—a man born in Mexico who’s often troubled by her Americanized ways—the couple cannot ignore their cultural differences, even if these differences are slight. In this story, Cisneros examines the idea of purity of cultural identity, as Flavio is a man fully committed to not allowing the United States, where he lives, to change his Mexican identity. Lupita, on the other hand, has lived in the States for a long time and she can’t relate to Flavio’s fully-Mexican identity. When in passing Flavio uses the phrase “you Americans” to refer to her, she is offended that he so easily ignores her Mexican heritage, “lump[ing]” her into a group of Americans. After an argument about Mexican authenticity, she writes, “I wanted to be Mexican at that moment, but it was true. I was not Mexican.” Unlike the couple in “Bread,” who embrace the multicultural nature of their relationship, Lupita and Flavio feel they must carefully navigate their differences, pointing out to one another how they aren’t the same. When Flavio leaves Lupita to return to Mexico, then, readers intuit that an inability to view identity as adaptable can ultimately lead to unsuccessful relationships.
It’s worth mentioning that the notion of national identity usually surfaces in Woman Hollering Creek when characters ponder how they’ve been influenced by emigration. However, national identity also plays a specific role in stories like “Eyes of Zapata,” a piece that considers politics in order to examine what it means to be Mexican. Because the narrator, Inés, is in love with Emiliano Zapata, a leader of the Mexican Revolution (and a nonfictional character), she finds herself aligned with his agrarian idea that Mexico should belong to peasants and farmers. Due to her affiliation with Zapata, she is eventually driven out of town, ultimately thrown headlong into an argument about who deserves to prosper in Mexico. By highlighting the discord of the Mexican Revolution, Cisneros ultimately proves that even people from the same country can have different ideas about national identity. Once again, then, she advocates for open-mindedness, showing that adopting a flexible mindset when it comes to identity is beneficial not only in moments of cross-cultural misunderstanding, but also in times of national disagreement.
Cultural & National Identity ThemeTracker
Cultural & National Identity Quotes in Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories
I guess she did it to spare me and Ximena the pain she went through. Having married a Mexican man at seventeen. Having had to put up with all the grief a Mexican family can put on a girl because she was from el otro lado, the other side, and my father had married down by marrying her. If he had married a white woman from el otro lado, that would’ve been different. That would’ve been marrying up, even if the white girl was poor. But what could be more ridiculous than a Mexican girl who couldn’t even speak Spanish, who didn’t know enough to set a separate plate for each course at dinner, nor how to fold cloth napkins, nor how to set the silverware.
Dear San Antonio de Padua,
Can you please help me find a man who isn’t a pain in the naglas. There aren’t any in Texas, I swear. Especially not in San Antonio.
Can you do something about all the educated Chicanos who have to go to California to find a job. I guess what my sister […] says is true: “If you didn’t get a husband when you were in college, you don’t get one.”
I would appreciate it very much if you sent me a man who speaks Spanish, who at least can pronounce his name the way it’s supposed to be pronounced. Someone please who never calls himself “Hispanic” unless he’s applying for a grant from Washington, D.C.
Can you send me a man man. I mean someone who’s not ashamed to be seen cooking or cleaning or looking after himself. In other words, a man who acts like an adult.
[…] I’ll turn your statue upside down until you send him to me. I’ve put up with too much too long, and now I’m just too intelligent, too powerful, too beautiful, too sure of who I am finally to deserve anything else.
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“Who dresses you?”
“What’s that? A store or a horse?”
“Neither. Silver Galindo. My San Antonio cousin.”
“What kind of name is Silver?”
“It’s English,” Flavio said, “for Silvestre.”
I said, “What you are, sweetheart, is a product of American imperialism,” and plucked at the alligator on his shirt.
“I don’t have to dress in a sarape and sombrero to be Mexican,” Flavio said. “I know who I am.”
I wanted to leap across the table, throw the Oaxacan black pottery pieces across the room, swing from the punched tin chandelier, fire a pistol at his Reeboks, and force him to dance. I wanted to be Mexican at that moment, but it was true. I was not Mexican. Instead of the volley of insults I intended, all I managed to sling was a single clay pebble that dissolved on impact—perro. “dog.” It wasn’t even the word I’d meant to hurl.