I’m studying for my Humanities class and need an explanation.
This week we are examining and analyzing readings by Sandra Cisneros and a critical chapter by Walter Benn Michaels. “A Rice Sandwich,” “Hips,” “No Speak English,” “Boys and Girls,” “My Name,” and “Born Bad” are included in House on Mango Street, and “Aboriginal America” appears in Our America by Benn Michaels. Read the required chapters or narratives, not the entire books.
The above readings are grouped for two specific reasons: The works do any excellent job of addressing the individual Chicana from the double minority status, and in many cases, they present a more realistic view of women of color and their communal lives and concerns via art, rather than mainstream versions of history.
In “A Rice Sandwich,” Cisneros sets up the narrative by focusing on both class and race. For example, she depicts her classmates with “working” parents as able to eat in the canteen, a prized social action and interaction. However, we must question the notion of work and what it actually entails: Is it activity one is paid for, or is it time, energy, and effort? Second, she is careful to convey that her brothers’ heroes are not their own; they are an idealized product of Western civilization: Spartans. How does the subsequent outcome reflect both types of disconnection from the reality of her situation?
In “Hips,” Cisneros addresses the coming of age of her protagonist, but more than that fact, she specifically tackles gender and how it is categorized or fetishized by distinct traits that offer both power and new avenues of oppression. Think about the cadence and aesthetics of the piece. From both a visual and imagined audible perspective, Cisnero “sings” her audience into pacification, but why? On one hand, she is direct about hips and their relation to childbirth and rearing, but on a broader level, those ideas linked to sexuality and, in turn, the “use” of women within both Cisnero’s culture and larger society. Thus, what is a women’s power and is relegated to procreation or at least the potential for it or activity?
In “No Speak English,” Cisnero’s broaches the subject of linguistics within the context of translation and social judgments. Now, I use the term translation to address how the phrase “no speak English” is used in two ways: first, it is a coping mechanism for the character that is utilized to avoid contact with the outside world, but second, it is also a request: She literally does not want her son to speak English because it is outside the realm of what she believes is her “home” tongue. Therefore, the texts begs specific questions about diasporic communities and peoples who must re-conceptualize their ideas about home within the scope of new places and spaces (including language) that are unfamiliar to them. Cisnero is then not advocating either regression into older views of culture or society or assimilation; she is pointing out the problems with the reality of the situation: one can never go backward, and forward presents them with a new set of cultural and social constraints.
“Boy and Girls” sets-up a clear dichotomy between world of boys and girls, but what is most significant is Cisnero’s focus on her narrator role with the family dynamic. Her brothers are not responsible for anyone, yet she is tasked with the care and proper upbringing of her younger female sibling. Thus, she is a mother (or in the role of mother) simply because of her social consignment as a female.
“My Name” links the message of “Boys and Girls” and “Born Bad” together by emphasizing how gender discrimination (even within the context of one’s own race) is oppressive. Cisneros not only noted that women are subject in other minority groups, but that she literally does not want to be “born” to “inherit” her grandmother’s “place at the window”: destine to look out at the world but never to participate in it as an equal to men or the majority. In long line of Women’s writing, the notion of affliction is associated with their position in the world. For example, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin speak of the struggle against women’s oppression as wrongly classified as mental illness, and Silvia Path argues that the desire for social equality for women is tantamount to being in the throws of a hallucinogenic fever. (“The Yellow Wall Paper,” “The Story of an Hour,” The Awakening, and “Fever 103”.)_
“Born Bad” is poignant in a different type of fashion, but nevertheless, poverty and gender issues play into its larger interpretation. On a personal level, Cisnero’s (the child) and family must deal with her aunt’s disease, but they do so by normalizing its debilitating elements. Viewed from a cultural perspective, the text implies that most minorities are receptive to their placement and oppression in society in much the same fashion. How many times have you heard someone say, “that is just the way it is, or we cannot change the world.” First, according to Nietzsche, the end of the world as we know it is dependent on our own acceptance of subject and apathy towards the ability to change life for ourselves and people around us. His treatise in this regard is literally titled The Antichrist, and his overall claim revolts around the fact that modern Judeo-Christian beliefs promote a New Testament version of religion that hinges on the idea of an unproved afterlife as a reward for suffering and struggling in this life. As a counter to such believes, Nietzsche champions the advantages of Old Testament self-reliance and conqueror. Now, both are specifically Western ideas, but the latter can be applied to contemporary minority struggle in both theme and historical context. First, the narrator and her aunt are trapped in traditional gender roles: they do dishes, and the husband simply wants his wife back, not a person, and all the narrator desires is the freedom and strength to not be born “bad.” Second, African American traditionally embraced Christianity because of the “God created man in his own image” clause that implies equality. However, the New Testament was used by both the dominant and minority to excuse worldly suffering—i.e. one should not complain about their plight on earth because it is temporary. For example, Stowe’s Uncle Tom fails to act against his master because of his piety. Cassie, on the other hand, fights against Simon Legree in variety of ways, becoming a hero of sorts to both African Americans and women of the time period.
In “Aboriginal America,” Benn Michael’s addresses the same general time period as Whippman’s article and argues that the rise of minorities in the United States (especially due to immigration and attempts at post-Civil War integration) threatens Anglo-Saxon dominance in three different ways: biologically through breeding, economically through replacement, and psychologically via disruption of social and cultural norms. Yet, the views on how each Anglo-Saxon gender is endangered are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Minority men are view as animalistic, who take by force, but minority women are seen as seductresses, who provoke animal like sexual reactions white men. Furthermore, the only vestige of purity left for white women who can only choose from impotent white men (Jake Barnes—war injury still makes him a hero) and minority men is becoming a lesbian—another minority, ironically, that can be cataloged, oppressed, and controlled by white men because they no longer fit within the scope of social standards. Thus, what we see from the fields of literature, art, science, etc. are depictions of minorities as both less than human and not as any clear sub-group with their own external or internal self-identification: they are the all-encompassing “foreigner” in their land—the aboriginal African, the Plumed Serpent Mexican/Indian, the savage Native, the fallen woman, and the Jew who rejected Christ.
These people are then, in fact, erased from society and culture by discourse and rhetoric that disseminated the notion that American was a type of blank space (Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart) before the arrival and thoughts of Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Jackson, etc. As Benn Michael’s makes so exceedingly clear in his example of Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the “whole” of literature consigned to British and American compositions. Eliot does, in his criticism and faction, advocate the study of other art, but they too are linked directly to “classically” western interpretations of the world (Greek, Roman, etc.) and, as Benn Michael later notes, aligned directly to modern “Civilization.”
This notion is then transferred to the entirety of America and defines all peoples within it as “American,” while simultaneously discounting and discriminating against those who do not share Anglo-Saxon characteristics by deeming them “Un-American” in their own country. Thus, a paradox is created where peoples from the Americas are viewed as foreign, and those who colonized the continents are accepted Native and their philosophy and practices regarded as Nativism or Nationalism. When Benn Michaels cites Cather’s statement that “The Mexican where always Mexicans, the Indians were always Indians,” he is emphasizing how colonizers use such labels to exclude and diminish minority indigenous rights and contributions to the collective United States. They are simply an afterthought, with no culture, customs, beliefs of their own; they are there to be exploited and used, dead or objectified in the same sense that Silko describes the conqueror’s version of land and animals. Economic terminology and ideology then replace any commitment to specific sections of humanity based on the idea that the “good of nation” is more important than right or wrong or ethics and morals for the majority, making both minorities and the dominant inhuman.