In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting. It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he is shaving, songs like sobbing.
It was my great-grandmother’s name and now it is mine. She was a horse woman too, born like me in the Chinese year of the horse–which is supposed to be bad luck if you’re born female-but I think this is a Chinese lie because the Chinese, like the Mexicans, don’t like their women strong.
My great-grandmother. I would’ve liked to have known her, a wild, horse of a woman, so wild she wouldn’t marry. Until my great-grandfather threw a sack over her head and carried her off. Just like that, as if she were a fancy chandelier. That’s the way he did it.
And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow. I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.
At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish my name is made out of a softer something, like silver, not quite as thick as sister’s name Magdalena–which is uglier than mine. Magdalena who at least- -can come home and become Nenny. But I am always Esperanza. would like to baptize myself under a new name, a name more like the real me, the one nobody sees. Esperanza as Lisandra or Maritza or Zeze the X. Yes. Something like Zeze the X will do.
Marin’s boyfriend is in Puerto Rico. She shows us his letters and makes us promise not to tell anybody they’re getting married when she goes back to P.R. She says he didn’t get a job yet, but she’s saving the money she gets from selling Avon and taking care of her cousins.
Marin says that if she stays here next year, she’s going to get a real job downtown because that’s where the best jobs are, since you always get to look beautiful and get to wear nice clothes and can meet someone in the subway who might marry you and take you to live in a big house far away.
But next year Louie’s parents are going to send her back to her mother with a letter saying she’s too much trouble, and that is too bad because I like Marin. She is older and knows lots of things. She is the one who told us how Davey the Baby’s sister got pregnant and what cream is best for taking off moustache hair and if you count the white flecks on your fingernails you can know how many boys are thinking of you and lots of other things I can’t remember now.
We never see Marin until her aunt comes home from work, and even then she can only stay out in front. She is there every night with the radio. When the light in her aunt’s room goes out, Marin lights a cigarette and it doesn’t matter if it’s cold out or if the radio doesn’t work or if we’ve got nothing to say to each other. What matters, Marin says, is for the boys to see us and for us to see them. And since Marin’s skirts are shorter and since her eyes are pretty, and since Marin is already older than us in many ways, the boys who do pass by say stupid things like I am in love with those two green apples you call eyes, give them to me why don’t you. And Marin just looks at them without even blinking and is not afraid.
Marin, under the streetlight, dancing by herself, is singing the same song somewhere. I know. Is waiting for a car to stop, a star to fall, someone to change her life.–Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. New York: Vintage Books, 1984. 25-27.